Category Archives: Righteousness

“Charity is no substitute for Justice” — Tzedakah / Tzedek

This morning I visited, “This is Hunger,” a traveling exhibit created by Mazon, a national Jewish organization addressing issues of food insecurity and justice in the USA. Locally, this exhibit is sponsored by Episcopal Community Services and Jewish Family Services. Temple Beth Shalom in Overland Park is the location of this traveling exhibit. It will be there until July 13. There is more information on our St. Paul’s Facebook page  ( ) about this exhibit and how to get tickets (free), which are required. Please don’t miss this amazing and well designed experience. 

It is the “experience” I want to reflect upon here.  Entering the truck, the group encountered a long table with chairs, really a long dinner table, set up in the middle of the truck. Plates, created by projected lights, marked each “place setting.” We were invited to be seated and to introduce ourselves to those around us. I would estimate there were about 24 of us. After a few moments, the room darkened and only our “plates” remained illuminated. Then one by one the plates disappeared. After a few moments of silence around the darkened table, people, projected on screens at each end of the table, began to “join” us and share their stories of hunger. Young and old, working and retired, healthy and sick, long employed and chronically unemployed . . . each spoke of the difficulties, disappointments, and discouraging realities of their struggle with food insecurity and hunger.  Their stories were honest, compelling, and disheartening. There are embarrassing statistics, embarrassing for our country, attached to all of these stories. But it is the humanizing of these statistics as we heard each story that was so powerful in impact. The video presentation ended with two walls of photos of faces and summaries of the statistics of hunger in the USA. Following this multimedia presentation, a spokesperson for Mazon concluded with this challenging observation—“The challenges of food insecurity are severe in our country and food charity (e.g. soup kitchens, food pantries, etc) cannot fix them. Public policy actions are essential to respond to the challenges of food insecurity and hunger in our country.”

“Food charity.” Our churches have long and arguably successful records in the area of food charity. Food pantries, soup kitchens, neighborhood gardens, and other similar programs represent models familiar to church activism across the country. These food ministries are essential given the increasing costs of food and reduction of public programs of food support available to hungry people. Yet the observation by Mazon of public policy changes needed to respond to the huge dimensions of food insecurity and hunger compels the faith community to re-imagine its limited reactive role and challenges it to a more pro-active role addressing matters of public policy.

It is suggested St. Augustine of Hippo, the great 4th-5th century theologian of the nascent Christian movement, once wrote, “Charity is no substitute for justice.” Surely, in matters of food insecurity and hunger, this observation challenges us to ponder our moral obligation to not only feed hungry people (charity) but our equally important moral and faith obligation to active, public advocacy for more equitable public policy for the food insecure and hungry (justice).  Such  advocacy would seek food/economic independence for many of those currently struggling with food insecurity and hunger. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah. The word tzedakah shares an etymological root with tzedek which means justice. Linguistically, this connection suggests charity must be built on a foundation of justice. In the absence of such a foundation, I believe the religious community must be faithful in working to build such a foundation, seeking diligently to create a more just society. Indeed, we should be “doing justice” (Micah 6.8) with the same zeal and energy we expend in our efforts to provide for the acute and immediate challenges of feeding hunger people in our soup kitchens and food pantries.

This is Hunger Video 


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Stand UP KC, faithfulness matters!

standupkc 4On April 14, 2016, a national day of labor action for low-wage workers, I was asked by the worker’s organizing group to offer a faith-based reflection at an event focused on the hardships and difficulties of low-wage childcare workers.  Sadly, childcare workers all over this country are entrusted with our most precious gifts from God and are paid minimum wages or near minimum wages for their time.  Ironically, most childcare workers cannot afford childcare.  I offered them a reflection written after I read the journal of a symposium hosted by William Temple (later Archbishop of Canterbury) when he was a young priest.  The symposium and the subsequent journal were titled,  “The Industrial unrest and the living wage (a series of lectures) given at the interdenominational summer school, held at Swanwick, Derbyshire, June 28th-July 5th, 1913.”  In 1913, this symposium was arguing for a basic minimum wage in Britain of about 26 shillings/week or about $13/hour in US 2014 dollars (converting for inflation, pounds to dollars conversion, labor values, and the longer work week at that time). Let this sink in  . . . in 1913, this group (albeit in Great Britain) was arguing for a minimum wage about 60% greater than the minimum wage in the USA today.   Moreover, it was arguing for a higher livable wage!  One hundred and three years later, we are still trying to solve the challenge of a just and livable wage.  May God be patient and merciful with us!

My reflection:

Thank you all for being here today.  Today, all over the city, all over the country, low-wage workers are standing up for themselves. You are standing up for fair and living wages.  You are standing up for dignity and respect.   You are standing up for the American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Ideals that are the bedrock of our nation.  You are not asking for charity!  You are not asking for favors!  You are asking for respect, dignity, and a living wage!  You are asking for your fair share of the American Dream!  Today, I am privileged to be here with low-wage workers who are standing for our country’s time-honored, though sometimes obscure, belief in justice.

Some ask me, “What has this to do with religion?”  As a Christian minister I am compelled to recognize God’s calling to do justice and love mercy!  God expects this of me and every person who embraces the God of all creation.  As a faithful person, I recognize all people as souls created by God.  All of you here today, especially you working men and women that struggle with low-wages, you are souls of God’s making.  You are made in the image of God and aspire within yourselves to seek God’s purpose in your lives.  Yet we know low wages burden you with the constant fear of not being able to meet basic needs like food, housing, utilities, healthcare, childcare, and uncertainty about the future for yourselves and your children.

You are “souls,” brothers and sisters in Christ, who I am commanded by God to love and for whom I am commanded to do justice and to seek mercy.  A society as rich as ours in which a large portion of honest and industrious workers are unable to secure continuous, full-time employment at a living wage which will maintain a family in a condition compatible with the requirements of stable and decent living is, in my opinion, an unjust and poorly managed society and an unfaithful and unrighteous society.  Christian people who stand passively unresponsive to such sinful injustice, unfaithfulness, and unrighteousness are people who have lost the vision of their calling by God to do justice for the least among us.  A Christian who does not act for justice and dignity for all people, especially the vulnerable and poor, is a faith-challenged Christian indeed.

The deepest guilt:

–is on those who do not shed penitential tears for our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle to survive on wages too low to survive.

–is on those who do not burn in their hearts and souls for changes in these unjust economic and employment systems.

The deepest guilt:

–is on those who do not understand that poor, excessively low wages are destroying people by assaulting their character, poisoning their minds, demoralizing their humanity, and breaking their immortal spirit.

–is on those who do not agitate and work and sacrifice and pray for the ending of low wage misery for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Faithful people, God’s people, religious people everywhere should be demanding the dawning of a new time of fair, livable wages and that dignity, respect, and economic security should be counted as an inalienable right for all working people and their families.

Today, I am privileged to introduce to you three persons who are personally involved in the plight of our childcare workers.  Childcare workers are trusted with God’s most precious gift to us:  Children.  Yet for them and many of their fellow low-wage workers, the resources of professional, licensed childcare is unaffordable.   Our speakers will help us better understand the reality of this human tragedy . . .

Scriptural influences:

Isaiah 1.17—Learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice, correct oppression; aid the wronged . .

Proverbs 31.8-9—Speak up for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.

Proverbs 14.31—He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.

Proverbs 29.7—A righteous man is concerned with the cause of the poor; a wicked man cannot understand such concern.

Proverbs 22.16—To profit by withholding what is due to the poor is like making gifts to the rich—pure loss.

Micah 6.8—What the Lord requires of you: Only do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Jeremiah 22.16—He upheld the rights of the poor and needy—then all was well.  That is truly heeding me, declares the Lord.

Acts 18.9– the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent. 

Matthew 25 Parable of the sheep and Goats . . .

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Day 28, Lent 2016

Day 28–From Psalm reading: “Let the malice of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; for you test the mind and heart, O righteous God.”

While the temptation to dualism is strong—which certainly explains our cultural zeal for movies pitching deities of good and evil in cosmic battle, and always the deities that most resemble us (the good guys, of course) winning—the reality of our faith is that there is God and there is brokenness that is the rejection of or turning our backs to God and one another.  There is not a deity of evil that seeks to seduce us to


Thanks to

following a different way; there is only “The Way.” God calls us to righteous living, living in the ways God intends for humanity. We choose to say “yes” or “no” to this calling. If we say “no,” our paths become filled with brokenness, malice, and wickedness. Our “no”draws us away from the holiness of God’s intention in creation and especially from the createdness of our humanity, intended as a reflection of the holiness of God. The Psalmist hopes that the malice and wickedness inspired by “no” will end and that humanity will be more fully able to declare “yes” to God and to one another.

Let Lent be for us a season of rejecting the collective “no” and declaring our most passionate zeal for “yes” to God and all God’s creation. Let us follow “The Way,” and discover the sacredness of everyone. Let us be a light shining on the “beloved community” of God.

Daily Lectionary:

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