Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The times, they are a changin'--fast

In a recent response to a FaceBook posting by Diana Butler Bass regarding the current economic struggles, I wrote:
The challenge is that we are getting to the point (if we're not already there) in which the current model is unaffordable and unsustainable. The same "back to the good old days" mantra that reverberates throughout the church does so in politics and economics as well. The question is: How do we get a sustainable and compassionate economic system and how can we get enough of a momentum shift to elect folks to implement it?
I've previously spoken and written about the fact that the age of Modernity, which began to decay fifty years ago, has reached it's final years, if not months. In the face of the aftermath of the Great Recession, governments from school districts to states to our nation can no longer afford to keep alive the systems and patterns of life that all but the Greatest Generation (who are rapidly dying off...) accept as normal parts of life. We have come to the end of being able even to pretend to afford the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed--economically, socially, ecologically, even spiritually. The difficulty is that as we ask "What next?" very few people are willing to ask the question "How do we get a sustainable and compassionate system?" in any area of life. Most are looking backwards and warning of terrible calamities if some people (generally not them) don't "sacrifice" something to return to the "good old days" of yesteryear. Never mind that the "good old days" were rarely, if ever, good for everyone. In other words, those who look longingly back at the "good old days" are generally those with the most to lose, and thus those with the greatest fear of what is to come. Hence the place we at which we have arrived in our political discourse.

A colleague of mine has recently blogged about the absence of fear by those who have spoken truth to power in Egypt and in other parts of the world. Coincidentally (or perhaps God-incidentally), the Gospel for this coming Sunday addresses exactly this sort of basic fear. Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:24-34)
Keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to people in a much more materially precarious position than most of us are experiencing today. In Jesus' time there was no social safety net, no homeless shelter, no soup kitchen, not even any government that even pretended to be the least bit responsive. The people Jeus is speaking to live a tenuous existence in a region occupied by a hostile foreign army. Human life, as Thomas Hobbes would describe it more than 1500 years later was very often "...nasty, brutish, and short."

The point, then and now, is not to simply sit around hoping and praying for divine provision and deliverance. Jesus doesn't say "don't worry, be happy!" What Jesus does say is "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness." What that means for us is that we are called not to be paralyzed by worry, nor to react in fear, but to proactively partner with God in bringing God's kingdom to fruition in our own lives and in the lives of the people and systems that surround us. It is a call to action (strive) not reaction (worry). If we can get over our worries and our fears, what might God accomplish through us?

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