Romans 13:11-14, 14:17; Mark 13; Luke 18-19
In the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Earth, now is the time of the first harvest. In the old European Celtic Wheel of the Year, the bread for the festival Communion Mass (Lammas, August 1) was made from the first grains – barley, wheat, rye. This year, 2012, the great “bread basket of the world” – midwestern United States – has been in drought for months. The winter wheat crop was good. But the summer corn and soybean crops are gone.
Economic uncertainty is a symptom; the disease is planet-wide: ecological breakdown, climate change, “global warming.” Denying the facts of climate change has been a priority for right-wing business and Christian fundamentalist leaders. Unlimited sums of money have been poured into research that surely would destroy the credibility of left-wing “socialists” determined to destroy the “freedom” of the people to make all the money they want to make; until Richard Muller, professor of physics of UC Berkeley took his “no strings attached half-million bucks” from the Koch Brothers and discovered the scientists were right – not only about climate change, but the fact that humans are the cause. What really fries the right is that Prof. Muller was a climate change skeptic.
One of the prophets of our time is the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox. Fox is the founder of a theology called Creation Spirituality, which has at its core the revolutionary conviction that the Universe and everything in it is an original blessing, not an original sin. At a recent conference sponsored by Evolve Chesapeake (a Creation Spirituality community), Fox discussed the necessity for “awakening imagination for transformation” – a mouthful of words that boils down to putting human creativity to work to solve the problem. After all, as Professor Muller says, human creativity got us into this ecological mess and human creativity can get us out of it.
Fox suggests that super-capitalism – the hegemony of the very wealthy – runs on the suppression of our own creativity – i.e., willful ignorance. Willful ignorance prompted Marie Antoinette to wonder why – if they don’t have bread– the people can’t eat cake instead? Now as then, the economic precariousness of the working classes has not yet percolated up through the layers of protective investments to affect the well-being of the wealthy. In a New York Times Op ed, “Corn for Food, Not Fuel,” Colin A. Carter and Henry I. Miller (July 30, 2012) write:
By suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the Environmental Protection Agency could divert vast amounts of corn from inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces and common sense dictate it should go. The drought has now parched about 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states. As a result, global food prices are rising steeply. Corn futures prices on the Chicago exchange have risen about 60 percent since mid-June, hitting record levels, and other grains such as wheat and soybeans are also sharply higher. Livestock and dairy product prices will inevitably follow. . . . The price of corn is a critical variable in the world food equation, and food markets are on edge because American corn supplies are plummeting. The combination of the drought and American ethanol policy will lead in many parts of the world to widespread inflation, more hunger, less food security, slower economic growth and political instability, especially in poor countries.
“Who cares?” says the ghost of the clueless Marie Antoinette. But inevitably, the shortage of cake (never mind the absence of bread) will become apparent, even to those who thought that the higher the price the greater the profit for them.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke reports a parable told by Jesus that has stumped the faithful for centuries. But the meaning is perhaps not so mysterious, despite the ending – which may or may not be an addition supplied by Luke. At the end of the parable of the money in trust, in which a landowner returns to find that one of his slaves had been too afraid of the master’s ruthlessness to risk investing the money entrusted to him, the boss says “I’m telling you, to everyone who has, more will be given and from those who don’t have, even what they do have will be taken away.” He then rewards his corporate allies ten-fold, and orders the execution of the members of the board who opposed his plan to merge with another company ( Luke 19:12-27). Putting the parable in the current context, suppose your CEO, a known crook whom everyone hates, gives you a million dollars to invest in corn futures and ethanol production. The only way to maintain your livelihood may be to bury the money in the atrium garden. You won’t get a raise – your colleagues who play the game will get their reward – but you will at least save your life. Or, as in the parable of the Shrewd Manager, if your boss is threatening to fire you because the profit margin isn’t satisfying the shareholders, make side-bets that pay off the creditors and save the business (Luke 16:1-8).
Jesus’ parables tell us how use our creativity to subvert the putative rulers of Earth. Jesus got into trouble for suggesting that the way to assure that all of the people have food to eat is to share whatever they have. And don’t assume that your traditional enemy has no soul. The very powers that are supposed to have your best interest at heart will pass you by on the other side of the road while you die in the ditch (“The Good Samaritan” Luke 10:30-35). To love your enemies is to have no enemies.
The much-misunderstood and dismissed Apostle Paul wrote in the first century:
I don’t have to tell you that we are living in the most decisive moment in human history. The hour has already passed for you to be roused from your sleep, because the time of ultimate fulfillment is nearer now than when we first put our unconditional confidence and trust in God. The night is almost gone, the day is almost here. Let us rid ourselves of the preoccupations of the darkness and clothe ourselves with the armor of light. Let us conduct ourselves in ways befitting those who live in the full light of day, not in gluttony and drunkenness, now in promiscuous sexual behavior nor in uninhibited self-indulgence, not in contentiousness and envy. But adopt the manner of life of our lord, Jesus, God’s Anointed, and make no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification. . . . For the empire of God is not about food and drink, but it is about the integrity and peace and joy that comes through God’s presence and power among us. Romans 13:11-14, 14:17. The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge Press, 2010).
The first step is to acknowledge the depth of the sin, but what does this mean in a secular world?
Paul is not talking about petty trespass, like making love before marriage, or eating too much at a party. Paul is not suggesting that the answer is easy piety – going to church, giving money to charity, volunteering at the soup kitchen. When Paul talks about making no concession to the lifestyle of this age, he’s not implying the internet is evil, or technology is de-humanizing, or that abortion, divorce, and contraception will send you to hell. That’s the easy stuff. What’s not so easy is the integrity that comes through the presence and power of God.
The presence and power of God is radical fairness – distributive justice-compassion. The only way to achieve that is through the radical abandonment of self-interest. In Paul’s words, “no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” This is the “inner work” that Matthew Fox calls the via negativa. To do this inner work means acknowledging and owning the conditions that lead to fear for survival, greed, war, and the destruction of the Planet. That “inner work” results in a transformation of attitude that then leads to creative ways to act with distributive justice-compassion – to a share world instead of a greed world.
In a share world, when corn is lost to drought, what is saved is not dedicated to conversion into fuel, but used for food. In a share world, mountaintops are not destroyed to save the expense of deep-mining for coal. In a share world, land and water are not destroyed for short-term economic gain.
Paul claims that Jesus “made no concession to the lifestyle of this age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” Indeed, Jesus got into major trouble for suggesting that while Cesar may have thought he was master of the universe, he in fact owned nothing but the coin with his name on it. “God” owns the earth and everything in it.
Apocalypticism is on the rise, whether among religious fundamentalists or atheists. For the religious – especially Christian fundamentalists – the end times have never seemed more imminent. Even though the “little apocalypse” in the Gospel of Mark is clearly about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 66-70, the language has lent itself to every political, social, economic, and ecological disaster of the past two milennia of the common era. “Wars and rumors of wars”; earthquakes, famines, persecutions, wild weather; and of course “phony messiahs and phony prophets will show up and they’ll provide signs and omens in an attempt to deceive, if possible, the chosen people.” Mark 13:22, The Complete Gospels (Polebridge Press, 2010).
One effective way to deceive the people is to suggest that misfortune is its own fault. So poverty is the fault of the poor; drug and alcohol addiction are caused by moral weakness; unemployment is the result of laziness. The result is denial on a global scale, across all social and economic strata of the seriousness and depth of what we are facing as a species.
Scientists are telling us that we have the ability to choose whether to listen to the primitive parts of our brains and respond to fear, or to use the intuitive, creative parts of our brains to assure that we continue to evolve. Indeed we are at a point where we can watch over our own evolution – choice not chance.
Matthew Fox reminds us that there is really only one question: How to love the world. Pessimism, cynicism, and despair teach us how not to love the world. These are sins that lead us – in Paul’s updated words – to make concessions to “the lifestyle of the age and its pursuit of self-gratification.” The world is heavily invested in denial. Denial is the choice to be deliberately ignorant of conditions that will overtake us in the end if we do not wake up.
Please pass the bread.