Posts Tagged 'faith'

10 things to do after getting fired from your Intentional Christian Community house

1. Sob real ugly. Once you climb up the stairs after your mediated house meeting with your pastor, and are in your room, shut the door, crouch low to the floor, and let it all go. Sob those gaspy, choke-y type sobs, with your head in your hands, the way you do when you get dumped or someone on LOST finds redemption. Blame yourself, tell yourself you are the worst person in the whole world and nobody will ever love you or want to live with you ever again, especially because, in addition to this mess, you are underemployed, currently homeless and gasp still unmarried at 34 when your brother just had his 8th child. But be quiet about it –cry into your scarf, dammit– so they don’t gather further evidence of your over-emotiveness to purge you even quicker from their midst.

2. Allow your self to feel really bad, for like, 15 minutes. Mourn, grieve, lament– choose any spiritually sorrowful word that fits. Go outside, smoke a cigarette, and ponder the meaning of the beautiful, mocking sunset.

3. Pull yourself together. Suck it up and start packing. This is a good thing. This will be better for you. You had grown so much in the last year and a half and this atmosphere was weighing you DOWN. It kept reminding you of your old, cranky, ego-driven 32-year old self who you SO no longer are (well… you’re on your way).

4. Remember that blog you read like 2 weeks ago called “I AM A F***ING UNICORN: 10 things to do when you get fired for the first time” — and look into the mirror and tell yourself, “I AM A F***ING UNICORN. I am a beautiful, mystical creature. I have lots and lots of good things to offer this world, and for too long I have been forcing myself to act like a horse. And every time I did, my golden horn was losing it’s magical powers. No more, baby. I’m free!! I’m free to prancerize my way back to being my happy, generous, fun-loving, creative self!” After you get dropped off at your friends’ place where you are crashing for a few days, pop open a bottle of – juice, that’s all she has – and allow yourself to feel happy and relieved that the worst is finally over.

5. As the high starts to wear off, after like 10 minutes, get into your jammies and binge-watch The Mindy Project to avoid dealing with it.

6. Wake up the next morning and feel home-sick for your old room in your old house with your old housemates. (What, you thought this was a progressively happier list?) Allow yourself to feel sad again. Cry when you receive texts from your ex-housemates that are also feeling horrible about this mess, but secretly feel relieved that they are not celebrating your absence with champagne and circus clowns.

7. Open up your journal and turn the sermon notes you made during the retreat 3 weeks ago, when that wise, female pastor/scholar who has endured so much was speaking about suffering. Remember her talking about all the faithful in Hebrews 11. Some lived great lives of faith, and were victorious and blessed. And “some were sawn asunder.” Some people lived great lives of faith and goodness, but they were met with lives of chaos, torture, and huge amounts of suffering. Living well, and being faithful, does not guarantee a life protected from pain. And enduring a painful past does not guarantee a painless present or future. But always, the God whose name is “I Shall Be There” will be present. You are never alone. And remember that the great cloud of witnesses, all the saints of the past are cheering you on, even now: “Courage!”

8. Breathe. Get out your handmade Anglican prayer beads, and pray the prayer of Saint Francis. Spend 20 minutes in centering silence. Let go. Let go. Let go. Bless the one with whom you are angry, and pray for peace, healing, and reconciliation.

9. Prescribe yourself some art and nature therapy. Go on a bike ride to the art supply store, take detours down the streets with the most red and yellow leaved trees. See that God has created the world beautiful for you, and nature is still majestically following ordered rhythms. Your pain is not all there is. Help your friend with the decorations for her mountaineering-themed wedding this weekend. Draw, and plan for some linocut prints and cards for the All-Handmade Sale coming up. Memorize a huge chunk of Ephesians for a dramatized scripture presentation at church on Sunday. Plan for it to be complete with masked djembe-players and a soul-less-turned-soulful mob, and dancing to a new rhythm after letting go of the old. Write this blog post, and laugh at yourself.

10. Be grateful. For your dear friend’s wedding. For seeing old friends. For laughter. For Over the Rhine. For upcoming, meaningful work. For lentil barely stew on a rainy day. And for new, affordable housing, with a lovely, generous woman, that seemed to drop out of the sky.

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.

Searching For Don Knows What

At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I liked Donald Miller before he was famous, and now––thanks to my friend Amy––I fear he’s selling out.

First, my true-blue-fan cred: I met him 3 years before Blue Like Jazz was published. Great guy. He came to speak at a Summit College reunion at my childhood camp in Huntsville, Ontario (Summit was a one year outdoor adventure/Bible/leadership program that I did after high school). I liked his talk so much––about how we carry around needless baggage like giant rocks in our hiking packs (a talk well suited for us outdoorsy folk)––that I bought his first book called Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance (later released as Through Painted Deserts). As I read though this journal about his road trip from Texas to Oregon in a broken-down VW van, I remember thinking this guy is wonderful. He had such a unique, laugh-out-loud funny, comforting voice, and told so many great stories, that I was sad when it was finished. I later I lent it to a boy I liked, trying to impress him with the fact that I read cool stuff, and never got it back. Which sucks because in addition to being a great story, that first cover was way better than the re-published one.

I was ecstatic when Blue Like Jazz came out 3 years later and gobbled down every delicious, witty, insightful morsel. Continue reading ‘Searching For Don Knows What’

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.

What’s the Opposite of Writer’s Block?

Cuz I think I have it. Normally if I were to complain about anything to do with writing, it would be that the words just aren’t coming, that I don’t know what to write about, or that my Muse has gotten bored with me, rolled over, and gone to sleep. Or I would whine that I feel as though I have nothing new to say to a world that has an over-abundance of books, articles, magazines, and journals, and who the hell am I, anyways? Do I really have that different of a perspective, that fresh of insight, that exotic of word choice combinations that can turn on the lights for someone in a way no one else’s can?

But now the problem is – if someone who is aspiring to be a writer can call it a problem – I feel as though I have too much to say and not enough time to get it all down. Not to mean that all of the ideas that having been flashing around in my brain – for books I want to write, or articles or essays or stories – not to say that any of these are incredibly fresh or insightful, it’s just that I’m being compelled to write them all down, by something, or Someone – outside of me. In other words, for the first time in my life, I’m completely convinced that I am actually going insane.

Now I’ve always felt somewhat insane before, when I’ve been depressed or over-dramatic or OCD about this or that or whatnot. But lately, well, I’ve been getting flashes of words, sentences, images, ideas, and I feel like I must write them down as quick as possible before I lose them. For instance, I keep getting rather witty chapters titles for a book I’m writing on LOST (which I had written here originally but a smart friend told me to take ’em out so no one could steal them -blogs aren’t copyrighted). I also want to write an essay on my pilgrimage to India last year, about beautiful experience of getting joy etched into the flesh in my back forever, about my brother who listens to Christian rap while programing software for para-church fundraising campaigns, about my compulsion to spew venemous hate at anyone who disagrees with my political-economic leanings (why do I do this?), and so on and so on. I want to write about it ALL. But I don’t have time. So I write nothing. Except for the illegible scribblings of a madwoman in her journal.

It all started on that fateful day when I decided to not take the one-week intensive course that was required for my program in International Development, and go instead to the 4-day Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College this past April. I remember seeing the online ad that my friend Justin had sent me – Justin who I taught English with in Korea with for 2 years. He knew I loved writing so he sent me the link to the Festival’s website. But he didn’t know how much the thought of writing secretly terrified me. Being a writer means sure rejection, I thought. Who’s gonna want to read anything I write? I have nothing new to say. But the website was pretty – with various shades of calming, pale greens and budding vines and fancy calligraphy spelling out The Festival of Faith and Writing – and it totally got my heart beating, like jungle drums. And then it beckoned me saying, You must come.

So naturally, I did what anyone else would do who thought they were hearing voices. I went outside on my back porch and smoked a clove. (Now I know smoking is terribly, terribly bad for your health, but these cigarettes are light brown, like cigars – and taste like Christmas – cinnamon, cloves, sugar and spice and everything nice – so I justify one every once and a while.) This little ritual is always a way for me to calm the eff down, think, and pray. I thought about the keynote speaker – Eugene Peterson – whose poetic and fresh translation of the Scriptures I’ve read for years that basically saved my salvation. And I thought about my favourite author Anne Lamott who told me in her book Bird by Bird that in the case of writing and life, I must always be milantly on my own side. For I’ll always have more than enough critics, and I don’t need to be one of them. I’ve got enough problems as it is without adding to them by my own hand.

I thought about my school program, a Masters of Theology in International Development, and how while I loved the poor and wanted to always help them, I had a deeper passion that had been in me for far too long, and I could no longer suppress it. By going to this Festival of Faith and Writing, this mammoth conference with over 500 writers and poets and literary agents and publishers from around the globe, and over 2000 visitors each year, by choosing this over the required course for my program, I was saying no to this International-Development-as-a-career-choice  and yes to my true first love – writing.

Terrifying shit, huh? Well at least for me. It was a decision of epic proportions, because it would also mean that I was naturally going to have to change schools, and go to my first love in terms of graduate schools – Regent College in Vancouver, for its program in Christianity and Culture, which would be so up my alley if I wanted to write – especially about the intersection of faith and culture, which kind of lights me up inside. This decision would mean that I would be moving away from the community that I had grown to love in Toronto, and that was a painful thing, since I had felt like I had begun to get to know people on a deep, relaxing, can-just-be-myself sort of level. But I knew that it must be done, cuz who wants to say no to a creepy but authoritative voice that you hear in your head? What if it knows how to use a shotgun?

So I signed up, and asked several of my friends to come, but naturally everyone was busy so I went alone – took a 13 hour bus ride to Grand Rapids, which was only 6 hours away, but I like bus rides way better than driving.  Besides lessening my ecological footprint, they allow me to look out the window and listen to Sufjan Stevens while day-dreaming about my latest boy drama situation and how everything would just turn out great if he would only realize that I was the most beautiful, wonderful woman on the planet and he could not live without me.

Arriving at the Festival in sunny Grand Rapids, the spring birds were chirping, the tulips were waking up, and it was warm enough for sandels and I was mad I didn’t bring any (the last time I was in Grand Rapids for the overwhelmingly-depressing Faith and International Development Conference, it was blizzardy, and so this time I came over-prepared for cold weather). But regardless, I was convinced it was the first day of the rest of my life. Even though I was surrounded by strangers, I knew from the first session that I was home. I had found my people, and there is not enough words in the English language to describe how or why I felt this – I just did. Every single session was inspiring and intellectually stimulating, I used up like 4-5 pages of my journal taking notes on each one. The people were all artsy and scholarly and funny – just like me! I made at least a dozen new friends. The creative juices flowing in the air, the people longing  to wrap their ponderings and sufferings in prose, those who loved to be swept away by a good story, those who loved to be the ones offering that human connection, that communion – it was stunningly beautiful – and my heart did not stop pounding all weekend.

As I came to learn, the problem with my old way of thinking about writing was this: I felt like I needed be an really really incredibly wise or knowledgable about something in order to write about it. I felt like everything I wrote had to have a message, or offer hope, or offer redemption or deliver some wise eternal spiritual truth. But as so many wise, seasoned writers reiterated throughout the Festival, to write well you must follow this one essential rule: Write the things which you have seen. True writing is not necessarily about teaching something you already know, it is about observing, with utmost precision, life as you have experienced it, and then describing what you see back to the world the best as you know how.  It is about telling your story as honestly as you possibly can, and learning more about what is buried deep within you the more you write. It is about honoring the human experience by recording  your take of it as accurately as you are able. It is writing about moments or ideas or feelings in a way that simply rings true. We must not write in order to heal, to teach, or bring redemption. We must instead write as truly and honestly and passionately as we know how, and because it is real, it may end up bring healing, provide inspiration for others, or offer redemption. (But it may not, and that has got to be ok too.) But if we try to write with healing, teaching, and redemption as our primary goal, it may come out forced – and that is not writing, that’s typing.

This one rule, this line, Write the things with you have seen, literally opened the floodgates for me. I might not be an expert on anything, or feel like have a “fresh perspective” or whatnot, but I have lived. And I because there is no one else in the history of humanity that is exactly like me, nor will there ever be, I do have a unique story to tell: my story. The story of my childhood schoolyard traumas or down-the-ravine adventures, or why peeled bananas make me feel exposed, the story of abandonment and isolation I felt while teaching in Korea or how volunteering in Kolkata brought me back to joy, the story of how the sweeping epic narrative that is LOST makes me want to give God (and Desmond) a big polar-bear hug. I have a story to tell because I am part of the larger story that belongs to all of us, we who get to live this wondrous, confusing, painful, ridiculously baffling, and beautiful thing we call life.

So in the midst of all of my newly found and beloved insanity, won’t you join me on the journey?

—-

(Stay tuned for more writing to come)


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