The Bank of Dad
I am going to start with a true story that happened, and invite you to try and do this:
Try to listen and not judge. And trust me, it is going to be harder than you think.
This happened to a minister I know in a large Canadian city, and the details may be slightly altered for anonymity’s sake.
One day when the minister was at home in the summer, a pregnant woman came by his house. She was a neighbour, from a few houses away. She was a First Nations woman. She was a single woman, pregnant with her third child, each by different fathers. The two children she had were not white, but differed in racial backgrounds. She had not had a job since the minister had known her over the last several years.
She wanted money. She said that she had been beat up by her latest boyfriend and she showed him bruises on her belly. She said that she had moved out of her boyfriend’s and thought she would move back with her mother. She said she was not welcome at her mother’s house right now, and she wanted money for a taxi to go to her brother’s house.
The minister said “I will drive you.” She said “Ok, meet me outside my mom’s house.”
He went and got his car and drove around and in front of the house where she was.
She came outside carrying a flatscreen television and gave the minister an address.
He drove there thinking that he was going to her brother’s house. But he pulled up outside a pawn shop. She went in with the tv and she came out. She said that she got $75 dollars for the tv which she said was a good price, because they knew her and knew her to be a regular.
She gave the minister another address. He went there thinking this was the brother’s house.
But it was a convenience store. She went in and came out with a pack of cigarettes and then, motioned to wait for a moment, and then she went into the liquor store where she came out with what looked to be a mickey of vodka.
Then the third address she gave was her brother’s place and the minister dropped her off.
And you know what I did when I heard the story. I confess that I totally judged her. I totally put her down in my mind for having three children by three different fathers and for picking loser fathers. I judged her going to the pawn shop. I judged her getting cigarettes and alcohol with the few dollars she had, and for having cigarettes and alcohol while she was pregnant.
How did you do with the whole judgement thing? Could you listen to the story without dropping into judgement?
Could you see a woman who is a victim of white supremacy, who is rejected by family, who is unemployed who is basically homeless, and has had partners who were not kind, or not faithful, or who abused her.
Could you see a person who needs love, attention, care and counselling, yet she lives in pain and uncertainty, so much so that she self-medicates with nicotine and alcohol as a way to cope.
I totally judged her, because I grew up in a different world, in a different culture, with people who were there for me and supported me. I grew up as a white man in a predominantly white culture, and while we had moments of relative poverty when my mom was a single mother in England, living in Canada we were as well-off as most people in Hampton. I didn’t go wanting.
I have learned many things while being a minister. I have learned to look inside and learned to look in the mirror. I have learned about walking in somebody else’s shoes. I have learned how to listen to people, and I have learned how to read scripture and interpret it.
I have learned how to observe human life and I have learned how to pastor to people and be there for my congregation… most of them having jobs and having similar cultural backgrounds to myself…
…one thing I haven’t learned very well is how to look down.
And I don’t mean that people on a lower socioeconomic rung are lesser than me, but I have not been good at ministering to people we call the down and out. Street people, homeless people, people who couch surf from friend’s-to-friend’s houses, people who are addicts, people who having been dealing in and partaking of illicit drugs, people who live permanently on welfare, or some kind of social assistance. People who are not only lower socioeconomic class, but are part of what we might call the underbelly of society. The distasteful part of society that we don’t see, or don’t want to see.
They haven’t been a big part of the church, and probably to tell the truth they haven’t been welcomed and don’t feel welcome, because the church does what I did with that woman. We judge.
And yet these people are God’s children too. These people are humans with hopes and dreams, many of which have been dashed, and they struggle to survive.
And the church pays some lip service to poverty and the underbelly of society, but we are much better at dealing with those who are higher up the socioeconomic ladder, and invite those higher up the ladder to a place at the table, and we invite them make them welcome and invite them to share their resources with each other and with the church.
And yet when Jesus reads from scripture in Luke’s gospel, in what is kind of his inaugural address, the first reading or proclamation of his ministry, it does seem to me that he is addressing the very people that seem to be the underbelly of society, the very people we often judge.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The poor, the prisoners, those with disabilities and the oppressed. The ones most likely in our society to be on the street, or requiring social and welfare services.
That is who Jesus’ names.
This is Luke’s gospel and each gospel has its own distinctiveness about how Jesus is introduced as a public figure.
Last week we talked about transformation in John’s gospel with the inaugural miracle of the water changing into wine.
Matthew’s gospel the inaugural speech is the sermon on the mount and Jesus is like Moses, but there is a new Law, a law that runs counter to the law of Imperialism.
In Mark’s gospel the inaugural miracle is the casting out of a demon.
All of these inaugural events have one common theme…that Jesus is overthrowing the evil of imperialism, of those who take and control, and put others down, and say others are not important, and use violence to keep themselves on top.
And in Luke’s gospel Jesus quotes from a couple of places in Isaiah and two things are very significant.
The first is that when Jesus quotes from Isaiah he conveniently leaves something out of the quote.
He leaves out this phrase: the day of vengeance of our God.
Human empire works on a few common principles. There are those at the top who deserve to be at the top. Those below should serve the empire.
Those who resist the empire are evil and they should be opposed or eliminated.
And violence is acceptable against enemies of the empire.
And you will notice that every empire has enemies even if they have to create them.
… because as long as you can point your fingers at the enemies of your empire, you can avoid having fix what is wrong with your empire, which is patently obvious to everybody even if nobody really tries to fix it.
The empire is not fair and there is a lot of injustice and the rich and privileged get a lot more than the poor and different.
So, Jesus leaves out the violence, because the way to defeat Empire is not with violence. That will just create a new Empire.
The other thing significant point is that Jesus brings up the year of God’s favour. This is the year of Jubilee, which was a time when slaves were set free and land lost to debt is returned to the original family. In the year of Jubilee debts are forgiven.
While we think that this is pretty anachronistic, I want you to know that in the Middle East thousands of years ago the whole idea debt cancellation was a major theme.
The Bible talks about forgiving debts in a number of places. It talks about lending to people without interest.
Because, there were and are, huge social, moral and economic consequences of debt.
Huge debts cause oppression, slavery, bad economy, hunger, poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and medical and so on.
Individuals can have massive debt loads and so toocan societies and countries.
Some say that one of the causes of the Second World War was the reparations and the huge debt that Germany incurred after World War One and the Treaty of Versailles.
And even thousands of years ago, people realized that putting all the money and resources in the hands of a very few left the vast populace at great risk.
So, from the very beginning moral, economic and religious thinking was that debt cancellation was at the very heart of social renewal and religious ethics.
You know a few years ago one of my daughters was at the bank, trying to get a loan for a car or a house, or both or something.
And you know how it goes. In order to get a loan, you pretty much already have to have money, or big credit, or equity or big income or something.
And when the banker asked my daughter how she was going to get the downpayment and the credit, my daughter said: “The Bank of Dad.”
Some of you know exactly what I am talking about. Parents who either have money, or credit; and loan to their children money, or sign as guarantors or co-signers on a loan or a mortgage.
The Bank of Dad is often very flexible in its terms, the interest rate is often good, sometimes even zero. TheBank of Dad operates not to make a profit, usually the Bank of Dad loses money, but the Bank of Dad is there because of love and support.
And the Bank of Dad is a metaphor for the support system that everyone needs.
For most, or a lot people the Bank of Dad is/are parents or a parents, but it could be siblings or friends too.
It is your support system, that you just know, you have a place to stay, you have someone who has your back, someone who will loan or give you money, someone who will listen and support you.
The problem in this world is that there are too damn many people without the Bank of Dad.
I started with a story about a woman who took a tv to a pawn shop.
Why, because she has little money and little support system. She doesn’t have a Bank of Dad.
Let’s get down to some specifics.
You take a 600-dollar tv to a pawn shop. Let’s say the pawn shop gives you a hundred-dollar loan on that tv.
You then come back in thirty days and give them one hundred and thirty dollars to get back your tv. That is 5% interest and 25% storage fee.
If you don’t have the money and you come back in two months you owe hundred and sixty dollars to get back your tv.
That is in effect an annual interest rate of 360 percent. By the way, people who have credit and good jobs can get a mortgage for under two percent, or a car loan from 0-5 percent.
Some people never get their tv back and the pawn shop sells it for three or four hundred dollars a couple of months later making 3 or 4 hundred percent on their hundred dollars
Other cheque-cashing outlets and payday loan outlets charge huge interest rates too.
A Cheque cashing service gives someone 969 dollars and then takes and cashes their cheque for a thousand dollars. If they do that every week for a year, their thousand turns into 2612 dollars, or 161 percent interest.
It actually makes me wonder why banking is not a public utility, instead of a profit-making industry.
And it is so unfair. The richer you are, the less you pay in interest on a loan, and the more you make on interest when you invest.
Sometimes I think we have to take Jesus more literally than we sometimes I do.
Sometimes I have read this scripture about me being released from the captivity of sin, and me being metaphorically given sight to see as God sees, to understand this as good news to my spiritual poverty. And that is not an untrue reading.
But what if the year of Jubilee actually came? What if debts were forgiven? What if we gave the land back to First Nations?
What if we actually instituted a national Bank of Dad where poor people didn’t have to pay fees for cheques or loans and we could help people make it through to payday, or help them with groceries…
…just like parents do with their children.
We are going to find that Jesus words will not go down well. Not because of the Scripture he read. He read Isaiah after all.
But because he puts the scroll down and says:
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
We all know that someday God will right the wrongs, that there will be financial equity, that the poor will not be poor, that the abused will no longer be abused, that first nations people will be treated equally, that Black lives will matter, and women will be equal to men, and will make the same wages and will not be subject to so much harassment and abuse.
We all look for it in heaven.
But Jesus says today.
Today this scripture is fulfilled and terror goes through the heart of most of us, because in order for scripture to be fulfilled today, we have to change today.
We have to make it right today.
We have to let Jesus into our hearts today.
We have to give today.
We have to share today.
We have to start treating everybody equally today.
We have to make big changes in our country, in our handling of the poor, in our tax systems, in our economic systems, in our banking, in our social agencies today.
We all want the poor to not be poor someday, but do we want the poor to be not poor today, especially if it means it is going to cost us personally today.
Preaching that can get a person branded a pinko commie by Senator McCarthy and others, and it can maybe get a person thrown off a cliff, like they tried to do to Jesus.
I mean having a Bank of Dad that would pay medical costs, pharmacy costs, dental costs, subsidize housing cost, pay for school and post-secondary, that would provide mental health resources and counselling to those who have been abused and put down, and suffered racial prejudice and I could go on.
That thinking can even get a person crucified.
You know there is an interesting movie playing on Netflix right now called “Don’t look up.”
It’s a satirical movie where two scientists played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are warning the world that there is a giant meteor approaching and the world is going to be destroyed, but nobody will take notice.
The president, played by Meryl Streep is too concerned about re-election to worry about a comet.
The Tech world is concerned about profits. The media/entertainment world is focused on celebrity culture.
It is a giant spoof on the fact that we ignore climate change and will not look up and see what might be coming.
But I think you could write another movie with a similar premise and call it “Don’t look down.”
It doesn’t matter how many children in Canada are poor and live below the poverty line, or how many children starve to death in this world, and how many don’t have health care or education; or how many live with violence every day…
It is just so easy to not look down and see how many of God’s children are in need; and how the world is on a collision course with a different kind of Armageddon, an Armageddon of poverty and starvation for millions of lives. The roughly 2,000 billionaires of this world are worth over 13 trillion dollars, which is more than the combined wealth of 60 percent of the earth’s population, some 4.6 billion people.
Is it just so easy to not look down and to carry on our everyday business while so many of God’s children need the Bank of Dad.
Not only individual families, but entire nations are losing their economic self-dependency, their ability to provide themselves with food, housing and related basic needs. It isn’t just charity we need anymore. It is a social restructuring like a year of Jubilee.
And so, I ask you. How could the church be more of a Bank of Dad? Amen.
For further study you can read an article called:
THE LOST TRADITION OF BIBLICAL DEBT CANCELLATIONS
by Michael Hudson, PhD.