Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Economics of Faith

In his book "Journey to the Common Good," Walter Brueggemann points out how the community of ancient Israel sought to institutionalize their experience of a God who took the side of slaves. This happens in the book of Deuteronomy.

• Debts owed by the poor are to be canceled after seven years, so that there is no permanent underclass (Deut 15:1-18). Debts are the way the wealthy control the labor and resources of poorer people and nations. A periodic forgiveness of debts would radically reduce the power of the few to control the many.
• No interest is to be charged on loans to members of the community (Deut 23:19-20). Imagine how many people currently losing their homes to foreclosure would be able to afford those homes if all they had to pay off was the principal.
• Permanent hospitality must be extended to runaway slaves (Deut 23:15-16). Traditional slavery still exists in the world but more often people are forced into poverty which then forces them to work for whatever meager wages are offered. This is sometimes referred to as wage slavery. Are we to extend this call to hospitality to those fleeing poverty and coming to our nation for a better life?
• No collateral is to be required on loans made to poor people (Deut 24:10-13). There are some groups out there making collateral free loans to poor people and such loans are making a an important impact in the lives of those people.
• No withholding of wages that are due to the poor (Deut 24:14-15). Does this extend to the practice of paying poor people inadequate wages? In a sense this practice of underpaying desperate people is a withholding of fair wages. If so then any wage which does not provide a family with decent housing, food, education, and healthcare is inadequate. In Seattle that would mean at least doubling the current minimum wage.
• No injustice toward a resident alien or an orphan (Deut 24:17-18).
• Regular provision for the marginalized (Deut 24:19-22). In Deuteronomy this meant leaving some of the crops in the fields for the poor to harvest. In our nation would it not mean taxing those with means to aid those in need?

To live into these provisions would require a complete restructuring of our economy. The question for those of us who believe in the God of the Exodus is: Should we change our participation in the economy to match our faith or should we change our faith to facilitate our participation in the economy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

sermon: Marching Orders 7/4/2010

Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Marching Orders
By Rich Gamble

The Fourth of July was a date that our founding fathers were quite proud of, and with good reason. They had managed to make a radically new idea into reality through the adoption of a document. A new nation was born. One dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.

There is much to be proud of as an American. We enjoy many freedoms. We enjoy some of the blessings of living in a wealthy nation. We live in a land blessed with great physical beauty.

But as Christians we are called to take off the rose colored glasses and look at our nation, indeed we are called to look at nationalism itself, and ask the hard questions about whether our nation is aligned with the will of God.

In today’s Gospel account Jesus sends out his army to do battle with Satan. Before they go, Jesus gives them their marching orders. It is important for us to closely examine these directions because our faith tells us that actions define the meaning of the message Jesus has for the world. How these representatives of God act, reflects the words they proclaim.

First thing Jesus does is send others out to do what he has done. Jesus does the work and then calls others to do likewise. We can contrast this with our past two president who have sent our young people into war, something they avoided.
Next Jesus sends the followers out two by two. Jesus is teaching the disciples that the message is a communal one. The followers are called to work together. The message is not in the hands of one person but in the hands of the community. Jesus is not creating a cult of personality, though later Christians try to make the faith into just that.

Jesus says, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” That is how Jesus sends his troops into battle with the evil empire. Unarmed. No helicopter gunships waiting in the wings. No shock and awe. Lambs generally don’t fair to well when they go forth to the land of wolves. But the wolves are not in any danger of harm. Harm is a distinct possibility for the followers of Jesus, but retaliatory defense is not an option. The war against Satan or the Domination System is a war fought without any of the stuff of a modern army.

Our Peace Corps is much closer to the image of Jesus’ army than the US military. If Jesus were to take on Saddam that is how he would do it. We know this because Pontius Pilate was the Saddam of his day and Jesus and his followers did take him and the whole Roman Empire on. And they died. But they did not kill. And in the end the Roman Empire was no more but the people of Christ lived on.

Jesus sends these unarmed soldiers of truth out into the world without provisions. In warfare, lines of supply are of utmost importance. It is said that an army travels on its stomach, in other words, without food the army does not move. But Jesus sends his people out to combat the Domination System with direct orders not carry anything, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” These followers of Jesus are sent into various communities in small numbers and in need of the compassionate assistance of the people of those communities.

Jesus instructs his soldiers to enter each house proclaiming peace. He instructs them not to shop around for the best situation but whatever house first takes them in, that is where they are to stay, accepting whatever level of hospitality is initially offered. Imagine if our soldiers were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan utterly dependent upon the generosity of the people who live there. Imagine if they were instructed to gratefully accept and be utterly dependent upon, whatever was offered them. How would that change the way the soldiers treat the people of these nations? If the soldiers understood at the most basic level the hardships of the people and shared those hardships, how would that change the way the people there treated by them?

And if the people don’t want to offer hospitality, Jesus instructs the troops to leave. How’s that for an invasion? If the people don’t want you there, if they offer you no hospitality, then just leave. Don’t curse them, don’t bomb them, simply let them know that they lost a precious opportunity to experience the Realm of God.
This is how Jesus sent out his troops to do battle with the enemy of God: in twos, unarmed, unsupplied, proclaiming peace, utterly dependent on the hospitality of others. This is how the Realm of God is established. The enemy to be fought is not flesh and blood but rather a false perception of reality, a spirituality contrary to that of God. People caught up in this false system of thought and perception are not to be harmed and forced to accept the right idea, they are to be converted through the application of compassion and the embodiment of truth.

If we were to apply this approach to our military it is doubtful that our nation would exist as we now know it. Nations are made up of arbitrary lines on a map, those inside the lines are friends and those outside the lines are foreigners. The whole of almost every nation’s national policy is to ensure that the people inside the lines fare better than those outside the lines; and hence, the lines usually have to be violently defended.

In the ministry of Jesus we see no borders, no lines to defend, no in-group who expects a better life than anyone else. The approach of Jesus did not, could not, would not create a nation. It can only convert people to a way of understanding the world through the insight of faith in a God of love.

The army of Jesus has no arms, no flag, no lines of supply, no overwhelming numbers. As the army of Rome sought to be invulnerable, so the army of Christ actively pursued vulnerability. As the army of Rome threatened violence unless their will was obeyed, so the army of Christ proclaimed peace and sought to heal.
As people of Christ we have to admit that our nation acts more like Rome that Christ. Our army uses force and violence. Most people in this nation would agree that a nation needs an army to ensure its existence, that the vulnerability practiced by the followers of Jesus, will not defend the borders of a nation and therefore is an impractical ideal.

And that is the point. Jesus shows us in this passage, what a true liberation movement should look like. If such an army is incongruous with our idea of nation, then perhaps, it is our idea of nation that should be shelved rather than Jesus’ ideas. Borders create nations, nations create violent armies, violent armies kill people to ensure the safety and prosperity of nation over nation. Jesus offers us a vision of a world without borders, without violent armies, without killing. Just as Jesus’ idea of how an army should operate is incongruous in the world of nations so our idea of a violent army is incongruous with the Realm of God Jesus proclaimed.
And so, on this national holiday, celebrating the creation of our nation, our faith calls on us to open our hearts and minds to something larger than that held within national boundaries. Our founding fathers proclaimed and established some noble ideals, but from the birth of our nation we have been dependent upon violence, we have been subjects of the Domination System. We have many things to be proud of as Americans, and many things of which we should be ashamed, but the ultimate point of this Gospel passage on this day is that we are called to a higher loyalty. We are called to tear down barriers between people. We are called to pound our swords into plowshares. We are called to extend peace through vulnerability. We are called to enlist into the cause of Christ and to understand that such an ultimate pledge of allegiance separates us fundamentally from the cause of Caesar, or any current political leader.

We are called to pledge our wealth and even our lives to extend the promise of peace, and the love of God. The age of kingdoms has passed, the time of nations is fading, the rise of corporate power is visible but the Realm of God remains wherever we awaken to the truth and follow the call to embody God’s love.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Grim Facts and the Great Commission

Below is part of a talk from Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. I found it on the Democracy Now website. Gloomy as they are, these facts are important for us to hear. They stand as the often hidden context of our lives.

Our faith in a God of self-giving love and the actions of compassion and justice that flow from that love is key to turning the world in a different direction. The truth we proclaim is not for us to simply consume and contemplate, it is for us to share in every way possible.

Keystone lives not for the services it can render to its members but for the vision it has to offer to the world (of course we care for one another while we proclaim our vision).

The facts as laid out by people like Ms. Barlow may well overwhelm many, but we are a people empowered by a power greater than humanity’s capacity for destruction. The world needs people willing to live out their faith in the God of self-giving love. This is our calling.

"On the eve of this G-20 gathering, let’s look at a few facts. Fact, the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history. The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries. Fact, while those responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis were bailed out and even rewarded by the G-20 government’s gathering here, the International Labor Organization tells us that in 2009, 34 million people were added to the global unemployed, swelling those ranks to 239 million, the highest ever recorded. Another 200 million are at risk in precarious jobs and the World Bank tells us that at the end of 2010, another 64 million will have lost their jobs. By 2030, more than half the population of the megacities of the Global South will be slumdwellers with no access to education, health care, water, or sanitation. Fact, global climate change is rapidly advancing, claiming at least 300,000 lives and $125 billion in damages every year. Called the silent crisis, climate change is melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban centers. Almost every victim lives in the Global South in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and not represented here at the summit.
The atmosphere has already warmed up a full degree in the last several decades and is on course to warm up another two degrees by 2100. In fact, half the tropical forests in the world, the lungs of our ecosystem, are gone. By 2030, at the present rate of extraction or so-called harvest, only 10% will be left standing. 90% of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practice. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise, there is no blue frontier left. Half the world’s wetlands, the kidneys of our ecosystem, have been destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian science, we are headed toward of biodiversity deficit in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than nature can replace them with new ones. Fact, we are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, two million tons of sewage and industrial agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water. That’s the equivalent of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of waste water produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. We are minding our ground water faster than we can replenish it, sucking it to grow water guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities who dump an astounding 700 trillion liters of land-based water into oceans every year as waste.
The global mining industry sucks up another 800 trillion liters which it also leaves behind as poison and fully one-third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. Nearly three billion people on our planet do not have running water within a kilometer of their home and every eight seconds, somewhere in our world, a child is dying of waterborne disease. The global water crisis is getting steadily worse with reports of countries from India to Pakistan to Yemen facing depletion. The World Bank says that by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40%. This may sound just like a statistic, but the suffering behind that is absolutely unspeakable."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We Did It!

According to their Facebook site the Yes on 1098 campaign submitted over 360,000 signatures today. This is well above their goal of 325,000. Even more impressive is that Keystone lived up to its challenge. We challenged churches across the state to meet or exceed our goal of 10 signatures on the initiative for each member. Barbara dropped off hers last night and officially put us over our goal. Thanks to all who gathered signatures. It truly was a community effort.