"The Question of Life"

A Message By Dr. Bruce Havens

BASED ON THE THEME: "Reading the Bible again, for the FIRST time"


August 4, 2019

"The Question of Life”

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

based on the theme:  “Reading the Bible Again, for the First Time”

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

August 4, 2019



Deuteronomy 30:15 – 20a

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in the ways of God, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days.




Anger and hate – I hate that I get angry and feel hatred.  I get mad at myself.  I know the world is not what it should be and could be – as I think it should and could be.  But I defend that by saying my vision is based on what I understand God calls for.   And a lot of that isn’t necessarily for my own benefit or privilege or ease.  Most of the time it is harder than what I think I want.


Dreamer -  different world [ anger and hate when it doesn’t – people who don’t ]


God puts life and death before the people / Moses / choose to do all that I have commanded.


Commandments aren’t just spiritual/ economic / political systems for benefit of all people


No political system made by human is more godly – all are twisted by human greed and sin.  The abuses of capitalism are no different than the abuses of what we call socialism or communism.  Remember, according to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christians created a community where everything was shared in common – was that socialism or communism?  Whatever it wasn’t capitalism


So God does care about the economic systems.


Political systems – to justly use power to benefit all people – courts and justice must not be twisted for the powerful and wealthy.  Warned of kings


Religious systems – aid in relationships with God and with others and to hold the economic and political systems accountable – Prophets

Kings and Pharaohs and Caesar’s didn’t want to hear


So when we limit God to a “spiritual realm” that only addresses the vertical relationship and only holds us accountable for getting saved then we deny God’s power over all things  - we stop attending to God’s commandments –

Care for the hurting, the lost, the vulnerable, the person of another race, religion, or nationality – all these are in SS


When we allow economic and political systems to abuse these things we are not obeying God’s commandments and if we just think oh well Jesus saved me I am going to heaven, we might have another think coming as my mother used to say.


I can dream of another world, I can dream of this world being better – unless I act on those dreams I may be “spiritual” but I certainly won’t have been faithful to God’s commandments.

Hard choices -  live or die, life or death



Hate hard choices [ zero sum – win/lose ]  I like gray areas, where I think most people live.  Sure, some people think the world is one side or the other, but in my experience even those people have gray areas they don’t want to admit.  I don’t like to admit that I places in my thinking where I believe things are what we used to call black or white.  I also think a lot of people believe that things with God are that way.  Hard edges, right or wrong, but the Bible seems to say God often “sees the other side” so to speak. 

I dream of a world where my daughter and others like her don’t have over $100,000 in student loan debt.  We say she should take “personal responsibility” and either not take the loan or pay it off and stop whining.  The fact is that in the Bible God commanded that people were not to charge any interest to one another to do so was “usury”.  Then the law was passed that it was ok to charge up to 9% interest and everything over that was “usury.”  That was passed by the banks.  Then in the 70’s when credit cards became more commonly used banks pressured and lobbied Congress and others to take off those limits so now the norm is somewhere around 18% interest.  When I was a student the loans I took out were given at 4-5% because the government made those loans and inflation was 11-12%.  Then the banks saw a profit market and convinced lawmakers to make student loans “privatized.”  Now, inflation is at maybe 2% and interest rates are at 18%.  How about if we take personal responsibility to hold our economic and political systems accountable to do what God demands, what God commands? It makes me angry when I see people suffer because we don’t.


Another example, until the 1970’s it was limited how pharmaceuticals and the rest of the medical industry could profit off people’s illness.  Now remember God commands that we care for the sick and the dying and the differently abled.  That’s what Jesus’ healing miracles show us.  But when laws were changed and profit became the only thing that mattered we now have people who can’t afford health care. I get angry because I see another situation personally = my daughter etc


Now the Profit god has convinced us that there should be no limits on how we worship it, that is the god Profit.  And since the 1980’s we’ve been told that if we just let the wealthiest people get wealthier we would all get rich.  Well, have we?  Because the fact is the incomes of those on the highest end have gone up by 100’s and 100’s of percents since 1980 while the information I see tells me the middle and lower income folks real wages have not grown a bit.  Life or death.  When we choose death everyone suffers because we are all linked together by God like it or not.  How about if we take personal responsibility for remembering we are linked to one another and that means we need to choose life not just for ourselves but for all.  Because the reality is we cannot choose life for ourselves and think the result will be death for others and say so what.


Here’s the reality, I am no economist but I understand some basics and I also understand logic.  If you keep on reducing the ability of people to buy things capitalism fails.  If you keep loading people under debt to buy the things they need or maybe just want, because remember we’ve convinced them they must buy these things to be happy and happiness is guaranteed in the Constitution, sooner or later they can’t buy anything else.  Studies show that the people of my children and your children’s generation begin their working lives with so much debt either credit card or student loan or both that they will never be able to afford many things we take for granted, like a place to shelter, food, health care, and clothing all at the same time.  When people are so loaded down they cannot buy any more stuff the system will collapse because it is based on consumerism.  Unjust economic systems cause death, and God is in the life and death business so it is God’s business how nation’s conduct business.


I think about the school system here.  It is riddled with unequal schools.  There are children who will literally die, either in prison or in the streets because they cannot get a decent education.  In Duval County over 50% of the children have not been able to read on grade level for most of the 20 years I have lived there.  Now the solution the Governor wants to implement is more Charter schools, which takes public school funding from our tax dollars and gives them to for-profit companies, including the one that is run by the Governor’s in-laws.  In Duval County, the Mayor, whose biggest campaign contributor is another owner of a Charter School company, is working to block a tax increase to help improve the schools.  Instead he wants to funnel more money – surprise - to Charter Schools.  Yet, the statistics I’ve seen show that Charter schools are far more likely to fail or fail to live up to public school standards than regular public schools. 

My eyes were opened to the way power is abused even in public school systems because of the way big money distorts our values.  You see when I got to Duval County our public schools were using Direct Instruction and having terrific results.  DI was rapidly improving reading ability for lower performing students.  But a new Superintendent was hired and he began to systematically force the removal of that curriculum.  Stories were told of principals being threatened with professional suicide if they fought the Superintendent on this.  What did he want to use instead?  He wanted to use a new curriculum, an unproven, untested one that would make the publishers millions from a school district the size of Duval County, which is one of the largest in the country.  Why would he insist on this new curriculum?  I don’t know for sure, but maybe, just maybe, the answer came when that Superintendent left his position after his new curriculum did not improve scores.  My eyes were opened when we learned that his “golden retirement parachute” was to be paid by the publisher of the curriculum he insisted the Duval County Public Schools turn to instead of Direct Instruction.  Now here’s the kicker.  The Charter School company they are pushing to replace our public schools with uses – you guessed it – Direct Instruction - as its tool for improving school reading performance.  Now ain’t that a kick in the head?


I dream of a world where God’s commandments are kept.  I dream of a world where people, and the economic, political and spiritual systems they create and live in choose life.

In June of 1963, while addressing the Irish Parliament, just months before his own untimely death, President John F. Kennedy quoted the great Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, saying “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”  And of course, they killed him for dreaming of a better world.  Justice is a matter of life and death, and though the powers of injustice make martyrs of many, yet there are many, many more of us who can and must and will step forward and not only dream, but speak, and work, and act to bring the dream to life.  For that is what life should be – a dream, not a night-mare, a blessing, not a curse, a hope, not a fear.  Let us dream and work, and speak, and live and step forward to bring justice to our neighbors, and our communities and our world.  Our sisters and brothers back home in our communities need us now.  They have been silenced and silent too long.  Let us open the way for them to be heard, for their dreams to be dreamed. 

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