And so my two main worlds — journalist by day, seminarian by night and weekend — so coolly colliding since January, come back apart with the end of the semester and the end of my time of supervised ministry with Central Oklahoma Habitat through Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa.
Lo, this is my next to last report — although certainly not my last writing about Habitat — so I'm going to fill it, and next week's, to the brim with theology and Scripture. And, hey, if you're not into that sort of thing: Peace unto you.
My main project, self appointed, was to find theological parallels of Habitat's work and approach to ministry in the Bible. Here are some thoughts from the Old Testament (next week: New Testament):
• The Book of Judges 3: 7-11 — Othniel.
Othniel's story is short, but important for reading the rest of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible. Judges has story after story of the people of God falling out of step with God, God raising up a leader to get them back on the right path, followed by a period of peace, followed by a time of carelessness, followed by a period of fear and the people crying out — and God responding by raising up a leader to guide them back to the right path, in cycle after cycle after cycle.
In Judges, it is a deteriorating cycle; the people cycle further from God and get more out of step with every turn, until “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
The comparison with Habitat for Humanity is simple: I think God raised Habitat as a way to call people — especially those in the housing economy — into a better relationship with God and God's desire for goodness for all people. Even as the housing market and the economy rises and falls — from healthy, to boom, to bust, to calls for judgment — Habitat continues, at once beside, among and above the marketplace, using biblical principles to keep working with others to get people into decent, affordable housing.
Central Oklahoma Habitat never missed a beat during the housing slowdown of the past seven years; in fact, its mission and work expanded, as it served as a prophetic voice — and prophetic actor — in the Oklahoma City metro economy and homebuilding market.
• The Book of Ezra 1: 1-4 (King Cyrus); 6: 1-12 (Darius); and 7: 11-27 (Artaxerxes).
The story of King Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes has it complexities, but the importance of its comparison with Habitat for Humanity has to do with God's willingness to work with leaders outside the community of faith to aid the people of God. In the story, Babylon has previously conquered Jerusalem and Judah, carrying people, mostly elites, into exile. God raises Persian kings, Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes — who were not worshippers of God — who nonetheless decree the return of the exiles to their lands and order and pay for the rebuilding of the temple. In the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus is called a “messiah” — one anointed by God. Yet he and the other Persian kings were outsiders, not part of the faith or community of the people of God
The comparison to Habitat is that it's an ecumenical Christian community that nonetheless is blessed by the involvement and wealth of outsiders. People and organizations of non-Christian faith, and businesses and others help for the sake of the mission of building affordable housing, though not seeing it as doing work for the “kingdom of God.”
Next week: Thoughts from the Gospel of Mark and the Epistle of James.