A clear-headed, moral economic understanding…

I’ve been doing some reading for a class I’m taking at Xavier, and in the midst of a wonderful essay by Wendell Berry, I found one of the clearest statements about the present economy and our economic goals. So often, you have to read the words of brilliant writers and thinkers ten times through, looking up their million-dollar words in dictionaries, to finally get their meaning. This writing, however, is clear, accessible, and easy to understand with a little bit of work.  If we apply the same energy to thoughts like these that we do to clearing out our schedule to watch the X-Factor, we might find our intellectual capacities expand beyond where we thought we were previously capable.

Enjoy, chew on this gift from Wendell Berry, and let’s practice this vision of a better economy together!

We live, as we must sooner or later recognize, in an era of sentimental economics and, consequently, of sentimental politics.

Sentimental communism holds in effect that everybody and everything should suffer for the good of “the many” who, though miserable in the present, will be happy in the future for exactly the same reasons that they are miserable in the present.

Sentimental capitalism is not so different from sentimental communism as the corporate and political powers claim.  Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the “free market” and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to “the many”- in, of course, the future.

The economic theory used to justify the global economy in its “free market” version is again perfectly groundless and sentimental.  The idea is that what is good for the corporations will sooner or later- though not of course immediately- be good for everybody.

That sentimentality is based, in turn, on a fantasy:  the proposition that the great corporations, in “freely” competing with one another for raw materials, labor, and market share, will drive one another indefinitely, not only toward greater “efficiencies” of manufacture but also toward higher bids for raw materials and labor and lower prices to consumers.  As a result, all the world’s people will be economically secure- in the futureIt would be hard to object to such a proposition, if only it were true.

The “law of competition” does not imply that many competitors will compete indefinitely.  The law of competition is a single paradox: Competition destroys competition.  The law of competition implies that many competitors, competing without restraint, will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors to one.  the law of competition, in short, is the law of war.

This idea of a global “free market” economy, despite its obvious moral flaws and its dangerous practical weaknesses, is now the ruling orthodoxy of the age.  Its propaganda is subscribed to and distributed by most political leaders, editorial writers, and other “opinion makers.”  The powers that be, while continuing to budget huge sums for “national defense,” have apparently abandoned any idea of national or local self-sufficiency, even in food.  They have also given up the idea that a national or local government might justly place restraints on economic activity in order to protect its land and its people.

Unsurprisingly, among people who wish to preserve things other than money, there is a growing perception that the global “free market” economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human health and freedom, to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in the land-use economies; and furthermore, that it is inherently an enemy to good work and good economic practice.

A Black Friday reflection 2009

From the daily lectionary today;

“Jesus called (his disciples) to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

– Matthew 20:25-28

Disciples of Jesus stand today just two days from the beginning of Advent.  It is one season of two in the year (Lent being the other) where disciples are encouraged to step back, reflect, and consider our lives under the gaze of a holy God.  Both are seasons of stripping away, of thoughtfully engaging in deprivation rather than sense indulgence, taking away things that provide us comfort and meaning in order to focus in on the meaning of the upcoming time.

Advent, and Christmas, then, are about remembering God’s great love for us, which is so great that he sent his Son as the fullness of truth.  Jesus emptied himself of power, and chose to embrace the human experience, beginning as a deeply vulnerable child.  He was such a threat to the powerful even as a child that a king committed genocide to seek to remove the threat.  He was not born to the elite, but to a common man and his wife.  And over the course of his life, he proclaimed this simple message from the lectionary today;

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

Why?

“Because the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

That last phrase has come to mean so much more to me over the past year.  Jesus gave his life as a ransom.  In his life and teaching, he ransoms us from our selfish, rebellious way of life that makes us comfortable but spits on and denies the dignity of God and his creation.  He redeems us to be people of radical humility, unconditional love, and simple obedience.  In Jesus’ death, he ransoms us from the fear of death; facing his conspirators and his eventual murder with quiet strength.  In this act, even as we crushed him in our rebellion, he showed the love of God and the depth of God’s commitment to forgive and reconcile us.  And we are to do the same.  In his resurrection, he ransoms us further from the fear of death, revealing the power of a God more powerful than death; a God who rewards his people in life with abundant life and meaning, and a God who rewards his faithful people in death with life that extends into eternity.

Jesus ransoms us.

In the absurdity and sadness of what the Christmas season has become.
In the detached time of busyness, complexity, stress, and insane spending.
On this day, Black Friday, the day where we are encouraged to wait for stores to open at absurd hours so we can give them our money to “save.”
This official beginning of the Christmas season, the season where we follow the example of Santa Claus, raining down gifts everywhere in blissful disregard for the cost later,
may one single voice, the voice of the reason for the season,
whisper through,
“One’s life is not found in the abundance of possessions. Cease your striving. Simplify. Give your life, your energy, your money, to those who need it most. Spend your time and money primarily among the marginalized.”
Few will listen to this voice,
in a world where for Christmas, our parades sing the theme, “I believe in imagination. I believe in childlike hope. I believe in love. I believe in…
Santa Claus.”
Yet may disciples of Jesus strip away the stress of the season, taking on the resentment of friends and family who have grown used to the way of materialism, gathering that burden on our shoulders for the sake of our King, and say;
“Jesus is enough.”
Quiet.
Still.
Listen.

“God’s kingdom isn’t about our successes or failures; it’s about God’s movement in this world.  We must learn to simply join in, wait, and hope.”

-Russell Jeung

The Story of Stuff…

Perspective on unfettered capitalism’s toxic consequences.  GREAT education.  A few stats are cooked a bit to seem more extreme, but by and large, this is a great video. Annie Leonard is full of wise, generative, hopeful comments. Listen in! You’ll be glad you did.

I just have one extended thought in response to the video. It’s funny how far we will go to defend our way of life, even when it results in disaster. I say this because my first response to this video is a sense of deep guilt, which I generally try to massage away by either ignoring critiques or continuing to believe my way is better. I’m learning not to do this, but when the system Annie critiques in the video is as powerful and all-consuming (pun intended) as it is, people will look for any way to justify why we continue to feed the system.

Ex. 1.  When unfettered capitalism feeds the bloated corporations that make the system go, and these corporations make massive amounts of money off the average consumer, and when those corporations in their short-sighted actions refuse to adapt and get to the point where they are no longer solvent, who do we blame?  And who bears the cost?  Ask these questions about Ford or GM.  Who, generally speaking, in our society, gets the blame for Ford and GM’s problems?  Answer:  The UAW taking up too much of the bottom line.  And who pays to keep Ford and GM solvent?  The average taxpayer.  And who’s laughing all the way to the bank?  The corporate elites, who continue to be enabled in their greed.

Toxic theology: “Support” Israel or be cursed by God

I was reading my mom’s Charisma magazine last week as we watched the Republican National Convention, and I flat out lost my temper. You wouldn’t have known it on the outside, because I seemed to be OK. If you knew me well (like my wife, who shot me a look of concern), you would’ve known I was upset, but it wasn’t hugely obvious.

I’m just gonna say this. I am so very tired of hearing Pentecostal/evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist/apocalyptic Christians talk about “supporting Israel.” If you’d like a definition of what they mean when they call us to “support Israel,” maybe the following will suffice. From the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) main page: “The Bible commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), to speak out for Zion’s sake (Isaiah 62:1), to be watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6) and to bless the Jewish people (Genesis 12:3). These and so many other verses of the Bible that have one overriding message– as Christians we have a Biblical obligation to defend Israel and the Jewish people.”

For months now, I have inwardly seethed and said nothing as I saw blatant misrepresentations and misinterpretations of Scriptures to support such a position, and I can no longer stand idly by.

For right now, I’m going to offer a simple outline for the reading of the Scriptures that will guide us to a more wise, discerning position on this issue of “supporting Israel.” First, there is the foundational Scripture passage for Christian Zionists that comes from Genesis 12:1-3, and it reads;

The LORD had said to Abram,
“Leave your country,
your people and your father’s household
and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Essentially, the LORD tells Abe two things. First, he will be made into a great nation, and second, those who interact with Abe’s descendents will face consequences for how they treat them; positive ones for blessing them, and negative ones for cursing them.

Now, clearly, the historical result of God’s promise to Abe was the creation of the people of Israel. One could assume (as the above-mentioned “leaders” do) that this includes all of the Jewish people up until the present day. That assumption would be unwise and ultimately false. “Why?” you may ask. I’ll give good clear Scriptural reasons why. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, verse 7 and following, John the Baptist (a Jew), said this to some fellow Jews who came out to the desert to hear the message he was proclaiming;

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

What John tells his Jewish hearers is essentially this; the claim to be a descendent of Abraham is not based on biological heritage, but instead on whether one obeys God. This is very different from the way we typically think about heritages today, so it might be a bit weird for us to grasp what John is saying, but he uses the metaphor of trees to illustrate his point. The trees are “Abraham’s children,” and those who do not “produce good fruit” (faithful living, obedience) will be “thrown into the fire” (cut off from God’s “great nation”).

During Jesus’ ministry that directly followed John the Baptist’s, Jesus said something that expounded on John’s statement. Again, it’s a bit mystical, but not terribly hard to figure out. It comes from the gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 31 and following. This passage comes right in the middle of Jesus speaking both with those his disciples (those obeying him) and the Pharisees (those not all sold on his message, and therefore disobeying him);

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here.

In this passage, Jesus is also questioning the people’s belief that they are Abraham’s descendents based on biological parentage. He makes an important distinction between being Abraham’s “descendents” and being Abraham’s children. Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the things Abraham did.” His implication is obvious; those who disobey him are no longer Abraham’s children. Their disobedience places them outside of the covenant people of God.

To reinforce in a powerful way what John the Baptist and Jesus have already made clear, we turn to the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapters 9-11, Paul gives an extended argument on how a vast majority of the people of Israel now are no longer considered children of Abraham. Beginning his argument, Paul writes in chapter 9 (you can almost hear him wailing this through tears);

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Who are the children of the promise?” we might ask in response to this section of the Scriptures. As Jesus stated very clearly, it is those who “hold to my teaching.” And since a huge majority of Jews in Paul’s day denied Jesus was the Messiah (all the way up to today), Paul uses harsh imagery in the following passage to illustrate that they are no longer Abraham’s children. If you remember John using a tree as a metaphor, Paul uses a metaphor of tree branches. And this section in Romans 11 is addressed to Gentiles (non-Jews);

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”

Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

In Paul’s metaphor of the branches of an olive tree, the root of the tree is God, and the branches are those who make up God’s “nation.” The Gentiles are “wild olive shoots” that have been grafted in among the other, we could say, more natural branches. The other branches aren’t more natural in that they’re more human, or somehow more gifted. They’re simply more natural in that they should know what the truth is since God called them to seek and represent the truth to the world before the others. And Paul makes clear here that being part of the tree is rooted in “faith,” which is essentially trusting God and obeying him.

You can really see Paul’s struggle as he, a biological descendent of Abraham, laments that most of the other biological descendents of Abraham are no longer part of the faithful people of Israel, but he makes no bones about it. Those who were formerly outside Abraham’s blessing (Gentiles) are now inheritors of the blessing, while those with biological connections to Abraham are now cut off from the blessing. Gentiles are now part of the people of Israel, along with the Jews who trusted and obeyed Jesus as Messiah. The message can’t be much clearer than that, and flat-out obvious for readers to see.

I’m tired of seeing evangelical leaders like John Hagee and Stephen Strang and the late Jerry Falwell use threats and fear to urge Christians to “support Israel,” suggesting that Christians who don’t blindly support what Israel does will be cursed. This is a disgusting, unholy, unfaithful practice, and it grieves the heart of God. Not to mention when you haul out threats to substantiate your message, that generally shows your motives are childish and petty

So Christians, when you hear supposed Christian “leaders” justify the modern Israeli state’s illegal settlements, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Palestinians or other Middle Eastern Arabs by saying things like,

“God said to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). This is God’s foreign policy statement concerning the Jewish people.” (Stephen Strang October 27, 2006)”

and

“I firmly believe God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew. If this nation wants her fields to remain white with grain, her scientific achievements to remain notable, and her freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with Israel.” (Jerry Falwell in book Listen America! 1980),

ignore their fearmongering and simply say, “No, Jerry and Stephen. I am a part of Israel today, and I will not stand for your baseless positions that support hatred, murder, and fear. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find someone more naive and Biblically illiterate than me to sit under your authority.

I am SO sick and tired of Christian leaders spouting this drivel that leads Christians to justify some of the disgusting things the modern Israeli state is carrying out. May we reject fear and seek the truth in God’s word. May we tremble and maintain a healthy fear of God’s word, not those of misguided leaders.

Humbly, yet forcefully seeking the truth,
Nathan Myers

Democracy and Socialism vs. Capitalism

Bethany and I watched Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko” the other day, and I have to say I was impressed with his balanced approach to this one (as opposed to the G.W. Bush hate-fest that Fahrenheit 9/11 was).  Aside from my appreciation of Moore’s sarcastic wit and the powerful stories of suffering persons in Sicko, the most insightful and important part of the movie, in my opinion, was Moore’s conversation with former member of Parliament Tony Benn.  I went ahead and transcribed it word for word, and I’ll bold what I thought were the most important insights by Tony.  I found a shorter Youtube video that has a fragment of the interview as well.  His thoughts on democracy and the power of the people to effect change are incredible, and really show how cynical and lazy Americans are in comparison to other places in the world when it comes to working for social change.

Benn:  It all began with democracy.  (Before) if you had money, you could get health care, education, look after yourself when you were old, and what democracy did was to give the poor the vote and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station, from the wallet to the ballot.

And what people said was very simple, “In the 1930s we had mass unemployment, but we didn’t have unemployment during the War.  If you can have full employment by killing Germans, we can have full employment by building hospitals, by building schools, recruiting nurses, recruiting teachers.  If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.

This  leaflet that was issued in 1948 is very straightforward;

“Your new national health service begins on the 5th of July. What is it and how do you get it?  It will provide you with all medical, dental, and nursing care, everyone rich or poor, man or child, can use it or part of it, there are no charges except for a few exceptional items, there are no insurance qualifications, but it is not a charity. You are paying for it mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness.”

Somehow the few words sum the whole thing up.  Even Margaret Thatcher said, “It’s safe in our hands.”  It’s as non-controversial as votes for women.  Nobody could come along now and say, “Why should women vote?”  People wouldn’t have it, and they wouldn’t accept the deterioration or destruction of the National Health Service.

Moore:  “If Thatcher or Blair said, ‘I’m going to dismantle the National Health Service?’”

Benn:  There would be a revolution, yep…

I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world.  Far more revolutionary than socialist ideas or anyone else’s ideas.  If you have power, you use it to meet the needs of you and your community.  And this idea of choice, which capitalism talks about all the time, ‘You’ve gotta have a choice,’ choice depends on the freedom to choose, and if you’re shackled with debt, you don’t have the freedom to choose.

Moore:  It seems like it benefits the system if the average working person is shackled with debt

Benn:  Yes, people in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote.  So people say, “Well, everyone should vote.”  I say that if the poor in Britain and the United States turned out and voted for people who represented their interests, it would be a real democratic revolution.  They (the system) don’t want that to happen, so (they’re)  keeping people hopeless and pessimistic. 

I think there are two ways people are controlled.  First, they are frightened people, and secondly, demoralized.  An educated, healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern, and I think there’s an element of thinking in some people, “We don’t want people to be educated, healthy, and confident, because they would get out of control. 

The top 1% of the world’s population own 80% of the world’s wealth.  It’s incredible that people put up with it!  But, they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened, and therefore think perhaps the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best.

This is an attack on the black church (and if the black church, then the church at large)…

Jeremiah Wright and Cornel West have awakened me from my middle-class white slumber in the last three months.  Lost amidst all the hullabaloo from 10-second sound-bites yanked from the greater context of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons which news organizations then talked hours on is the greater message Jeremiah is seeking to convey to the American nation. Jeremiah Wright is not Obama’s lapdog, and Obama is not his. Barack Obama is a politician, and Jeremiah Wright is an eloquent, shockingly-honest, sometimes-divisive pastor of God’s church.  The two are very different things. In order for us to understand the experience of the black church and the foundation from which Wright speaks, we need to move beyond the sound-bites and into a good, full listen to him in the videos below; even if, or especially if, we disagree with him.

If you are a person who is sick and tired of news organizations telling us what we should believe and showing us what we should see, please give this man a full listen in the videos below.

And if you want to know, REALLY know, this man that Barack Obama is separating himself from because of mushy political centrism in seeking to get elected, please give this man a full listen in the videos below. Barack Obama is being more and more exposed as a man who used Trinity UCC as a leg up, as a prestige card to play with the black community, rather than a fully participating member invested in attacking the problem of racism head-on. Calling for racial unity is nice and all, but when significant embedded racism still exists in our society, it’s time for troublemakers, rabble-rousers to stand up and speak truth to power, their political careers be damned.

And let this be stated clearly, if you can watch Survivor or American Idol or Dancing with the Stars (“reality” shows) or Lost or 24 or The Office (hour-long escapes from reality into suspended disbelief) or Hannity and Colmes (a show of barking partisan hacks) for hours on end every week, I’m fairly certain you can watch an embattled man (and a fine one at that) talk about something of vital importance for our world today in the videos below.

I’m sitting on some thoughts, but I will write them in the next couple days after wrapping up some loose ends for school. So keep attuned here if you’re interested in catching some of my thoughts on this; I want to contribute to this conversation that is simply not taking place in our society right now. It is DESPERATELY needed, and I want to be a part of it. Even in a little tiny way.

Video #2 of the same speech

Video #3 of the same speech

Video #4 of the same speech

Video #5 of the same speech

Video #6 of the same speech

Spirituality is not only an inner experience…

Personal piety has become widespread, but unfortunately it is confined to what could be called purely religious experience, which cannot stand before God. Many of these exclusively religious movements have arisen in recent years, confining themselves to preaching and personal confessions of faith, to a private experience of the Savior and a very limited personal sanctification. However much we rejoice that people are awakened to a love for Jesus, that they experience forgiveness of sin in His death on the Cross, we must state that Christ’s love and the meaning of His death on the Cross are not fully understood if they are restricted to the individual’s subjective experience of salvation. It was to be foreseen years ago that the influence of modern theology would be disastrous. True, it did show us something great: God is totally other than all our movements for personal salvation or social reform. Yet a one-sided emphasis on this otherness, which removes the living God to the distant Beyond, is bound to have the effect of minimizing or even suppressing social responsibility.

-Eberhard Arnold, 1934

arnold

In other news, Eberhard Arnold clearly did not cause ladies to swoon from his looks, but the intellect and the discipleship…maybe?