God’s sacred ecosystem…
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is hear today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
“The God that I grew up with–the God that I think has been part of American history–had a large agenda about how we care not just for those who look like ourselves or feel like ourselves, but for something bigger.”
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in Quotes of the Week, Sunday News, October 28, 2007
I read a story by Brian Skoloff that appeared in yesterday’s Sunday News about the dwindling water supplies on earth. Experts say that more technology and conservation is needed to avert a crisis of global proportions. The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.
In Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren explores what Jesus’ life and message might have to say to the world’s biggest problems. McLaren alludes to the dimishing supply of drinking water as a crisis that portends global tensions even beyond what the current demand for crude oil does. McLaren traces the plethora of global crises (of which water supply versus demand is just one example) to four deep dysfunctions:
1. Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy, an economy that fails to respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in producing great wealth for about one-third of the world’s population. McLaren calls this the prosperity crisis.
2. The growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor, which prompts the poor majority to envy, resent, and even hate the rich minority–which in turn elicits fear and anger in the rich. McLaren calls this the equity crisis.
3. The danger of cataclysmic war arising from the intensifying resentment and fear among various groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. McLaren calls this the security crisis.
4. The failure of the world’s religions, especially its two largest religions, to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the three previous crises. McLaren calls this the spirituality crisis.
McLaren’s thesis proposes that Christianity is unfaithful to the way of Jesus when it buys into framing stories that reduce the importance of Jesus to dealing with “spiritual needs” of individual souls while ignoring the crises of this present age. The Gospel thus reduced specializes in getting individual souls to make a transaction with God that will provide assurance as to the destination in the afterlife. It is an expression of Christianity that focuses on “me” and “my spiritual life” and “my eternal destiny,” but fails to see the life and message of Jesus as also addressing the dominant societal and global realities of our lifetime: systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.
This reduction of the Gospel has resulted in many (American) Christians living by the framing story of Empire in the here and now. The dualism of good/evil is compounded by the myth of us/them. The axis of evil is the problem. The solution pre-emptive war which gives us the moral grounding to enact redemptive violence which is supposed to transform the world (both “them” and “us”) into a better place. The framing story of Empire gives citizens of that empire a status that is god-like. We are entitled to annex anything and everything that is necessary to continue to drive the machinery of empire.
What about pre-emptive peace? What about pre-emptive acts of restraint in consumption? What are you anti-capitalist? Anti-free market. Oh, that’s right. The market always acts in a way that is consistent with the values of the Kingdom of God. What are you…a socialist? Are you seriously suggesting more government regulation?
What if the global economy continues to grow in a way that the natural resourses of the earth can not supply the raw materials, or get rid of the exhaust efficiently or cleanly? Now you are sounding like a tree-hugger! (insert sound file of disgusted disbelief that anyone could be a sucker for the great conspiracies of the left-wing–theories that seek to make a connection between consumption of fossil fuels and other raw materials and climate change.)
I hear Christian react to stories like the one on the looming shortage of drinking water in a variety of disconcerting ways. Some chalk it up as another sign of the end of the age. The main task of Christians is to get as many lost souls on the salvation train before the apocalypse. This apocalyptic vision interprets the growing instability of our world (politically, economically, ecologically…) as inevitable signs of the end of the age, so why should we try to reverse these problems. In fact, shouldn’t we actually take solace in the fact that the day is drawing closer when Jesus will return to get us out of here. This view of the eschaton becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy–a death-wish–that sees the tragic brokenness of our world not as the wound which Jesus died to heal, but as a catalyst for the advent of the world to come.
This world is going to pass away anyway, so why should this news effect how I live. Material prosperity and my enjoyment of life–whether it is being able to drive the kind of oil-driven vehicle of choice or use any other of the earth’s resources in the quantity that I deem necessary is part of the birthright as a blessed child of God. To suggest limits of any kind, out of a concern for the environment, or global equity is viewed as sacrilege to those who view autonomous individualism as the sin quo non of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
This is not the way of Jesus that we see in the Gospels. I am grateful for the prophetic voices of those like Brian McLaren who are calling Christians to re-think the framing story that results in a “throw away” earth and the place of privilege that is afforded to citizens of Empire.
McLaren speaks truth to power in this diagnoses: The purpose of the US security system is to maintain the inequity of US prosperity.
Some Christians cannot even begin to hear that perspective. Why do you hate this country so much?
What if the way of Jesus, when rightly understood, undermines the legitimacy and moral foundations of the Empire narrative. Must I, as a follower of Jesus, still give my unquestioning allegiance to the nation-state? What if Jesus didn’t die just to get individual souls to heaven? What if his death was the great reversal of the ages? What if the way of bringing about lasting change–prosperity, security, and equity for all–could be brought about only through a community that lived not selfishly, but in the way of love and service to neighbor and enemy? Would Jesus call Christians to choose between Caesar or himself? Is it possible that the great seats of power in any era–whether Rome or Washington D.C.–can truly bring about a non-violent revolution of hope? Rome was an accomplice to the Golgotha crucifixion.
How are we accomplices to the perpetuation of the suicide machine?
How can we consider ourselves followers of Jesus and not be concerned that each person in the world has access to healthy drinking water? What if equity of resources would mean adjusting our lifestyles so that others might live? What if Christians would not view pollution and other ecological problems as secondary issues? What if Christians rejected the framing story that unquestionably supports the agenda of Empire with it’s blind belief in redemptive violence–that we can bring lasting peace through domination?
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are you when you see the world and all it’s problems and believe that Jesus cares about more than selling fire insurance to individual souls…
Blessed are you when you offer a cup of cold water to the widow and the orphan in my name…
Blessed are you when you see that Jesus loves the world that he has made not just for the harvest of souls that need to be gleaned while we take our repose in the life of leisure…
Blessed are you when you become a peace insurgent in a world that is stuck in a dysfunctional suicide system…
Blessed are you when you see Jesus…, and in seeing Jesus you do not hold the world at arms length…