Posts Tagged 'Consumerism'

So this is Christmas (War is Not Over)

Today is one of the days in the church calendar that I most appreciate – the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. During the 12 days of  Christmas, there is a day to remember that the birth of the Prince of Peace threatened the Roman Empire so much that it resorted immediately to the tool that marks every empire – violence. With a lust for power and control, King Herod ushered a decree that baby boys under the age of two be massacred, in hopes of killing the one who was deemed to be the true King. It was a state-sponsored infanticide, thousands were murdered, and the Holy Family fled as refugees.

As I’m writing this my nieces and nephews are squealing with delight as they run around and play with each other. The two youngest are under two years of age, and I cannot imagine the horror of an army coming around and murdering them in cold blood. (Later,  at the dinner table, I was discussing this article, and my dad asked why the “Holy Innocents” are so “Holy”. My 9 year old nephew wondered if it was because being holy is being set apart for God, and these infants died instead of Jesus, so they were set apart in heaven. Genius.)

My appreciation of this awful day might seem a little masochistic, but after the peace and beauty and joy that we’re all supposed to feel at Christmas (and I do often feel and love these things), I like being thrown back into the reality that for most people in the world, life is completely cruel and marked mostly by suffering. Because it’s authentic.

As I speak, violence is rising in the South Sudan and the newly formed country is quickly deteriorating – with hundreds of innocents slaughtered in the past two weeks and a friend of mine having to evacuate the country.

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers drive in a truck in Juba, Wouth Sudan, December 21, 2013.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers drive in a truck in Juba, Wouth Sudan, December 21, 2013.

The number of Syrian refugees continues to rise well over the million-mark.

Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border.

Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border.

Disaster is still wide-spread in the Philippines after the horrendous typhoon.

Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway, after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in The Philippines

Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway, after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in The Philippines

The empire of globalized capitalism consumes its slave-labour victims year by year.

Clothing garment factory in Bangladesh deemed "slave labour" "Against God" by Pope Francis

Clothing garment factory in Bangladesh deemed “slave labour” “Against God” by Pope Francis

In my own country of Canada, First Nations people were ruthlessly slaughtered and are still being perpetually thrown aside on their own land, their “reserves” more like majority-world countries, and their commitment to stewarding their land well by resisting the oil pipeline pushed by the settler state is ignored.

Charles Heit, a Gitxsan First Nation member opposed to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat warms himself beside a fire at a camp outside the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, B.C., on Thursday January 12, 2012.

Charles Heit, a Gitxsan First Nation member opposed to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat warms himself beside a fire at a camp outside the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, B.C., on Thursday January 12, 2012.

This day provides the opportunity to cut out all of the bullshit that sometimes comes with Christmas – the other-worldly angelic joy, the commercialism of it all, the pretending that Christmas has saved us all – because it hasn’t…yet.

The Massacre was the introduction of what Christ was up against in his lifetime, and it is what we are up against in ours. For Christ there was a violent empire that when challenged, would not hesitate to kill and destroy all in its path, and the same is true for us. The penalty for following this Prince of Peace into the darkness and the suffering will ultimately threaten the empires that rule today (if we are doing it right), and hell hath no fury like a threatened empire.

So what to do?

As Anne Lamott says in her new book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, “we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.” She continues,  “we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross [like Mary], and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us….To be honest, that sucks. It’s the worst, even if you are the mother of God.”

Presence and solidarity with those who are suffering, without any cute platitudes like “God’s plan is perfect” — which only makes things worse — is hard, but it’s so essential and a good place to start.

But then what? Lamott continues

Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild towns after hurricanes and tornados. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry…we live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky.

Or, we can do something equally dramatic, and go be present with those most suffering in our world, and work with and for them in whatever way you are gifted and able.

For as my seminary professor of Ethics of Wealth and Poverty once said, every act of social justice (or simple kindness, in my opinion) is a foretaste and foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom of justice, peace, and flourishing for all.

So today, we remember. We educate ourselves, and others. We lament. We are present with the suffering. We get stitchin’.

But first, we let go of all of our sadness and meager attempts to God. From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen.

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The Lord is my Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part II

(You may be ‘lost’ without first reading Part I!)

 

Benjamin Linus: Omnipotent Leader or Bluffing Manipulator?

Benjamin Linus is not only the most complex and compelling character on Lost, but perhaps in all of television history. A leader of ‘the Others’ who helped plan ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative, Ben is wickedly deceitful, conniving, and downright creepy. His menacing, cold stare is enough to give anyone the chills. When we first meet him, he is caught in a trap in the jungle and claims, quite convincingly, to be a survivor of a hot-air balloon crash. This was his first of many lies to come. Throughout the next five seasons Ben vehemently claims that his ways, though obviously evil (genocide, kidnapping, and torture, to name a few), are for the ‘good of the Island’. He seems to have ultimate knowledge about the Island’s mysteries, and the viewers are led to believe that if anyone has a ‘God’s-eye-view” of the Island, it is Ben. He is absolutely ruthless in his loyalty towards it, as well as towards Jacob whom he claims to ‘take orders’ from. After Jack is able to make contact with Widmore’s freighter (which he believes to be a rescue boat), Ben pleads with him to not let them come to the Island, as they are not ‘good people’ and will kill them all. Jack does not listen, and Widmore’s mercenaries come and hold Ben’s daughter hostage in an attempt to capture him. Instead of doing everything he can to save his daughter, Ben refuses to leave the Island, and she is killed. Ben is shocked, and whispers “He changed the rules,” implying again that he has ultimately knowledge about the ‘rules’ of the Island. Then, in an attempt to hide the Island from Widmore, Ben ‘moves’ it, through time, by turning a mysterious frozen wheel (the wheel that the Man in Black was going to install centuries earlier) far below the surface of the Island. This causes it to disappear from sight, and transports him off the Island to the middle of a Tunisian desert. He spends the next three years manipulating the Oceanic Six – some of the plane crash survivors who were later rescued – to return to the Island because they “were never supposed to leave.” Again, Ben seems to have an ultimate knowledge of the Island and the survivors’ ‘special purposes’ on it. He has a master plan of how to return to this Island, which includes convincing the Oceanic Six that they all need to go back. The friends they left behind, he says, “are in danger.” Ben appears to know what is happening on the Island, even though he has not been there in three years. His seemingly all-knowing ways convince us that he must have ultimate knowledge that will unlock the mysteries of the Island for us all.

We eventually learn however, that Ben was nothing more than a bluffing, emotionally scarred man who desperately wanted to be ‘special.’ After returning to the Island, he confessed to Locke that he had never even met Jacob and had deceived everyone in order to hold his power. He knew nothing about The Light or other mysteries of the Island, only that the Island was unique and needed to be protected. Yet Ben was not born a manipulative seeker of power. His behaviour was socially constructed. His flashbacks reveal that he was brought to the Island as a child by his father, a member of the DHARMA Initiative. His father was an alcoholic who blamed him for the death of his mother, who died in childbirth. Ben was consistently beaten and insulted by his father, which caused him to feel powerless and dejected. When he saw a vision of his dead mother, he followed her into the jungle where he met Richard Alpert, the ageless represented of Jacob who lived with ‘the Others.’ After telling Richard that he followed his dead mother out there, Richard told Ben that because he could see his mother, he must be ‘special,’ and that he could join them if he wanted. Ben, desiring to feel valuable, eventually helped the Others to kill the DHARMA Initiative, which earned him respect in the eyes of the Others. Eventually he became their leader, and slowly his desire to feel special grew into a love of power, which he eventually became willing to protect at all costs. In the end, Ben was terribly regretful and repentant about his manipulative ways, and sought the forgiveness and well-being of all those he had hurt. His life story is a critique of the modernist belief in ultimate and objective truth. For although we were led to believe that Ben possessed infinite knowledge about the Island, in the end we learn he was nothing more than a broken, lonely man whose perspective was  merely socially constructed, limited interpretation of reality.

Eloise Hawking: Oracle of Destiny or Student of Her Murdered Son?

A similar pattern is echoed in the life of the seemingly all-knowing, time-traveling guru, Eloise Hawking. (1) We first meet her as an elderly woman who guides Desmond (2)  towards his ‘fate’ of crashing on the Island in order to push the button.  She talks much of people’s ‘destiny’ and what is ‘supposed to happen’ and ‘sacrifice’ for the ‘sake of the Island’. She appears to know all about the unique nature of the Island, what will happen next, and what needs to happen for the ‘good of humanity.’ She is a stoic woman who tells Ben that if the Oceanic Six don’t return to the Island than ‘God help us all’.  She also tells Desmond that he must return with them as “the Island is not done with you yet.’ She is the one who informs us all – by telling some of the Oceanic Six in a mysterious DHARMA station in Los Angeles called ‘the Lamp Post’(3)  – that the Island is outside of time and is constantly moving.  She tells them that they must get on Ajira flight 316 (a reference to the biblical verse describing God’s plan of salvation – a foreshadowing allegory for the Island’s plan of salvation) that will fly over a portal to the Island at a specific time that will get them back.  In all she says and does, she seems to have a mystical union with the Island and ultimate knowledge about its mysteries.

“Seems” being the key word, for nothing is as it appears on Lost. For in a number of flashbacks we learn that in her twenties, Eloise was once the leader of ‘the Others’ who had an affair with Charles Widmore, who was her co-leader. Shortly after she became pregnant with his son, she shot a 35 year-old man that had entered their camp waving a gun. As he lay dying, he told her that he was her son. This man was Daniel Faraday, a physicist who had time-traveled back to the 70s in order to prevent the chain of events that would lead to the crash of the survivors’ plane.(4)  After he died, Eloise looked at his notebook full of highly advanced equations concerning time travel and saw a note in her handwriting, signed, “Love Mother”. She was shocked, and took the notebook for herself. In another flashback, we see Daniel as a small child, in America, and a grief-stricken Eloise, 10 years after she shot her adult son on the Island, telling him that it is his ‘destiny’ to pursue science. She pushes him through school, and he earns a PhD in Physics and specializes in the research of space-time. He is sent on a mission to the Island by his father – Charles Widmore – with the other freighter people who were ordered to capture Ben and kill everyone else. Eloise knew that Daniel would be on the Island when Ben turned the mysterious wheel, which would cause the Island to move through time. She knew that Daniel and the others would end up in the 1970s – when she was the leader of the Others -where he would eventually storm into her camp and she would shoot him.

Even though it pained her to send Daniel to his death at her young hands, it was his journal, with all the advanced time travel equations, that allowed her to manipulate the Island’s time-traveling capabilities. With that journal she would not be able to travel through time and space, and she would not know so much about the people who eventually came to the Island. Originally, Eloise appeared to have ultimate, infinite knowledge about the Island, but as we discover, everything she knows is because of the space-time equations in her son’s journal. In reality, we find that she is a plain woman who once made a horrible, ill-fated mistake, one that just happened to provide her with scientific knowledge from the future.

Jacob: Demigod or Flawed and Lonely Mama’s Boy?

We didn’t see him till the end of the fifth season, yet if anybody held ultimate knowledge on the Island, it was the enigmatic, god-like leader of all leaders, Jacob. During the first 102 episodes of Lost, we constantly heard Ben and the Others mention ‘Jacob’s lists’, and whether or not Jack or Kate were ‘good’ enough to be written there. We also heard them talk of ‘Jacob’s orders’ and ‘Jacob’s rules’, of which we were given little more information about. The mere mention of his named caused those present to straighten their posture or bow their heads in reverence. In a brainwashing film that the Others’ forced a young ‘traitor’ to watch, all sorts of eerie images and sounds flashed before him including a 3-second flash of the phrase “God loves you as he loved Jacob” in bold bubble letters. Like the Jacob of the Bible, the island’s Jacob seemed to be some sort of chosen patriarch, the truest and highest father, the one who knew all of its deepest mysteries.  His children – those he was able to mysteriously ‘bring’ to the Island – seemed to be wandering in the ‘wilderness’ of the Island’s jungle for many years, obeying his every command.

When we first see him in the last episode of season five, he is young man, blonde, and wearing a white tunic. He is living alone, in a chamber under a broken statue of the Egyptian goddess of birth and rebirth, Taweret. He is weaving a tapestry full of Eygptian hieroglyphics and Greek phrases. He catches a fish and while sitting on the beach, his adversary, the Man in Black, appears. He sits and sees an old ship coming in the distance. Their dialogue feels Shakespearean.

MIB: You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong?
Jacob: [Looks calmly at him] You are wrong.
MIB: Am I? They come; they fight; they destroy; they corrupt. It always ends the same.
Jacob: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that…is just progress.
MIB: [Pause] Do you have any idea how badly I want to kill you?
Jacob: Yes.
MIB: One of these days, sooner or later, I’m going to find a loophole, my friend.
Jacob: Well, when you do I’ll be right here.

It seems they have been having this conversation for centuries. We later learn that Jacob believes that mankind is good and capable of loving sacrifice for others; while the Man in Black believes ‘it is in their very nature to sin.’ We soon see a contemporary Jacob in the flashbacks of many of the Oceanic survivors, touching them at some pivotal moment in their lives – Kate when she steals a lunchbox as a child, Locke when his father pushes him out of a window, and Jack after his father humiliated him during his first spinal surgery. He touches all six of the ‘Candidates’ – those he has chosen as his potential replacements as Protector of the Island. He seems wise, kind, and compassionate – a father figure to all of the Candidates who, we have learned, all have dysfunctional relationships with their fathers. At the same time, it appears that Jacob may be using those he brings to the Island as pawns in a centuries-old game to prove his nemesis wrong.

His backstory though, reveals a much different picture. Jacob is not a god, nor is the Man in Black. As I mentioned earlier, they were twin brothers whose mother arrived on the Island after being shipwrecked. Jacob clung to his guardian ‘Mother’ and always felt a bit stung when she seemed to favor his brother (the opposite of the Biblical story in which the mother favors Jacob). After the Man in Black left to join the other camp of people, Mother brought Jacob to The Light again and told him he has to be the one to protect it, for as long as he can, and then he will have to find his replacement. Jacob, far from his stoic, calm, wise self that we had come to know, reacts like a mere whiny child.

Jacob: I don’t wanna protect it.
Mother: Someone has to.
Jacob: [rebelliously] I don’t care!
Mother: My time is over.
Jacob: [confused and afraid] Why? Why is your time over?
Mother: It has to be you, Jacob.
Jacob: No it doesn’t! You wanted it to be him! [Angrily] But now I’m all you have.
Mother: It was always supposed to be you Jacob. I see that now. And one day you’ll see it too.     But until then, you don’t really have a choice.

Jacob reluctantly takes the cup of wine and assumes responsibility for the role of Protector. The next morning, his brother, the Man in Black, kills his mother. Jacob throws his brother into the Light, turning him into the Black Smoke and for the next few centuries, he would bring people to the Island, trying to find his replacement. He revealed to the remaining four Candidates, Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley, that he chose them because they were like him – flawed and alone, and in need of the Island as much as it was in need of them.

Flawed and alone. Though he had confidence that people were capable of choosing good (which Jack proves in the end), Jacob chose the Candidates because they were in need of healing and redemption – which they would find by struggling together on the Island. He knew this not because he was not an all-knowing, all-powerful, god-like leader as we were led to believe for almost six full seasons. He knew because he was able to travel through time and meet them at various times in their lives. In the end, we learn that, like Ben and Eloise, he to was a simple, broken, lonely person who crashed on a special Island and regrettably turned the last of his family into a cloud of evil smoke.

Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob were all characters who initially appeared to have ultimate knowledge but who ended up simply being regular people who made terrible choices that resulted in much heartache. As much as we trusted in each of them to be the ones that would unlock the mysteries of the Island, they all were as just as ‘lost’ as we were. In weaving these characters’ stories into the heart of the narrative, the writers are pounding yet another nail into the modernist coffin. If we believe that it is possible to know things ‘ultimately,’ ‘objectively,’ and ‘rationally,’ we are deceiving ourselves, as these characters deceived us, into thinking that our upbringing, surroundings, and culture have no effect on us. No one is capable of having a “God’s-eye perspective,” or “The Absolute Answer to it All” because all of our experiences and knowledge, like that of Ben, Eloise, and Jacob, are limited interpretations of reality, which are merely socially-, historically-, and culturally constructed. It is this concept that the Church tends to feel uncomfortable with.

But the Church need not be alarmed, for just because a perspective is an interpretation, it does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid; relativism is not the automatic alternative to objectivity. James K.A. Smith’s words are both insightful and encouraging:

To assert that our interpretation is not an interpretation but objectively true often translates into the worst kinds of imperial and colonial agendas, even within a pluralistic culture. Acknowledging the interpreted status of the gospel should translate into a certain humility in our public theology. It should not, however, translate into skepticism about the truth of the Christian confession. If the interpretive status of the gospel rattles our confidence in its truth, this indicates that we remain haunted by the modern desire for objective certainty. But our confidence rests not on objectivity but rather on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit (which isn’t exactly objective); the loss of objectivity, then, does not entail a loss of kerygmatic boldness about the truth of the gospel. (5)

Recognizing our perspective as an interpretation is simply a more authentic and humble epistemology (theory of knowledge) that will prevent the arrogant violence of modernity and open up space for the voices of the suppressed and marginalized – who were silenced during modernity- to be heard. But what is the difference between a ‘true interpretation’ – as Smith suggests – and ‘Objective Truth’? This is an important question, and one that I’ll explore during our discussion of Jack Shepherd’s transformative journey. For now, the stories of the characters we have looked at so far serve as a warning to us about the dangers of the modernist sensibility. If the desire to conquer the unknown by seeking ultimate, rationalistic, objective answers leads only to violence against the ‘other’ and ignores the socially constructed nature of our perspectives, we must reject this desire. The postmodern sensibility though, is not much easier to swallow.

A Chaotic, Complex Cacophony of Cultural Confusion

mural found in the hatch

Like the alliteration above, there is a method to the madness of Lost. While the narrative offers us a weighty critique of modernity, the literary devices used throughout the story offer a reflection of the postmodern response. Lost is a ‘pastiche’ – a random, hodge-podge of various philosophical, literary, religious, mythological, and pop culture references – that is intended to make us feel as disoriented as the plane crash survivors who discover a polar bear on a tropical island. Characters are named after philosophers, religious icons and spiritual or literary figures: John Locke, Desmond Hume, Danielle Rousseau, Jeremy Benthem, Jack and Christian Shephard, Kate Austen, James “Sawyer” Ford, Richard Alpert (the birth name of Baba Ram Das, a contemporary spiritual teacher), Charlotte Staples (C.S.) Lewis, and the Island’s patriarch, Jacob. There are literally hundreds of direct and indirect references to Star Wars, as Hurley (the large, hilarious, genuine, and most-loved character) regularly compares their situation to those in the films. He refers to Jack’s healing of another survivor’s asthma by simply calming her down as a ‘Jedi moment’ and Jacob’s vague instructions on how to protect the Island as ‘worse than Yoda.’

Hurley-vision!

As the characters discover various DHARMA Stations, we regularly see the octagon DHARMA symbol which is an allusion to the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. There are hundreds of Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered on secret doors in the homes of ‘the Others,’ in the various DHARMA stations, in caves, on the walls of underground passages, and the Temple. Jacob lives under the statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret. In one of the last scenes of Lost, the characters all meet at a multi-faith church, and there is a significant camera focus on a stained-glass window that is literally a patch-work of eight different religious / philosophical symbols – a Yin-Yang, a Star of David, a Christian cross, a Buddhist Dharma Wheel, a Hindu Omkar (Aum), and an Islamic Star and crescent (Ottoman symbol). Far from the ‘One True Culture’ that would have been represented by the Christian cross, or the scientific Atom symbol, a variety of perspectives are seemingly put on a level playing field.

Pomo in a Window!

There are also hundreds of examples of hyper-textuality (the postmodern theory about the inter-connectedness of all literary works and their interpretation) that serve to broaden the scope of the confusion. Characters are seen either reading, looking at, or displaying on their bookshelf texts such as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, The Bible, Catch-22 by Josephy Heller, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Ulysses by James Joyce, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, among dozens of others.

Sawyer reading 'Watership Down'

Characters also make direct references to The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Superman by Jerry Siegel, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, amongst many others. Furthermore, Damon and Carlton (the creators) have mentioned that Stephen King’s The Dark Tower trilogy (which describe a “Gunslinger” and his quest toward a powerful tower), and the post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel The Stand are both extremely influential on the story of Lost. The multitude of connections to other texts, all with their own themes, ideas, and critiques, provides a limitless realm of exploration for viewers who are seeking to understand their significance for Lost. As Cari Vaughn asserts in her article “Lost in Hypertext”:

This virtual enlargement of the already complex entity of Lost provides the willing viewer/reader, with a virtually limitless string of interconnected characters and themes, one that encourages a more personal and individual experience of the show. Allowing, even encouraging, viewers and readers to create meaning is the very definition of reader response and hypertext theory. (6)

By linking the story of Lost to hundreds of stories outside of the narrative, the writers create a sense of interaction by leading the viewers on a journey far outside of Lost, one that leads down a labyrinth of rabbit holes with no clear exit in sight. All this combined with the myriad of mysterious happenings, questions that remain unanswered, and fragmented storylines that are revealed in a non-linear fashion through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways, the writers are creating a sense of vertigo that enable the viewers to feel as dizzy and confused as the characters in the narrative.

“Come In and Get Lost!”


This advertisement on the outside of the bargain superstore Honest Ed’s in downtown Toronto provides a clue for understanding the foundation of the postmodern sensibility. This huge, sprawling, carnival of gaudiness that is Honest Ed’s, with its blinking show-tune lights and signs is disorienting to say the least. Replacing the circus of modernity, with its one great central performance  (calling itself the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ or the ‘One True Culture’), the carnival that is post-modernity offers us hundreds of sideshows. (7) At Honest Ed’s there are sideshow-like displays of plastic Elvis statues, jumping dolphin clocks, and polyester socks all competing for the consumer’s attention. The walls are plastered with old newspaper clippings, wacky signs, and framed pictures of random celebrities who have visited the store, further adding to the confusion. The choice of consumer products and the chaotic clutter is overwhelming. The experience of shopping at Honest Ed’s feels much like the experience of watching Lost, and much like trying to find our way through the jungle that is the postmodern age.

Inside Honest Ed's

After liberating ourselves from the horrors of modernity, with its “manipulative reason and fetish of the totality,” we are left to our own devices, wandering aimlessly through the pluralistic ‘shopping mall of ideas’ of post-modernity.(8)  A typical postmodern woman may practice yoga, wear clothing from Indonesia, cook Mexican food, and attend a Catholic Mass on Sundays.(9)  She is able to adorn herself in whatever bits and pieces of various cultures she wishes, creating her own ‘personal worldview style.’(10)  For with the rejection of the ‘One True Culture’ that characterized modernity, Western society has embraced the unlimited options of religions and worldviews that have been made available for our consumption. Walsh and Middleton give us the image of the modernist project being like the tower of Babel, and the postmodern situation like confusion of tongues, the overwhelming nature of the “cacophony of private languages and tribal agendas, all clamoring for our attention.” They go on to say that “the cultural unity of the tower of Babel is replace by the culture wars of the post-Babel situation.” (11) With each idea and worldview given ‘equal-footing,’ they are available to us in the West to pick and choose whatever parts suit our fancy at any given time.

Disorientation

Peter Berger perceptively refers to this as the ‘commodification of belief.’ The pluralist situation, he explains, is essentially a market situation. For with the range of options available, each religion and worldview is forced into competition with one another, like Nike vs. Addidas, or like the plastic Elvis statues vs. jumping dolphin clocks at Honest Ed’s. While the motto of modernity was the Cartesian “I think therefore I am,” the motto of post-modernity is “I consume therefore I am.” (12) Essentially then, post-modernity aids and abets the Empire – the Western, market-run economy of globalized consumerist capitalism. It may disguise itself as being tolerant, willing to listen to the perspective of the ‘other,’ and open to diversity, but if the Western market system is dominant, isn’t this still a modernist conquest – only this time of the global economy?(13)  Thus, as Walsh suggests, there is no such thing as post-modernity; it is really just hyper-modernity.(14)  It is hegemony (a conquest-driven ‘One True Culture’) in disguise as heterogeneity (‘diversity! freedom! tolerance!’). As Bruce Cockburn puts it, post-modernists are simply ‘slavers in drag as champions of freedom.’ (15) While the postmodern critique and distrust of modernity is accurate, its response is nowhere near radical enough. The liberation from modernity has left us not only wandering through the disorienting postmodern jungle, but getting snared in its vines. Who will come and untangle us lost sheep from the thorny thicket? Lost shows the way to freedom through the transformative journey of the Good Shephard we have come to know as Jack.

Part III

The Lord is My Jack Shephard; I Shall Not Want to Fix Everything : What the North American Church Can Learn From the Good Doctor

From System to Story

The Conclusion of the Matter

Endnotes

1- She is appropriately named after Stephen Hawking, a contemporary theoretical physicist who has written about the possibilities of time travel.

2 – Desmond is a Scottish man who crashed on the Island and spent 3 years entering the numbers into the computer in the hatch (the Swan Station). One day he failed to enter the numbers within 108 minutes, which caused the survivors’ plane to crash. Some theorize the electro-magnetic energy that was released when the button was not pushed melted the instruments of the plane and made the Island visible to the world for a brief minute.

3 – ‘The Lamp Post’ is a reference to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the lamp post marks the passage between Narnia and our world. The Lamp Post serves a similar function with regard to the Island.

4 – Daniel believed that if they dropped a nuclear bomb into the drilling site of the Swan Station, than the electro-magnetic energy would be destroyed, and the Swan Station would never be built, and Desmond would never not press the button that caused the plane to crash.

5 – James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 51.

6 – Cari Vaughn, “Lost in Hypertext.” Society for the Study of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010.     http://www.loststudies.com/2.1/hypertext.html.

7 – Middleton and Walsh, 42.

8 – Ibid., 37.

9 – Heath White, Post-Modernism 101 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 128.

10 – Ibid.

11- Ibid., 44.

12- Walsh and Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2004), 32.

13- Middleton and Walsh, 43-44.

14- Brian Walsh. “Post-modernity lecture.” Wycliffe College. Februrary 9, 2010.

15- Walsh, “Cockburn, “Justice” and the Postmodern Turn.” 7.

The Empire is Among Us (and Jesus is Luke Skywalker?)


“What the hell is ‘The Empire’?” I kept asking myself and my friends, bewildered after every Theology of Culture class with Brian Walsh this past September. He mentioned it in nearly every class, saying it had “captivated the West’s imaginations” and we all needed to “subvert” it. I was incredibly confused. After making the same “Like does he think it will strike back??”  lame attempt at a joke with each friend, we’d then get into a passionate discussion, trying to decipher what he meant. It’s “the Man” that is begging to be damned, it’s “the Machine” that is to be raged against, it’s “the Matrix” that is to be decoded and exposed. Or as my roommate Rob (who has worked with B. Walsh for years) would say with a half smirk, “hehehe, good question. I don’t even think he knows anymore.” While I knew intrinsically that I would be inspired if I could sort out in my brain all that I was learning about this new (to me) approach to interpreting the Scriptures, I was too afraid to ask such a simple question to my professor. He seemed to assume we all knew just what he meant when referring to this culturally packed word. After sheepishly gathering up the tiniest amount of courage, I asked him what it was, and received a rather brilliant, enlightening explanation. All which made perfect sense for a whole 3 hours, until I fell asleep, thinking giddily to myself “Jen, you should totally write this down! You get it!” The next morning, when I tried to explain to my counselor that I’d had a breakdown-turned-breakthrough, all I could enthusiastically spurt out was some mumble jumble about “the powers that be” and “not flying away to heaven.” Feeling somewhat defeated, yet utterly resolved to sort this out for my own personal sanity, I spent several hours on the website Empire Remixed, which, for the purpose of this assignment [for B. Walsh], I’ve decided to review as a cultural product.  Hopefully, by the end of this paper, and yet another frantic phone call to my classmate Dave Krause (who has been claiming repeatedly than B. Walsh is his best friend), I will have this all figured out.

According to Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making, a good way to learn about a culture (like ours, circa 2009) is to ask five questions of a cultural product it creates (such as Empire Remixed). The first question is, “What does this cultural product assume about the way the world is?” First, the website Empire Remixed assumes by its very medium that there’s a certain demographic of people, largely located in the West, that seek information through a networking of computers called the “internet.” People pay for access to this pool of information and are able thereafter freely post and respond to ideas. By the content of the ideas on Empire Remixed, one would assume that its creators believe that there’s an empire that is currently in power, that it’s distorting reality and controlling the masses, and that it needs to be rethought, reverted, and ultimately redeemed. The creators of the website are thus warning others who are reading their ideas about the dangers of this empire and are posing an alternative to being subject to it. However, freedom of speech is very present in this culture, even though it is supposedly under the rule of some evil empire! So what exactly is the nature of “The Empire”?

Well, an empire is, according to Wikipedia (another internet-based information source – obviously revealing the fact that I’m currently writing within the same culture), “a strong, centrally-controlled nation-state” but it can also refer to “a large-scale business enterprise (i.e. a transnational corporation) and a political organization of either national-, regional-, or city scale, controlled either by a person (a political boss) or a group authority (political bosses).” So, “The Empire” is essentially made up of several power systems and structures (political, economic, cultural and/or social) that are dominant in our world today. This would include (but is not be limited to), Western-style capitalism that creates all sorts of global injustice, the ideology of consumerism, the politics of greed, corruption and power, the destruction of the environment, and the media that portrays these systems as natural, woman as objects, and sex as merely a commodity.

According to the creators of Empire Remixed, the nature and ways of The Empire are diametrically opposed to the nature and ways of God, the Creator of the World. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are taken captive several times, and live in exile under the rule of either the Babylonian, Syrian, or Roman Empires (or others). The Israelites, commanded by God to live a distinct life that would separate them from the surrounding peoples, lived in exile under the control of the Babylonians, Syrians, or Romans (plus others). All empires not only had political and economic control over the Israelites, but they influenced their way of thinking, worshiping, and essentially their very identity. They became idolatrous, greedy, and conformed to the destructive mindsets and practices of their captors. They became people of the empire. The prophets, over and over throughout the centuries, came to call the Israelites to repent for taking on the idols and practices of the empires, and to remind them of their true identity, that they are the people of God.  According to Brian Walsh, when Jesus came, his entire life was lived in subversion to the Roman Empire, pointing the Israelites to reclaim their true identity and place in the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom turns the power structure of the empire on its head, by proclaiming that those who want to be first must be a servant of all, and that love, mercy, and justice should take the place of idolatry, greed, and oppression. By dying on a cross, the execution style used to maintain pax Romana, Jesus humbly surrendered his life to the violence of the Empire. But through his resurrection, he ultimately defeated the power of the Empire, ushering in a new era of everlasting peace and rule of a new empire – the Kingdom of God. He thus opened up possibilities for all to out their true identities, as the reconciled people of God, devoted to Kingdom principles.

According to Empire Remixed, there are many parallels that can be made between the Israelites who lived in exile, struggling to live as the People of God while under the powerful influence of the Empire, and modern Christians who currently live in a society that is controlled by the unjust practices and destructive, identity-distorting messages of globalized capitalism. During an interview with Empire Remixed in May 2006, N.T. Wright said that, “the Western economic structures, mostly located in, or based in, or at least in cahoots with the United States, have actually achieved without territorial conquest the same kind of hegemony over the rest of the world that in past days people achieved through precisely territorial conquest.” This is a rule that depends on greed, cut-throat competition, and oppression of the poor in order to maintain power that is held by a miniscule minority. Its rule depends on its subjects to buy into consumerism, the myth of progress, and selfish individualism in order to preserve pax Americana. It’s a rule pervades every area of people’s lives, threatening to steal their loyalties away from the one true Lord of the World, Jesus, and the one rightful empire – The Kingdom of God. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Thus, The Empire needs to be “remixed.” Andy Crouch’s second question to ask of a cultural product is, “What does it assume about the way the world should be?” First, the website assumes that Christ-followers should have an alternative to blindly following the ways of The Empire. There is a better way, and it starts by “remixing” the elements of the old way. In choosing the word “remixed”, the creators of the website also assume that it’s readers will understand the reference to the widely practiced technique of remixing music. To remix music is to change up the different elements of a song – to hear it again with a totally different perspective, a sought after “new and improved” version of the old. So, “remixing” the Empire is taking its elements, its distorted and dehumanizing mindsets and practices, and turning them on their heads. How does this look, practically speaking? A litany written by creators of Empire Remixed called “Amidst the Powers – A Benediction,” beautifully suggests that we should “dethrone the powers by redeeming them.” What does this look like in everyday life? The litany goes on:

If the powers render you homeless, build homes.
If the powers reduce sexuality to a commodity, enter into faithful covenant.
If the powers rob you of your children, then take them back.
If the powers create domination, then embrace sacrifice.
If the powers despoil creation, then plant a garden.
If the powers take away your wealth, then give away freely.
All of this is ‘kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.’

Thus, Christians should be continually subverting the Empire by starting with an element it throws at them, “remixing it,” and redeeming it by living out it’s intended Kingdom purpose. To remix the element of homelessness, therefore, is to build homes. To remix the destruction of creation is to plant a garden. To remix greed is to be generous, to remix consumerism is to live simply, to remix selfish individualism is to love and serve your neighbor. All of this is, “kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” a reference to the lyrics of Bruce Cockburn. In referring to the musician, the website also assumes that prophetic voices can be heard through modern musicians. Thus, God is still speaking today – giving the same old message, granted – but using contemporary artists as a medium to reach a new generation.

The third question to ask of a cultural product is, “What does it make possible?” Empire Remixed makes it possible for thousands of people, in 94 countries across the world (as of Oct. 11, 2009), to have access to (what it’s creators believe) is an alternative, prophetic vision of the world as it should be, as lived under the authority of Jesus. The subtitle of the website is “rethinking everything,” and that it attempts to do. The website contains articles written by several different contributors that journal their struggle to understand how to think about and live out the Kingdom of God in their current cultural context. There are many personal entries about the writers’ thoughts on conducting relevant ministry, Christianity and homosexuality, speaking the truth, the gender of God, depression and suicide, the economy, simple living, social justice, current issues in the news, and the modern prophetic voices of various musicians, authors, and artists, just to name a few topics. But there aren’t only articles. The creators of Empire Remixed have hosted events that have given flesh to their ideas and conversations. Author and theologian N.T. Wright was invited to speak, play music, and dance with (maybe?) all who were willing to crowd into a Toronto nightclub for the opportunity to be inspired by his ideas and engage him in conversation. Activist and author Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way, was also invited to speak about what it means to radically live out the Kingdom of God among the least of these in our society. Other musicians and, including Martyn Joseph and Marva Dawn, have all been invited to play and speak, all contributing to the ongoing discussion about how exactly to “remix the Empire.”

The fourth question to be asked of a cultural product is, “What does it make impossible (or difficult)?” First, Empire Remixed makes it difficult for the uneducated in the ways of “empire talk” to understand what they mean by “The Empire!” No where on the site is there a clear and concise definition or explanation, and any reference to empire is extremely, extremely vague. While writing this paper, I asked several people who know of the site what they thought the definition of “empire” was, and I got very different answers (see the first paragraph again). Even Dave Krause, one of the contributors to the site, couldn’t explain it without going on for an hour! (I finally gave him a pen and told him to write it down in 5 minutes or less, and he still took 15!) For a group of people that are concerned about the majority of political and economic power being held by the top 1%, it is ironic that one must have access to a certain small number of books and theories (mostly written in English and published in academic circles) in order to be enlightened enough to be able to understand the true nature of the world’s invisible exile.

Granted, essentially the idea of empire is as old as the scriptures, but in the circles I grew up in, we were talking about it using different language. I’ve been hearing all my life to “love not the world, nor the things in the world. For if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). “The world” was always explained to me as the mindsets, practices, and ideologies that set itself up against the Kingdom of God. I was taught to thus not be selfish, jealous, or unkind, but instead to have the “love of the Father in me” which would mean being selfless, content with what I had, and caring to my neighbors. However, the language of “the world” has lost its meaning to me in the last few years, and to a culture that is also sick of clichéd religious jargon, a new spin (a remix, if you will) on an old concept might not be a bad idea. Thus, Empire Remixed makes it difficult for religious folk to use the same old language without become irrelevant to the culture around them.

The last question to be asked of a cultural product is, “What new forms of culture are created in response to it?” Empire Remixed has sparked many discussions, both on and off the Internet, about how exactly a Christian is to think, live, and follow Jesus in our current cultural context. There have been discussions surrounding the nature of The Empire (like this paper, for instance), negative impacts it has had on the world, and how exactly we are to go on, worshiping the Redeemer and actively participating in the redemption of all creation. The events hosted by Empire Remixed that has included lectures, discussions, music, art, and food, all in the context of a community, have also been created in response to it, all as attempts to “kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”

Empire Remixed is definitely a product of our times. In a prophetic voice and through the accessible medium of the internet, the contributors describe reality as they see it (we are living in an age where the complex web of power structures have captured our imaginations and distorted our very identity), warn all of the dangers and distortions of this reality (consumerism, individualism, injustice and the commodification of sex, etc., will destroy you and the world) and offer a hopeful alternatives as followers of Jesus (Remix the Empire! Live redemptively. Know that your identity rests in being people of God). The website opens up possibilities of “rethinking everything” and allowing thousands of people from across the globe access to the discussion. Although its precise explanations of empire are vague, the ideas it publishes are refreshing, enlightening, and just plain inspiring. Which is a heck of a lot more than I can say for the fifth episode of Star Wars.

(This was my first assignment for my *Theology of Culture* class, written last September. It’s funny to look back now, I’ve learned so much and have taken two more classes with the same prof, Brian Walsh. Hands down the man is brilliant, and continues to inspire, confuse, and challenge me to this day. Oh – and I got an A!)

Sabbath Economics: Becoming Human in a Progress-Driven Age, Part III – Jesus, Jubilee (Debt Cancellation and Redistribution) and Everyday Practices

Jesus and Jubilee

(See Part II for an expanded definition of “Jubilee”)

It was the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, in his classic work The Politics of Jesus who pointed out that Jesus was at his core a Jubilee practitioner.(1)  Luke’s gospel is organized around Jesus’ proclamation of “good news for the poor” (Luke 7:22, see 14:13, 21). What could be better news for real poor people than debt cancellation and land restoration? Likewise, a Jubilee gospel is usually bad news for the wealthy (as the Magnificat’s proclamation that God “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53, see Mark 10:22). Though the evidence goes far beyond these texts. Sabbath economic principles lay at the heart of his call to discipleship and his ministry, and was at the centre of his conflict with the religious leaders.(2)

At the heart of Jesus call to discipleship was the command, “leave and follow” (Mark 1:18-20, Luke 5:28). Both Levi and Zaccheaus were expected to leave behind their oppressive economic ways in order to embrace Jubilee liberation through redistribution. Jesus promises that whoever leaves “house or family or fields” (the symbols of the basic agrarian economy: site of consumption, labor force, site of production) will receive the same back “hundredfold” (Mark 10:29-30). Discipleship meant leaving behind the seduction and oppression of the debt system for an economy of enough for everyone. In this new economy, which Jesus calls the “Kingdom,” there are no rich and no poor, as the rich by definition “cannot enter” it (Mark 10:23-25). His radical restructuring was based on a downward mobility, where the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Mark 10:31) which was at it’s heart a Jubilee ultimatum.(3)

Jesus also displayed this new Jubilee-centered economy of grace as the one who had authority to forgive sins, or debts. Although “sin” (hamartia) and “debt” (opheileema) are different words in the Greek, there are several indications of their semantic and social equivalence. The Lord’s Prayer according to Luke says “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Also, throughout the New Testament the same verb (aphiemi) is used to “forgive” sin and “release” from debt. We see this correlation in Luke’s version of the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus prefaces his forgiveness of the woman’s sins with an object lesson about a creditor that forgave debt (Luke 7:41-43). Matthew makes the same connection with Jesus’ exhortation to forgive sins “seventy times seven” – a clear illusion to the Jubilee “seven times seven” of Leviticus 25:8.  (4)

Jesus also asserted his authority to interpret the true Sabbath practice as one that humanizes us in a world where so much of our socioeconomic practices are dehumanizing. When Jesus instructed his disciples to help themselves to field produce, the religious leaders were angry because they were working on the Sabbath. But their legalistic view of the Sabbath was a perverted one. They thought that humanity was created to observe the Sabbath, But Jesus justified it with a story about the right of hungry Israelites to food regardless of social conventions (Mark 2:23-26). Then comes his punchline: “The Sabbath was created for humanity” (2:27). This reinforces the Sabbath as part of the order of God’s good creation (Genesis 2:2-3), and it’s purpose to restore us to our originally intended just, peaceful, and equitable ways.

Jesus also proclaimed that poverty is not natural but is the result of human sin, specifically the Israelites’ failing to obey God’s commands of Sabbath keeping and Jubilee. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with oil in Mark 14, the disciples protested, saying that they could have sold the oil and given the money to give the poor. Jesus responded with “the poor you will always have with you,” (v. 7) which was a mirroring of the statement in Deut. 15: 4-5 that “there will be no poor among you…if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord, being careful to do all that I have commanded you” – as long as they were faithful to God’s commands to keep Sabbath and Jubilee practices of debt-release, freeing of slaves, letting the land rest, and redistribution. They of course failed to do these things, and so Jesus is saying to the disciples that there would always be poor among them, because they will always be unfaithful. However, to say that we must forget this concept because we have always failed to live up to it, as many in the church say today, is to say that we should also forget about trying to love our enemies or sexual fidelity, as hardly anyone in the church practices these commands either!  (5)

It was these subversive economic teachings that got Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities, who were the ones benefiting from the current economic structure. Jesus undermined the dominant socio-economic structure by declaring good news to the poor, warnings to the rich, expectations of redistribution by those who had oppressed, demonstrations of debt forgiveness to all, and a true interpretation of Sabbath – that in its practice we become more human -who we were created to be. Jesus declaration of the Kingdom as a place where the “last will be first, and first shall be last” was enough to convince the religious and political authorities that if they didn’t have this man crucified, they would all lose their positions of power and wealth if the people were intent to make him the King of the Jews.


From Biblical Principles to Everyday Practice

For those who insist that the principles of Sabbath Economics must remain relevant today, we have a lot of hard work to do. We must diligently use our creativity to come up with ways of working, living, spending and consuming that proclaim to those around us that we believe another world is possible.

According to Matthew Colwell, author of Practicing Sabbath Economics and Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice, there are a number of things that individuals, households, and entire communities can do to take small steps towards a more faithful counter-formational response to God’s call to be a Sabbath people. The following seven steps are based on the “Sabbath Economic Covenant” developed by Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, an ecumenical organization focused on economic and spiritual discipleship. The covenant is a simple tool for applying the biblical theme of Sabbath economics to daily practice, inviting people to commit to changes in seven economic areas. Some steps to consider: (6)

1. We must invest our money responsibly. We must make sure it is held in Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) that screen out predatory lending, war profiteering, and other unjust economic practices. Better yet is to invest in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that make capital available to the poor and to undeserved communities.

2. We must look at our credit cards and how we use them. Many banks practice predatory lending practices, we can learn about our banks at www.responsiblewealth.org. More eco-friendly credit card options are available today such as the Salmon Nation card from Shorebank Pacific, a bank committed to environmentally sustainable community development (www.salmonnation.com). Since owning a credit card comes with it the temptation to overspend, it might be a good idea to construct a “credit card condom,” a paper sleeve placed over the card that says “Do I really need this?” or “Can I afford this?”

3. We must get organized in our giving. We must evaluate the organizations that we donate to, and ask which ones most reflect our values and priorities. Sabbath Economics begs the specific question: “Are we giving to organizations that locally and globally promote an economy of sufficiency, ensuring that the poor and hungry have enough?”

4. We must take steps towards a greener lifestyle. Evaluations of our ecological footprints can be done at www.myfootprint.org. Transportation choices can have a huge impact, so if possible bicycling, walking, taking public transportation or limiting / avoiding unnecessary travel can help. As for food, local and organic is always best – purchasing food from a local farmer’s market through a community supported agriculture program, or through a community or self-tended garden. Avoid foods that contain excessive packaging, and following the old mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle” remains helpful. Composting food scraps as well cuts down on garbage and will break down easier and not clog landfills.

5. We must practice simplicity and ethical consumption. In Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning note, “Though they see only a fraction of it, Americans consume 120 pounds – nearly their average body weight – every day in natural resources extracted from farms, forests, rangelands, and mines.”(7)  They also note that if the whole world were to consume at the level of North Americans, we would need at least three additional planets to support it. We must therefore consider ways to limit our consumption to more sustainable levels, and when we do consume, to do so ethically. Julie Clawson in her book Everyday Justice defines ethical consumption as “the application of our moral values and ethical standards to our consumer habits.”(8)

We will still need to be consumers, but instead of being implicit about the unjust practices that are happening to get stuff made for us, we can attempt to redeem the process by living by a more consistent ethic. William Cavanaugh talks about how a symptom of consumerism is not attachment to things, but rather detachment – we use and discard at an every-increasing rate, and we are detached from the means of production and the people who are doing the producing and manual labor.(9)  If it is out of our sight, it is out of our minds. It is important then, for us to inform ourselves about where and how our coffee, chocolate, oil, and clothes are coming from, under what conditions they are being produced (or grown or extracted) and choose to purchase fair trade, used, or locally produced items, or else engage in the making of things we need ourselves. The two books I’ve mentioned in this section are a great start for informing yourself about these things.

6. We must take steps toward greater solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. There are many kinds of trips of exposure or “reverse mission” trips designed to help groups of people connect with and learn from people who are living in poverty. Organizations such as Witness for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the Center for Global Education all provide such opportunities. For more local solidarity options, consider moving into a low-income neighborhood, or into an intentional community (such as the one I live in now) that seeks to build relationships through soup kitchens, refugee or homeless shelter work.

7. We must observe a Sabbath discipline in our daily, weekly, monthly and/or yearly rhythm. Taking time out of our busy schedules to stop working, reflect on our lives, rediscover peace, contentment, and gratitude, and to simply enjoy and delight in the goodness of God’s creation can be an extremely counter-formational discipline that point to our desire to serve the God of Creation instead of seductive and destructive god of Mammon.

Individual and household economic actions such as these are no substitute for the necessary work of public action and political advocacy. We must all make our voices heard, in the public square, that we will not support unjust government policies that favour the rich and make life unbearable for the poor. We must make it known to our government that economic growth at all costs should not be our number one priority, but rather we support an economy that factors in ‘pre-care’ policies, as Goudzwaard describes. But these practices are a vital complement to the larger political work, reinforcing and amplifying our public witness. They are simple, everyday expression of faith that will be a light to others that we believe in a better way. They are ways to “say to the darkness, we beg to differ,” as Mary Jo Leddy says.(10)

Conclusion

The church must no longer ignore the theological implications of our economic practices. For those of us in the West, we must own up to the fact that we have and do still contribute to the idolatrous ideology of progress through our desire for constant improvement, for more and better stuff, and through our need to prove ourselves through our overly-productive and chaotic work practices. We must recognize that we have ignored the practice of Sabbath for too long – we have neglected to cultivate postures of peace, gratitude, and delight in creation, we have neglected to remember our liberation from slavery so that we could practice non-oppresive self-restraint and equity, and we have neglected to practice Jubilee debt forgiveness and redistribution that were so central to the covenant relationship between God and the Hebrews and also to the teachings and subversive practices of Jesus. We must continue to educate ourselves and others about Sabbath Economic practices and take the steps necessary to proclaim with our lives that our allegiance is not with the idol of Mammon but with the God who is restoring all of Creation, and in doing so, we become more human in the process.

Me canoeing near Peterborough, Ontario

Peace all, and thanks for reading.

-Jen

___

Endnotes

1 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s, 1972).
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 All steps are from Matthew Colwell, “Practicing Sabbath Economics,” Sojourners, May 2008.
7 John C. Ryan and Alan Thein, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, (Northwest Environmental Watch, 1997),p. 5.
8 Julie Clawson, Everyday Justice, (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2009), p.26.
9 William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2008), p. 50-51.
10 Mary Jo Leddy, Say to the Darkness ‘We Beg to Differ’, (Lester and Orpen Denny’s, 1990), cover.


Bibliography

William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Julie Clawson, Everyday Justice, Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2009.

Matthew Colwell, “Practicing Sabbath Economics.” Sojourners, May 2008.

Marva J. Dawn, Living the Sabbath Wholly, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Bob Goudzwaard, et. al., Hope in Troubled Times, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

__________, Aid for the Overdeveloped West, Toronto: Wedge, 1975.

__________, Beyond Poverty and Affluence,Toronto: U of T Press, 1995.

Mary Jo Leddy, Radical Gratitude, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.

__________, Say to the Darkness ‘We Beg to Differ’, Lester & Orpen Denny’s, 1990.

Bill McKibben, Enough, New York: Owl, 2003.

Ched Myers, “Jesus’ New Economy of Grace,” Sojourners, July-August 1998.

__________, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, Washington, DC: Tell the World, Church of the Savior, 2001.

__________, “Sabbath Economics: The gift must always move.” http://www.chedmyers.org

John C. Ryan and Alan Thein, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, Northwest     Environment, 1997.

James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.

Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006.

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s, 1972.

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, Toronto: Anansi, 1998.

Sabbath Economics: Becoming Human in a Progress-Driven Age, Part II

II. Sabbath Freedom and Self-Restraint

For the Hebrews, Sabbath observance was also to serve as a way to remember that they were once an enslaved people that were freed in order to serve God.(1)  The commandment to “keep the Sabbath day holy” (Ex. 20:8) came to the Hebrews while they were in the wilderness, after they had been liberated from slavery and oppression in Egypt. Thus they were to be set apart from the surrounding nations, and one of the ways they would do this was by practicing Sabbath. But this was not merely a spiritual practice designed to foster a sense of peace, gratitude and delight, although those postures are incredibly foundational. Sabbath practice was also at its core an alternate economic ethic – one that was not based on violence, power, and oppression – like Egypt’s – but on peace, trust, equity, and self-restraint. For in the wilderness, manna fell from the sky for six days, and would not fall on the seventh (Ex. 16). The Hebrews were told not to take too much, but only enough for their daily need. Any sort of private hoarding, which could transformed into a way to make a profit by selling off the surplus, or used as a safety net in case the manna didn’t come the next day, was condemned and punished by God – the manna would rot.

Here we see two principals being taught – dependence on God as the source of that which nurtures us and the practice of setting limits on both our work, consumption, and economic growth to ensure all have equal access to the resources they need to live. First, we must recognize that all our determined efforts to bring about our own security through our compulsive work habits, production and distribution of goods, and the exploitation of resources is all in vain. The manna from God serves as a reminder that that our food is not a product that we create, but a gift that we must nurture. We must abandon the false notion that we are in control, that we bring about our own security, and that we are kept alive through our own efforts, and dispel the illusion that the goods that we enjoy are ours because we have earned and deserve them. This brings us back to the concept of gratitude, but also teaches us to radically trust in the provision of God – the Source of all things.

God’s command that the Hebrews must take only enough for their daily need is also a lesson in setting limits on our work, consumption, and economic growth to ensure that everyone has equal access to the resources they need to live. We must not toil endlessly because we can, we must not eat and buy endlessly simply because we can, we must not endlessly extract resources and grow our economy to the heights because we can, but there must be a point where we say “enough is enough.” Goudzwaard also discusses this principle with the concept of a ‘tree economy.’ (2) A tree, he says, has built-in creational wisdom, for it knows when to stop growing and then redirects its energy towards producing and bearing fruit.  Knowing when to restrain ourselves is vitality important for the benefit of all.

Both of these principles – dependence on God and setting limits – were to be lived out because the Hebrews were liberated from Egypt for the purpose of practicing freedom in of all their activities. They were not to mirror the Egyptians by a practice of oppressing others through working and consuming endlessly and by an unequal distribution of resources, property and goods. This was a lesson in limiting and transforming their desires – limiting their selfish desires to compete for the most and the best, hoard, and thereby oppress, and then transforming them into freedom-inducing desires of generosity, sharing, equity, and justice.

William Cavanaugh talks about this concept in his book: Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. He writes about how to become free of our addiction to working, consuming, and hoarding (or anything for that matter – alcohol, etc.). He summarizes St. Augustine’s concept of freedom by saying that, “The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.” (3) Using an alcoholic as an example, he explains that an alcoholic with plenty of money and access to an open liquor store may, in a purely negative sense, be free from anything interfering with getting what he or she wants; but in reality he or she is profoundly unfree, he or she cannot free himself. This can only happen through the interference of another, God being the ultimate Other, who liberates the alcoholic from his or her own wanton desires and helps him or her cultivate new ones. (4)

This is precisely what God was doing with the Hebrews when he liberated them from captivity in Egypt. He did not free them so that they could organize themselves by whatever social or economic ethic they desired, instead he freed them so that they learn true freedom, by cultivating a desire for a new set of social and economic ethics that would set them apart from the surrounding nations. Their practice of peace, self-restraint, and economic equity would be a light to all the peoples of the world that they belonged to the Creator, who Himself embodies these life-bringing attributes.

III. Sabbath of Sabbaths: Jubilee Liberation, Equity, and Redistribution

No concept exhibits the core principles of Sabbath Economics – liberation, equity, and redistribution of resources – like Jubilee. God’s command was that in the fiftieth year, after seven cycles of Sabbatical years (where every seven years debt would be forgiven and slaves would be set free), the ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’, the Hebrews “shall return, everyone of you, to your own property and everyone of you to your family” (Lev. 25:10). Those who had to sell land or household members (slaves or servants) because of dire economic circumstances should not remain in a destitute or vulnerable position forever. On the fiftieth year those who had lost their land or had been sold to another household were to be returned to their ancestral lands and families so that they could have a fresh start at living a decent life. The Jubilee proclaims liberty and release (shemittah) because it directly reflects God’s generosity with us and God’s desire that we live well on the land. As the owner of all, God could simply keep it for himself. But God does not do this. God opens his hand so that others can enjoy what God has to give. In a similar manner, we are not to be tightfisted in our economic dealings, trying to secure as much for ourselves as possible. Rather, we should extend hands of mercy and compassion to those who have suffered hardship. One of the most direct ways that we can do this is to release people – and countries, especially those in the global south – of their debt and bondage, so that they can have a fresh start and fair and equal access to the resources necessary for life. (5)

According to Ched Myers, the church has a difficult time hearing Jubilee as good news because “our theological imaginations have long been taken captive by the market-driven orthodoxies of modern capitalism.”(6)  One of the major fear-based objections to this practice of Jubilee is that it is viewed, “at best utopian and at worst communisitic.” (7) Yet people find it awkward to dismiss the biblical witness, so another objection arises: “Israel never really practiced the Jubilee!” Myers suggests that this challenge is best met when confronting both the “negative” and “positive” evidence for Jubilee.

By “negative” evidence, Myers means that Israel’s prophets were consistently complaining that Israel had abandoned the poor and vulnerable members of the community, thus they were using the Sabbath principles of freedom, self-restraint, and equity as a “measuring stick” to which they could hold the nation accountable.(8)   Indeed it was true that Israel failed regularly to abide by the principles of seventh-year debt release and Jubilee restructuring, and this was most likely due to the economic stratification that took place once the tribal confederacy was replaced with the centralized political power under the Davidic dynasty. The prophet Samuel warned that the adoption of a monarchy system like the surrounding nations would inevitably lead to economic oppression of the poor for the advantage of few elites at the top, through ruthless policies of surplus extraction and militarism (1 Sam. 8:11-18).  (9)

Israel’s abandonment of Sabbath principles was a central complaint of the prophets. Isaiah accused the nation with robbery (Isaiah 3:14-15), which was an illusion to the manna tradition’s prohibition of stored wealth in the face of community need. Amos accused the commercial classes of viewing Sabbath as an hindrance to making more and more profits, and of exploiting the poor rather than ensuring their gleaning rights (Amos 8:5-6, Exodus 23:1011, Leviticus 19:9010, Micah 7:1). (10)  Hosea laments that Israel’s fidelity to international markets has replaced their faithfulness to God’s economy of liberation and equity (Hosea 2:5). Most telling of all, is the statement that Israel’s rejection of Sabbath keeping was the prime reason that they were captured by the Babylonians: “God took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped the sword…to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its Sabbaths. All the days it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:20-21; see Leviticus 26:34-35).(11)  Israel’s ignoring of the Sabbath command to let the land rest every seven years led to God ensuring the land would rest by removing the Israelites from it altogether!

There is also positive evidence that the Sabbath was practiced. Jeremiah is angered with King Zedekiah when he reneges of his declaration of Jubilee liberation (Jeremiah 34:13-16). Naboth claims Sabbath ancestral rights to the land when resisting King Ahab’s desire to take the land for his convenient purposes (1 Kings 21). (12)

There are also eschatological visions of Jubilee, the most well known is found in Isaiah 61:1-2:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,
he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the year of vengeance of our God.

The references to the “good news to the poor,” the “liberty to the captives” and the proclamation of the “year of the Lord’s favor” are not merely spiritual promises, but economic and social ones. They are references to the compassionate debt-relief and radical restructuring of Jubilee, and of all the passages in scripture that Jesus could have chosen from to define and inaugurate his earthly mission with, it was this one that he chose. (13)  In the next section we’ll explore Jesus as a Jubilee practitioner, as well as practical ways we can live out Sabbath economics in our daily lives.

Part 3 of 3 here!

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1 Wirzba, Ibid., p.34-35.
2 Goudzwaard, Beyond Poverty and Affluence, (Toronto: U of T Press, 1995), p. 129.
3 William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008), p.11.
4 Ibid., pg. 9.
5 Ibid.
6 Ched Myers, “Jesus’ New Economy of Grace,” Sojourners, July-August 1998, p. 1.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., p. 1-2.
12 Ibid., p. 2.
13 Ibid.

Sabbath Economics: Becoming Human in a Progress-Driven Age

In the same week in January 2010 that I decided not to buy clothes for one year, I signed up for the course Towards a Christian Political Economy: The Writings of Bob Goudzwaard taught by Brian J. Walsh (co-author of Colossians Remixed and my favourite-because-he-is-radical-and-creative prof at Wycliffe College). I was just sick of my constant need for retail-therapy and nauseous at how many clothes I was accumulating, especially in light of the destitute poverty in the Majority World (2/3rds of the world lives on less than $2 /day). And the more I read the Scriptures, the more I realized that they speak more about wealth accumulation, work,  possessions, and poverty way more than it talks about anything else. And if the Scriptures think that our economics reveal the core of our humanity, who we are, what we truly care about, and where our allegiances lie, than so must I.

Which is why I was so relieved to discover, through this course, the writings of Bob Goudzwaard. A Dutch, Christian political-economist, Goudzwaard has been a Member of Parliament in Holland and teaches economics at the Free University of Amsterdam. And while he holds rather critical views of the majority of the West’s current political and economic policies, he has a lot of hope for how we can live out alternative economic practices that are more faithful to the ways of God and will restore us to our lost sense of humanity – and will restore all of creation to it’s original goodness.

Sabbath Economics are part of those beliefs and practices, and it was the topic of my term paper for the course (which I got an A on, hurray!). Part I is below, and it’s about a 10-15 minute read. Parts II and III will be posted later in the week. If you are at all curious about how a different sort of economics can recover who you – and all of creation – were always meant to be, read on.

Sabbath Economics: Becoming Human in a Progress-Driven Age

by Jen Galicinski

Introduction

Goudzwaard’s diagnosis of Western society – that it is held captive to the idolatrous ideology of progress – is one that the Church can no longer ignore. Far from being a mere political opinion of those on the ‘left’, it is at its core a spiritual problem.
Our perpetual dissatisfaction, addiction to ‘improving’ the created order, hoarding both natural resources and material possessions, constant consumption and disposal of products for consumption’s sake, and ignorance and apathy about the unjust processes of production that are being conducted for our ‘benefit’ are all signs of broken shalom, the deep peace and harmony of God that is meant to infuse all of creation. The creational order itself is broken; it is not what God intended for it to be and neither are we. If it is true that we are transformed into the image of that which we worship, humanity itself has become less-than-human, a disturbing look-alike of Mammon, the evil personification of riches that Jesus warned his followers against in the Sermon of the Mount.

Where have we gone wrong, and is there any hope for restoration and redemption? Ched Myers and others believe that we have forsaken the biblical principles of Sabbath Economics: that we are to live with radical gratitude, deep peace, and delight in God’s creation, that we are to practice the communal discipline of setting limits and restraint, and we should be involved in the Jubilee practice of debt release and redistribution, so that everyone has access to the sources of life that they need to flourish. It is by practicing these principles of an ‘Economy of Enough’ on an individual, household, and community level, as a faithful and covenantal act of worship of the Creator, that we will be erecting signposts that point towards the Kingdom of God and the restoration of all creation, and as well, to our fully recovered humanity.

‘Progress’ and Its Ails

Goudzwaard argues that Western society, at its core, is operating out of an idolatrous ideology of progress. Like the inhabitants of Easter Island, who sacrificed their resources to the human-made gigantic stone idols, we have become “seduced by a kind of progress that [has become] a mania, an ‘ideological pathology.’”(1) Human achievements such as market forces, technological development, scientific progress, the state, and power unleashed reign supreme as our sole vision for human flourishing, as the way to achieve the ‘good life.’(2) The “goal is in the going” says Goudzwaard, and the idea that we must stop going, stop wasting, and stop consuming more and more and quicker and quicker would spell immediate doom for our economy (not to mention impeachment of our nations’ leaders).(3)

But stop we must, for there are a plethora of distress signals crying out from the creation itself. We live on a finite planet, and geological experts report that raw materials and energy reserves are being depleted at a rapid rate.(4)  The number of species of plants and animals is decreasing rapidly and the fundamental chain of life in the oceans is being threatened, biologists warn us.(5)  The pollution of the environment and the crisis of global warming is accelerating, the environmental experts say.(6)  With the scarcity of resources, Western nations have become the ‘have-nots,’ for they need the most raw materials and energy to continue their current way of life, and so they must rely on massive imports, which only heightens military tensions that can lead to the use of force to secure their ‘economic interests’.(7)  Almost everything is being packaged to sell, from sports to sex, and this commodification is stripping these good things that God created for our enjoyment of their intended purpose.(8)

At the heart of this current economic system is that which consistently propels it forward with an ever-increasing velocity: consumerism. Our desire for more and more and better and better stuff literally drives our entire economic system. Perpetual dissatisfaction and artificially induced cravings are created by marketers who attempt to tell us with their advertisements that we are not good enough, not sexy enough, comfortable enough, or not ‘cool’ enough, but not to worry – that will all change when you buy whatever it is that they are selling. Entire mythologies are created around labels – “visions of human flourishing,” as Jamie Smith says – that depict for consumers “the good life” that could be yours at the moment of purchase.(9)  The average person is bombarded with over 3,000 advertisements a day, whether it be on TV, the radio, billboards, buses, subways, store fronts, or even on people who are walking advertisements whenever they wear clothing with a logo on it.(10)  These ads are telling us that our value lies in what we have and in how we appear, and based on the West’s patterns of over-consumption, we are buying into it this idolatrous fable with full force.

As Annie Leonard explains in the incredibly eye-opening 20-minute film The Story of Stuff, consumerism as a totalizing lifestyle did not happen by accident, it was planned. After WWII, when the American economy was weak, American retail analyst Victor LeBeau said:

Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-excelerating rate.(11)

Strategies such as planned obsolescence, where items such as computers and radios are made to need replacing in a few years so that you’ll buy another one, and perceived obsolescence, where perfectly useful items such as clothing are considered ‘out-dated’ by the fashion community, are used by producers and marketers of goods to convince people that they need to continually buy more and more stuff. People’s whole lives are centered around the ‘spiritual ritual’ of consumption, as they work all day, come home exhausted and sit in front of the television set, where they are bombarded with advertisements that tell them, “you suck!” so that they feel the need to go out again and shop to feel better about themselves, and the vicious cycle continues.

We in the West have been raised in a society that is so saturated with the rituals of consumption and discarding (the average person discards 4 ½ pounds of garbage per day, over twice as much as 30 years ago!) that many believe that this is natural, just the way things are.(12)  But as we become aware that it was planned as a strategic economic method to increase the economic growth of America, we can look upon it with sober judgment, and choose not to be held captive by it’s idolatrous and distorted perception of reality.

Another symptom of the West’s idolatrous ideology of progress is described in Bill McKibben’s book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. McKibben speaks of the dangers of scientific ‘progress’ in the field of ‘germline’ genetic engineering. Embryonic DNA is manipulated for the purpose of ‘improving’ human beings in order to go “for perfection” in the words of the DNA pioneer James Watson, for, “Who wants an ugly baby?”(13) Instead of making babies by making love, if this scientific ‘progress’ continues, we will make ‘designer babies’ in the laboratory – modifying genes affecting everything from obesity to intelligence, eye color to gray matter.(14)  All this is attempting to make our children happier, like a kind of “targeted, permanent Prozac.”(15)  Parenting will be turned into mere ‘product development’ as everyone seeks to make their children smarter, faster, and more attractive than the children down the street.(16)

But at what cost? For what purpose? Jean Vanier, in his book Becoming Human, argues that a human being is more than the power or capacity to think and to perform. Rather, we are most human when we connect to others in a spirit of love and solidarity.(17)  With this in mind, McKibben says that at some point,

We need to do an unlikely thing: we need to survey the world we now inhabit and proclaim that it is good. Good enough. Not in every detail, there are a thousand improvements, technological and cultural, that we can and should still make. But good enough in it’s outlines, in its essentials. We need to decide that we live, most of us in the West, live long enough. We need to declare that, in the West, where few of us work ourselves to the bone, we have ease enough. In societies where most of us need storage lockers more than we need nano-tech miracle boxes, we need to declare that we have enough stuff. Enough intelligence. Enough capability. Enough.(18)

It is only when we recognize that our insatiable desire for more and more is not only destroying the planet, creating greater gaps between the rich and the poor, and creating global instabilities through war for natural resources, but is also making us less-than-human in the process, that we can begin on a path that is more faithful to our calling to image the Creator in his care for the planet and for all the people on it, including ourselves.

Sabbath Economics

Thankfully, we have in the Scriptures principles to help us jump off this treadmill of wastefulness and consumerism in the name of ‘progress’ and onto a more faithful path of radical gratitude, deep peace, delight in God’s creation, simplicity, restraint, and economic justice for all. Here is where the biblical concept of Sabbath Economics can give us great wisdom and insight. Ched Myers argues that our economic system and practices must be re-interpreted in light of the central biblical teaching of Sabbath. There are three major aspects of this teaching that I will discuss below: first, that we must be rooted in the peace, radical gratitude, and delight in creation that Sabbath intends, second, that we must root ourselves in the memory of our release from captivity and thus practice self-restraint, and third, that we must practice the Jubilee principles of liberation, equity, and redistribution.

I. Sabbath Peace, Gratitude, and Delight

When many Christians hear the word ‘Sabbath’, including myself just a short time ago, they tend to think of merely a ‘day off’ where one chooses to stop with the hectic pace of a busy, chaotic, over-productive lifestyle and just rest. At least that is what they think it is supposed to be, though many of us have too much to do to muster up even that. Most people work five days a week, burning themselves out to make money, and then spend the weekend working around the house – doing yard work, cleaning, or doing repairs. There is not enough time in the week, it seems, to get everything done that we need to – and any time that is left over for rest is spent in exhaustion. Yet in all of our toil, for all we have achieved, and for all we have acquired we do not appear measurably happier, satisfied, or at peace.(19) We are constantly hounded by the worry, as mentioned in our discussion of consumerism above, that we do not have enough, or what we have is not the latest, fastest, or most fashionable best, and we have the fear that we will be perceived as slackers.(20)  We are suffering from a lack of shalom, of a lack of the deep peace and harmony of God that is infiltrating into all of our activities, all of our working, buying, and organizing. The root cause of our striving for ‘progress’ is deeply spiritual, and in this regard, we are bankrupt.

While the principal of ceasing from work is a part of Sabbath, it only scratches the surface of this biblical principal. To have a Sabbath bearing is not just a break, but a discipline that will lead us into a complete, joyous life.(21)  Norman Wirzma says in his book Living the Sabbath that “Sabbath life is a truly human life – abundant life, at it’s best – because it is founded in God’s overarching design for all places and all times.”(22)  In the Genesis account of creation – the first mention of Sabbath, or shabbat – God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. While it is tempting to think that creation was then finished on the sixth day, it was not yet complete. The one thing it lacked, and the thing that was yet to be created, was God’s menuha– the rest, tranquility, serenity, and peace of God.(23)  This was then infused into the entire creation – all the work that God had done on the previous six days – as a sort of stamp that would seal his delight in it all. In the biblically informed mind, menuha suggests the sort of happiness and harmony that come from things as they ought to be; we hear in menuha resonances with the deep word shalom, meaning wholeness, or the fullness of peace between all created things and harmony with God.(24)

It is this capacity for joy and delight that is the crowning achievement of God’s work, and thus, Sabbath is not simply a cessation from activity but rather the lifting up and celebration of everything.(25)  Ched Myers says that the original vocation of people was to simply enjoy this ‘Cosmic Sabbath’ by entering into intimate relationship with an abundant and wonderful creation (Gen 2:1ff).(26)  However, humans succumbed to the temptation to try to “improve” upon the work of God and were cast out of the garden.(27)  Life on the outside meant alienation from God, from each other, and from creation.(28)  It meant hard work and a creation that wasn’t so abundant.(29)  Sabbath keeping reminds us of the original mutually beneficially relationship between ourselves and God, each other, and the land, and that we were created for delight and enjoyment of these relationships.(30)  We are thus most human, mirror images of our Creator, when we practice Sabbath and allow its discipline to infuse the whole of our lives.

What does this have to do with our economics? Well, if our economic system is driven by consumerism and the desire for more and more, better and better, by an idolatrous faith in “progress” as the gateway to greater human flourishing, and this is creating all kinds of global, environmental and psychological crises and ailments, what would happen if we all were to take the practice of Sabbath discipline seriously? What would happen if we were to take one day a week to rest and remember the “point of our being,” as Mary Jo Leddy says – to delight in God, people, and all of creation? What would happen if we developed a posture of peace, radical gratitude, and delight that we would then carry with us throughout the entire week, infusing everything that we do with vibrant energy? Mary Jo Leddy suggests that only in gratitude, “the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction with life is broken and we begin anew in the recognition of what we have rather than what we don’t, in the acknowledgement of who we are rather than in the awareness of who we aren’t.”(31)  A spirit of incredible thanksgiving, an appreciation for the simple pleasures of life – family, friends, laughter, listening to a rockin’ song, reading a good book– can be revolutionary and subversive in the midst of a society that is continuously unsatisfied, that is driven by this gnawing need that they will only be happy when they have more stuff. If the idolatrous ideology of progress is transforming us into the destructive and relentless image of Mammon, only the worship of the Creator by imaging his Sabbath keeping – his rest, peace, gratitude and delight – will transform us into beings who are content with enough, grateful for all that we have been freely given, and able to fully enjoy the creation with child-like wonder as we were intended to, from the very first sunrise of that first Sabbath day.

Part 2 of 3 here!

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Endnotes

1 Bob Goudzwaard et. al., Hope in Troubled Times, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2007), p.15.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., Aid for the Overdeveloped West, (Toronto, Wedge, 1975), p. 2.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom,(Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), pg. 73.
10 Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff, film, http://www.thestoryofstuff.org
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Bill McKibben, Enough, (New York, Owl, 2003), p. 10.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, (Toronto, Anansi, 1998), p. 86.
18 McKibben, Ibid.  p. 109.
19 Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2006), p. 19.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid, p. 21.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid, p. 33.
26 Ched Myers, “Sabbath Economics: The Gift Must Always Move.” http://www.chedmyers.org
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid.
31 Mary Jo Leddy, Radical Gratitude, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), p. 6-7.


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