Posts Tagged 'justice'

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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Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation: Why Christians Should Occupy

This article was originally written for the Et Cetera, the newspaper of the Christian graduate school I attend here in Vancouver, Regent College. I was responding to an article entitled “Why I Will Not Occupy Vancouver” written by a friend of mine, where her concerns about the movement were outlined: the protesters are costing taxpayers too much money, the movement is too complex and confusing, and those involved should do something more useful like “occupy a job” and/or volunteer at a soup kitchen or teach literacy to kids. This is my response.

I would like to begin by thanking my friend BJ Bruder for her article last week that outlined why she would not Occupy Vancouver. On one level, I can identify with her frustration that the movement seems to be so complex and confusing that it is hard to pinpoint the purpose and “effectiveness” of the protest. I can also understand her suspicion that some of the protesters seem to be members of a privileged class who have the luxury of not having to work in order to camp out downtown for days at a time. How would it be justifiable that a student of privilege would protest the economic system that benefited his or her own wealthy family? This is a good question worth considering.

Her article presents an opportunity to consider an answer to this and other good questions. What exactly is this movement about? What is the purpose of a protest? Should Christians protest? If so, why?  If not, is charity work a better use of one’s time? Why or why not? Could there be good reasons why “able-bodied” or “privileged” people would join the Occupy Movement other than that they nothing better to do?

Starting with the last question, I would like to answer yes. There are three reasons I can think of, and they happen to be the title of a Regent course I took last summer: “Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation: The Way of God in the World” taught by Dave Diewert in the Downtown Eastside.

First, Solidarity. As Christians we are called to not only think of ourselves, but to stand alongside those who are weak, suffering, and outcast. In the incarnation, God chose to leave behind his place of comfort and privilege and be born as a poor, homeless refugee in order to stand alongside those who were poor, broken, and oppressed. Moses chose to leave behind his life of luxury in Pharoah’s palace and act in solidarity with his people who were enslaved – though granted the violence was not the best means. Still, he chose not to ignore the Hebrew’s plight of slavery, and when God called him from the burning bush, he returned to his own people to liberate them from oppression in Egypt. Paul cast off his life of privilege–enjoying comfort as a Roman citizen–in order to suffer persecution with his fellow Christians. The Occupy Movement is a chance for all people–including those who are privileged–to stand alongside those who are the worst victims of economic and political policies that put the power in the hands of banks and multinational corporations while essentially eroding true democracy.

For BJ to suggest that the “privileged” protesters should “occupy a job” merely buys into the core problem that is being protested. The sentiment betrays the notion that “for a person to be of any value, they have to be economically productive citizens. They need to contribute to the economy, to the bottom line, to what makes our society tick” writes Andrew Stephens-Rennie on his blog Empire Remixed. He goes on, “And yet. And yet, isn’t this precisely the point? Isn’t it precisely the point of these protests that our government, banks and major corporations have crucified human dignity with their unwavering emphasis on an economic bottom line ignorant of human suffering?” God calls us to be more than economically productive, he calls us to love. My friends Dan and Trista, who both have jobs and are part of Occupy Vancouver, have chosen to work less and live in community, sharing many assets in common with others, so that they can spend more time and resources being active in their wider communities. They work in solidarity with those who are suffering in order to dream up and live into another way of being.

Second, Resistance. As evangelicals, it is easy for us to only think of resisting evil in terms of personal morality. We must resist the temptation to lie, gossip, judge others, and view pornography. All these things are necessary to do, for they can be destructive to both ourselves personally and to our communities. However, thinking of morality in these ways alone betrays a radical individualism that stems from a modernist way of being in the world, and is deeply unbiblical. In Scripture, we see the prophets repeatedly condemn Israel for structural evil and national immorality. Israel, as a nation, broke the covenant, oppressed the poor, and ignored the practices of jubilee. The Occupy Movement brings to our attention the structural sin of our global economy – a system that benefits the wealthy minority (the 1%), giving them power to make decisions that negatively affect the majority (the 99%). We must prophetically resist the systems and structures of power that dehumanize and oppress. God brought Israel out of Egypt, a economic powerhouse dependent on human slavery, and into a new way of being in the world, based on principles of equality, jubilee, and shalom for all people. We too are to resist Empires of injustice and live into another way of being, based on Kingdom principles of justice, compassion, and love.

BJ has argued that it might be more useful for people to volunteer, doing positive things like teaching literacy or working at a soup kitchen. While these are acts of mercy, they are only band-aid solutions and do not address the core issues that create illiteracy or homelessness. As Christians we are called act justly, which is about working for social change. It’s like coming across wounded people at the bottom of a cliff and working only to tend to their wounds, while more and more people are falling off the cliff. You can set up a hospital and bring in more doctors, which would be good acts of mercy. But eventually someone must go up to the top of the cliff and find out who or what is causing the people to fall off the cliff! This is the difference between charity and justice. Charity would be following BJ’s suggestion of working at a soup kitchen. But soup kitchens have been around for thousands of years, and nothing has changed. The Occupy Movement (along with community development-based initiatives like Jacob’s Well and Just Potters) –  is about addressing the core problems with our society that cause people to need soup hand-outs in the first place, and giving them some dignity by working together with them for lasting social change.

Which brings me to my third reason, Liberation. Brian Walsh, author of Colossians Remixed and Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in an Age of Displacement, said this weekend at the Beyond Homelessness: The Church and Affordable Housing Forum, that as a society, we need a better story that the one we have been living for the past couple hundred years. The story of neo-liberal capitalism is essentially mean-spirited, radically individualistic, and has obviously not worked to “lift all boats” as its proponents promised it would. We need a story that is centered around bringing all people home – that is, to a place of belonging, relationship with God and others, and access to the resources all need to be involved in home-making. Our society, centered around the idol of the American Dream, has essentially rendered many people homeless, and not only physically. Many who have physical houses to live in are homeless in the sense that they feel isolated, depressed, overworked, and feel no attachment or responsibility to the place they live in and the people who live there. They long for something more. They long for a sense of home.

As Christians, we are to live into a different story, a home-making story. The story that started with the great home-breaking of all time (Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden, and out of right relationship with God and each other), and ends with the greatest home-coming of all time (reconciliation with God, others, and all of creation). Through this story, we are called to be people who embody home-making, by building community with our neighbours, by caring for our creational home and a specific place within it, and by finding our true sense of belonging and home in God. This includes justice, for as Brian Walsh said, “justice is a society where home-making is possible for all.” This is true liberation, and this can be our reason, as Christians, for participating in the Occupy Movement. It is a chance for people to get together and dream, and talk, and believe that another world, another way of being, is possible.

Sound too idealistic? It can never happen? That’s what the cynics said about the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, or the Apartheid movement led by Desmond Tutu, or the Independence Movement in India led by Ghandi. I believe that we don’t have to settle for the ways things are. I believe in social change, and not only so that we can see God’s kingdom, as we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” but also as an act of eschatological hope. Every act of social justice is an anticipation, a foretaste, of the truly just future that is to come. A future in the New Heavens and New Earth where there will be no more tears, poverty, or oppression, but enough resources, community, and love for all.

I would like to extend an invitation to BJ and all others who would like to me to go down to the Occupy Vancouver site this weekend. Perhaps by actually meeting the people who are acting in solidarity and resistance for the purpose of liberation, we too will be inspired to dream up a new way of being in the world. Come with us, those who are curious, those who are cynical, those who are tired, those who long for another way. Come as an act of eschatological hope.

Subversive Sexuality: Why Sexual Sin is a Social Justice Issue

“Recently, the younger generation in the Church has been so focused on issues of social justice – poverty, inequality, oppression  – that it has forgotten the dangers and damages of sexual sin.” –  Iain Provan, Old Testament prof, Regent College

At first this statement offended me. I was sitting in a lunch-time open lecture on Old Testament ethics, and I remember thinking that the wider Church, as I have witnessed it, has NOT been focusing on issues of social justice as much as it should. And how could such a personal, behind-the-doors choice like ‘sexual sin’ – whatever that entails – possibly be as dangerous and damaging as forgetting the poor?

I was raised in a church whose youth group stressed the dangers of ‘sex, alcohol, and partying’ and totally neglected teaching me that being a follower of Christ was more about living a radically alternative lifestyle to that of our dominant culture – a life of community, simplicity, compassion for the weak and marginalized, and fighting against the injustice in our world.

But I’ve learned since my youth group days that there are WAY more Scriptures that talk about poverty and injustice than sex and alcohol. Jesus himself said that he would separate the true followers from the false ones by how they treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25). Continue reading ‘Subversive Sexuality: Why Sexual Sin is a Social Justice Issue’

The People Vs. Jason Kenney: Why this Racist should be Deported

I received the following ad for a protest rally in an email from Dave Diewert, my prof of the two-week class i just took at Regent called Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation: the Way of God in the World. Didn’t make it to the rally today, (I had to write a paper), but that doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about how horrible this man’s policies are!

“I plead guilty. I am a racist” – Jason Kenney, Montreal 2009.

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney is
known as the Minister of Censorship and Deportation because of his record
as one of the most repressive immigration ministers in Canadian history.
Deportations have increased, while the number of people accepted as
refugees and sponsored family members have drastically dropped. Instead,
Kenney has increased the number of temporary workers who are constantly
exploited for their labour. His new refugee bill creates a racist two tier
system based on nationality, and he has called a wide range of migrants –
from Mexicans to the War Resisters “bogus”. Under his regime, an Eritrean
refugee committed suicide from fear of a pending deportation, and a young
woman was murdered upon her deportation to Mexico.

Kenney is also a staunch supporter of imperialism, stifling anti war
voices such as George Galloway and the Canadian Arab Federation. Kenney’s
neoconservative values are obvious in his comments and actions: pulling
Canada out of the Durban World Conference Against Racism; introducing a
citizenship guide that omits the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans
and queer (LGBTQ) communities; defending Quebec Bill C-94 that
discriminates against women who wear the niqab; and stating that
immigrants are not integrating well into (colonial) Canada.

Join the People’s March Against Jason Kenney on July 24th to demand an END
to censorship of dissenting voices. An END to detentions and deportations.
An END to the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. An END to
military occupations from Afghanistan to Palestine. An END to
discrimination against women, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, and
racialized people.

We are rising out of schools, neighbourhoods, and workplaces to reject
Kenney’s agenda; join this grassroots movement and rise up with us!

The People v. Kenney
Freedom to move
Right to stay, and to Return
We are many.

ENDORSED BY: Alliance for People’s Health, Anti-Poverty Committee,
Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society,
Battered Women’s Support Services, Bolivia Solidarity Committee, Boycott
Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Building Bridges Human Rights- Vancouver,
Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights, Canadian Islamic Congress,
Check Your Head, Coalition of South Asian Women Against Violence, Comuna
of the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca, East Van Abolitionists,
Friends of Women in the Middle East Society, Grassroots Women, Indigenous
Action Movement, Industrial Workers of the World, International Federation
of  Iranian Refugees, Iran Solidarity Vancouver, Justice for Girls,
Justice for Migrant Workers, Network of Sri Lankan Law Students, Next Up
Vancouver, Press Release Collective, Progressive Nepali Forum in Americas,
Purple Thistle, Rabble.ca, Radical Art In Nature, Rain Zine, Rhizome Cafe,
Salaam Vancouver, Seattle Vancouver Womyns Action Network, Sikh Activist
Network – BC, Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group, Siraat
Collective, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, Solidarity Notes
Choir, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, Stopwar.ca,
Streams of Justice, Submedia, TarSandsArt, The Purple Thistle Centre,
Trikone-Vancouver, UBC Centre for Race Autobiography Gender and Age, UBC
Law , Social Justice Action Network, Vancouver Action, Vancouver Catholic
Worker, Vancouver Community Mobilization Network, War Resisters Support
Campaign, Workers Communist Party of Iran, Workless Party.

* TAKE ACTION!

1) Participate in the People’s March Against Kenney by organizing a march
in your city on July 24 and always confront Kenney if he rolls into your
town.

2) Download leaflets and multilingual pamphlets from
http://noii-van.resist.ca/?p=2034 and spread the word.

3) Plan a community forum to raise awareness about the escalating attacks
by Jason Kenney.

4)  Comment on online news stories, send a letter to the Editor, or write
your local MP regarding Kenney. Keep it short: “Minister Kenney is a
racist, anti-immigrant, war-mongering Conservative. The Minister of
Censorship and Deportation has got to go!”

5) Write Kenney at kennej@parl.gc.ca and bmq@cic.gc.ca and tell him what
you think!

* Read more about the People v. Jason Kenney Campaign:
http://noii-van.resist.ca/?p=1027

* For more information, email noii-van@resist.ca or call 778 885 0040

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!

____

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!

________

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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