Monday, March 16, 2009

Economic Crisis and Life-Giving Spirituality

I've got to admit, more often than not I write about political issues. I was going to say 'about political issues, not spiritual issues,' but I don't understand how you can be 'spiritual' without being political. You can be political and not spiritual. Maybe. But you sure as heck can't be concerned with the Life of the Human Spirit -- whether you consider our connection to one another or to a Higher Power -- without at least putting politics in the equation.

Let me restate: if you think you can, it's because your forefathers were never under slavery, victims of a genocide or ethnic cleansing, you never spent a day in a slum, you never met someone dying for lack of access to health care, and you've never seen a mother separated from her kids at a checkpoint.

So when I write about political issues, particularly in a Land which has the arrogance of calling itself Holy, I am (also) writing of spiritual things.

But this time, allow me to foray into a spiritual meditation. I believe in clarifying language, so allow me a longer introduction to clarify my use of spiritual lingo.
You can be spiritual without being a Christian, a believer in any Monotheistic religion, or any religion at all. A Chinese friend of mine told me that when Communism crashed as an ideology in China, the country found itself without any known spiritual values (and everything needed to be reinvented). I personally think that Communism was probably as bankrupt spiritually as Greed -- I mean Capitalism -- but it nonetheless had a spiritual component. End of the digression: "spiritual" does not mean "religious."

And correspondingly being "Christian" or "religious" does not mean you're necessarily more spiritual than the next guy. It probably should, but it's not always the case. Religious people can be militaristic, materialistic, violent and hateful as much as the next guy. (Come visit the Holy Land!) I suppose all these things have a spiritual component -- even admiration for an F-16 -- but not the kind of life-giving, healing, redemptive spiritual value I'm interested in.
So, after these caveats, allow me to continue.

We're in a context of economic crisis. I don't feel it because I haven't lost my job or my home. If I did, I'm sure I'd perceive this much more as a reality. But it is a reality for many.*

But the extent of this economic crisis and its relationship with our unsustainable mode of production and consumption is--for once--well described by Thomas Friedman. I usually disagree with Friedman, notably on his views of the Arab world, but since he seems to get it this time, I recommend his column (click here).

I'm not going to go into further analysis and recommendations, as I have none. But I want to post here and excellent writing by Robb Davis on what Life-Giving Spirituality might mean in a time of not only economic crisis, but quite possible collapse of references particularly in the US where the prosperous have been sheltered from the un-prosperous so effectively. I have few readers but they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Agnostic -- I think there's something of value to all in Robb's text.

You can click here to visit Robb's page, but I'm pasting his last entry below and invite you to read it. (I kind of assume Robb is allowing me to do so. Hey! It's the blogosphere; if we can't pillage and plunder, what good is it?)

Thanks Robb,


* The crisis seems for now to be better shouldered in Europe than in the US, because Europe has kept relatively stronger elements of social protection than the US. This burdens us economically (yes, it does) and those who can climb can't climb as high as fast as their Americans counterparts can when things go well, but when the going gets tough and we start falling, we fall slower and we buffer the fall a little better than the Americans.

On Weakness (a Lenten Reflection) - [Robb Davis]

I listen closely to a broad array of top economists who, collectively in this time, communicate a message of uncertainty, fear and warning about the potential for a severe and long-lasting economic downturn. Some are already experiencing the leading edge of this storm (here in CA unemployment is already near 16% in the central valley, areas in the rust belt can't be far behind), and it is a storm that is likely to lead to many changes--most of which no one can predict. There will be much pain, suffering, perhaps violence and, with all of this, the opportunity to live out the gospel in novel and life changing ways.

This much perhaps is not earth-shaking news. Many are wondering how to live faithfully in this time of uncertainty. I share that "wondering" and am thinking about how we might walk forward in this time. I don't have any economic solution to these present woes. I offer no "strategic plan". I offer merely a few reminders and an exhortation about faithfulness.

First, I think about the meaning of this season of Lent which is a time of reflection concerning the cross--the crux of history. As Jesus approached Jerusalem he did so in a spirit of service and with a clear sense that he would lay down his life. This embrace of weakness is remarkable and, in itself, stands as both a model for the way of the kingdom but also a judgment of world systems, principalities and powers who dehumanize and dominate by force. However as Marva Dawn points out in "Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God" (if you have not read it I recommend it) Jesus' decision was not a simple one as he was confronted with an ongoing temptation to choose the way of domination. This temptation began before his public ministry began and clearly continued throughout that ministry and into the garden the night before his crucifixion. In other words, the choice of weakness was constantly challenged and the way of worldly power always present as a choice for Jesus. This makes his decision to take up the cross an amazing illustration of his love for us.

Dawn points out that the theme of weakness dominates the writings of Paul and other New Testament writers and suggests that Paul's words in I Corinthians 12 would best be translated this way:
...(B)ut he has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for your power is brought to its end in weakness." All the more gladly, then, will I boast in my weakness that the power of Christ (not mine!) may tabernacle upon me.
Powerful words--the tabernacling of God--the dwelling of Christ in us--comes when we acknowledge and embrace our weakness.

And so as we walk towards the cross--the crux--in this season, a season full of doubt, uncertainty and fear my exhortation to myself, to others, is to embrace this weakness and to publicly acknowledge that we have no solutions. We have no grand plans. We have no power to effect the kind of change that the world is clamoring for. What we have is weakness, and in that weakness we have hope that the Christ will powerfully use our humble obedience to accomplish his kingdom purposes on our midst (things like healing, freedom, sight, justice). Jacques Ellul in "L'homme et l'argent" makes it clear that "Mammon" is one of the powers that Jesus defeated at the cross. I will not, therefore, encourage people to trust God until the economy "turns around". Nor to "hunker down" until the storm blows over. Rather I encourage myself and others to meditate on a theology of weakness--that our trust in our own power might come to an end and that God might reveal God's power in us. We must envision, not some ideal economic order nor a return to the status quo of the "business cycle", but a way of walking each day in generosity--an open hand--in a time of testing. Only this can enable our liberation from the false promises of a modern economic system that has promised (but failed to deliver--as it must) security, comfort or "a better life".

I will demonstrate my commitment to this kind of walk by fasting and praying on Good Friday. May our prayers on that day be prayers of thanks that our power has come to an end. May they be prayers in which we "boast" in our weakness. And may we seek God's wisdom and guidance as we prepare to faithfully serve the suffering, oppressed and fearful in the days ahead. I agree with John Howard Yoder that the church carries the "inner meaning of history" in that God (for reasons that are a mystery) has chosen this entity to bring about the great unwinding of the fall.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Jer 22:3 "I, the LORD, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not mistreat or oppress aliens, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place.