Judas Practiced Austerity; Jesus Occupied

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.

– Desmond Tutu

Conservative Christians will often quote a snippet of Jesus to explain why they don’t have to care about taking care of immediate or far-reaching concerns of poor families, children and people. You know that quote: The poor will always be among you.

It appears in the three of the four Gospels: Matthew, Luke, and John. But the phrase originated not with Jesus but in Deuteronomy.

We’ve deconstructed that myth here. But here’s what I’m wondering:

Do these fiscal conservative Christians who identify as capitalists understand that the phrase is contextualized in a passage of scripture about a radical redistribution of wealth and property delivered through the government?

The Bible Endorses Capitalism? Have You Read the Thing?

Hipster Jesus Doesn’t Believe the Religious Right

Jesus wasn’t ignoring the poor. He wasn’t taking a laissez-faire approach to poverty. Rather, the very opposite.

Jesus and his disciples pooled all their resources into a shared, common purse – which he knew Judas was stealing from for his own personal purposes. If that sounds an awful lot like Religious Right leaders that use the Poor Will Always Be Among You verse to deny poor families, women, children, workers, men, and countries basic amenities while stuffing their own faces, it’s because that’s exactly what it is like. If it sounds like parks or libraries or schools or food stamps being defunded due to the fact that “there just isn’t enough money” while the rich generously receive tax breaks worth far more than what your typical worker makes in a generation, that’s because it’s exactly what it is like.

Jesus and his followers lived a common life with common resources. It wasn’t Marxism, specifically, but they were practicing a type of communism. The problem wasn’t in the communism itself – it was in the deception, thievery and gluttony that Judas surrounded it with. Judas was practicing austerity and Jesus was putting him in check – reminding him of his thievery, warning him that he knew what he was doing.

Judas was stealing from the common funds. In response, Jesus was Occupying.

Protesters Occupying Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey.

Note that it was after this prophetic warning that Judas sold out Jesus and delivered him up to the Empire paragons – the minsters of the violent status quo.

Secondly, Jesus was not just talking to Judas but to an entire host of people who were also complaining that this perfume was not given away as a sign of charity. Which is odd. Jesus has spent his entire ministry with, as, and helping  poor people in Judea and Samaria – and now they’re upset that someone else – a woman, at that – wasn’t living up to their newly adopted standards. In his response, Jesus referenced an ancient purity law that the religious leaders were not pursuing and one that the people weren’t pushing. The idea of a just society over and above an occasional charity. We call this law Jubilee. It was the wholesale cancelling of debts and redistribution of wealth, of unrelenting justice.

While much of the Old Testament would not be considered equitable by today’s standards, it had many of its own bright spots in the midst of the shaming purity and people-as-property laws. We can attribute this to an opening of the narrative of the Bible, a process of liberation from a patriarchal, brutal society to a communal and equitable one. Notice I say equitable. Most of us concern ourselves with charity and so leave little room for equity – equity is scary for the dominating powers and charity makes us feel good, so we tend to focus efforts on charity work. It is here we need a true revolution of values, to use Martin Luther King’s phrase.

Ultimately, charity stalls the necessary confrontation of injustice. Though it addresses some immediate need and is necessary in such a cruel and bitter world, the need it addresses is extremely finite, limited, and random. A patchwork of mercy work based on charity leads to an inextricable mix of exhaustion and apathy.

We don’t need more charity and kind-hearted masters, we need justice and liberation. The process of liberation is not an easy one to begin nor to endure – which is probably why Christianity has had more false starts than Christ-like visions over its two thousand year history. It’s much easier for us to endorse the ways of the world – the ways of violence, of gluttony, of oppression – than the path of Jesus – that of shalom, of economic and political equity, of liberation.

But that is the call that Jesus gave to his followers.

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Mr Mayor, This Is Our Town

Walking through my library and I notice a framed photo of our mayor towards the front, in the information table. It’s where we can find out about events and about what the community and the library are doing.

And it struck me that Rahm Emanuel, like many politicians, is in a position of power and works hard to cultivate this image of his position of power. Not just as a benevolent or wise leader (which is untrue and anybody paying attention to the city and how it is handling the non-business district/non-White Chicago portions of town will figure this out), but as a powerful person and from whom all blessings flow.

Follow him and we get our bike trails, we get our libraries, we get to keep our schools or get better schools (which is the trade-off lie he is selling now that nobody – again, nobody paying attention – is listening to).

But that’s not true. A mayor is a manager. We are in charge of what we desire, what we need, what we have, and who we give it to.

Emanuel is our puppet. Not for the 0.01%. Not for the neo-liberals. Not for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or DePaul University or Chicago Parking Meters LLC. But for ALL of Chicago.

It’s damned time we remind him of who is in charge.

Christianity & Capitalism: A Love Story

Saving is for wimps!  I have a plan for affordable housing.

Roll

Eugene McCarraher, a professor at Villanova University reviewed Occupy Wall Street resident historian Dave Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years and  Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology for Christianity Today’s Books and Culture magazine recently and I’m just fascinated that such an anti-capitalist view would be espoused in anything published by CT these days. Particularly, he calls the main religion of the US Chrapitalism, an unholy mixture of Capitalism and Christianity and a perversion of the latter that is so far removed from its roots that he calls for a return to Christianity by Chrapitalism’s followers (ie, most of us). However, that hybrid name needs some work. Capitalstianity.

Still working on it.

Some long excerpts:

The Plutocracy’s beatific vision for the mass of Americans is wage servitude: a fearful, ever-busy, and cheerfully abject pool of human resources. Rendered lazy and recalcitrant by a half-century of mooching, American workers must be forced to be free: crush labor unions, keep remuneration low, cut benefits and lengthen working hours, close or narrow every avenue of escape or repose from accumulation. If they insist on living like something more than the whining, expendable widgets they are, reduce them to a state of debt peonage with an ensemble of financial shackles: mortgages, credit cards, and student loans, all designed to ensure that the wage slaves utter two words siren-sweet to business: “Yes, boss.” It’s the latest chapter in the depressing story that David Graeber relates in Debt: debt as an especially insidious weapon in the arsenal of social control. “There’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence … than by reframing them in the language of debt,” he writes, “because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong.”

Alas, we’re living in the early, bewildering days of the demise of the American Empire, the beginning of the end of that obsession-compulsion known as the Amerian Dream. The reasons are clear, if often angrily denied: military hubris and over-extension; a stagnant monopoly capitalism with a bloated financial sector; a population on whom it’s dawning that low-wage labor is their inexorable fate; ecological wreckage that can only be limited or repaired by cessation of growth. The patricians’ task will be threefold: finessing the increasingly obvious fact of irreversible imperial decline; convincingly performing the charade of democracy in the face of popular vassalage; and distracting or repressing the roiling rage and tumult among the plebs. How will the elites maintain and festoon their ever-more untenable hegemony? …

The injustice and indignity of capitalism have seldom been so openly wretched, but as Graeber ruefully observes, just when we need “to start thinking on a breadth and with a grandeur appropriate to the times,” we seem to have “hit the wall in terms of our collective imagination.”

Don’t expect any breadth or grandeur from the Empire’s Christian divines. Across the board, the imperial chaplains exhibit the most obsequious deference to the Plutocracy, providing imprimaturs and singing hallelujahs for the civil religion of Chrapitalism: the lucrative merger of Christianity and capitalism, America’s most enduring covenant theology. It’s the core of “American exceptionalism,” the sanctimonious and blood-spattered myth of providential anointment for global dominion. In the Chrapitalist gospel, the rich young man goes away richer, for God and Mammon have pooled their capital, formed a bi-theistic investment group, and laundered the money in baptismal fonts before parking it in offshore accounts. Chrapitalism has been America’s distinctive and gilded contribution to religion and theology, a delusion that beloved community can be built on the foundations of capitalist property. As the American Empire wanes, so will its established religion; the erosion of Chrapitalism will generate a moral and spiritual maelstrom.

As Critchley asserts, “ ‘God’ is the first anarchist, calling us into struggle with the mythic violence of law, the state, and politics by allowing us to glimpse the possibility of something that stands apart.By inciting us to curse and renounce the homespun idolatry of Chrapitalism, Critchley and Graeber can point Christians back to a terrible but glorious moment in their history: when the avant-garde of the eschaton were maligned as godless traitors. We’ll need that dangerous memory in our frightful if doubtless very different time.

Note: That’s what it sometimes feels like. In questioning the morality of a system that allows for and necessitates the starvation of billions of people, the questioners are made to feel like they are proposing shooting babies in the head. I have been called a communist in a pejorative sense – with the assumption that I am an atheist and I don’t believe in God. I am often asked if I hate the US. I cannot blame those who question me – we have all been fed this idea that at its roots, capitalism is a godly, natural good connected with a benevolent God. At its core, we are taught, capitalism is responsible for our well-being through God’s generosity.

But when you live most of your life in poverty and study to find that you may never – like the vast majority of the world – rise from under its boot heel, you start to question the unquestioned goodness of capitalism and whether or not it is of God.

In Graeber’s view, economics’ most nefarious impact on morality is its perverse account of social relations, especially those revolving around obligation and interdependence. Graeber distinguishes between obligations—the incalculable owing of favors, as when you give me something, and I owe you something back—and debt as a precisely enumerable obligation, and therefore calculable in terms of equivalence and money. Conceivable only when people are treated not as human beings but as abstractions, equivalence is the categorical imperative of pecuniary reason, and it sanctifies the self-righteous, skinflint buncombe that parades as an ethic of “character.” Isn’t paying one’s debts the basis of morality and dependable personal character? Especially when translated into money, the quantification of debt can justify a lot of indecent, horrific conduct. Can’t pay me back? I’ll take your daughter, or foreclose on your home, or demand austerity measures that result in famine, disease, or destitution.

Graeber’s alternative to debt and its moral atrocities is communism: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” (Not, note well, according to their “deserts.”) Knowing that he’ll face a fusillade of umbrage about “totalitarianism,” Graeber insists that communism “exists right now” and lies at “the foundation of all human sociability.” Our lives abound with moments of everyday communism: we don’t charge people who ask us for directions, and if we do, we’re rightly considered jerks. Communism is not “egalitarianism”—which, as even Marx observed, partakes of the boring, inhuman logic of equivalence—and in Graeber’s view, it doesn’t entail any specific form of property. (An unromantic admirer of peasant societies and their moral economy of “the commons,” Graeber appears to endorse what anthropologists sometimes call “usufruct,” in which property becomes a kind of trusteeship dependent on the performance of a function.) A communist relationship—between spouses, lovers, friends—is not only one in which accounts are not kept, but one in which it would be considered “offensive, or simply bizarre” to even think of doing so. Love keeps no record of wrongs—or rights…

As 19th-century craftsmen and workers understood better than we do today, wage labor is the slavery of capitalism: if you don’t own the means of production, you work for those who do—unlike chattel, you enjoy the dubiously ennobling privilege of choosing your master.

Graeber affirms redemption and friendship against the command economy of libertas. Friends and lovers don’t treat each other as servants or vendable objects, so freedom should be “the ability to make friends,” the capacity to enter into human relations that are uncoerced and incalculable. And since friends are naturally communists, they’ll live without thinking of their relations in a way that leads to double-entry bookkeeping; they’ll live in the light of “redemption,” which isn’t about “buying something back” but rather about “destroying the entire system of accounting.” To create a more humane and generous world, we must unlearn our moral arithmetic and throw the ledgers into the bonfire. A communist society of friends requires the abolition of capitalism.

Graeber concedes that Christianity harbors traces of a moral and ontological revolution against the regime of debt. “Redemption” could point to the destruction and transcendence of equivalence; as Thomas Aquinas and other medieval theologians explained, “our relation with the cosmos is ultimately nothing like a commercial transaction, nor could it be.” You can pay off the bank or the bartender; how do you square a “debt ” to God?

Indeed, how does one pay back God? To put it another way, how can we pay back demigods, as our banking and lending institutions are set up as? Us mere mortals?

No. Seriously?

Emancipating Ourselves from Mental Slavery

Being an educator, I get the privilege of hearing some pretty outstanding logic being applied to excuse shoddy or nonexistent work – and sometimes within the work itself. But this is done by students who have not taken a single logic or philosophy course. There are various reasons why they make such time-wasting endeavors, but ultimately the old teacher maxim holds true: They are only hurting themselves.

The most absurd reasoning I witness, however, comes from those who fight for inequality. Not just those who deny that it exists in such horrid and wretched conditions – though that is true as well; it does take a weird sort of intellect to assess that so much evil isn’t really happening to billions of people around the world and here in the West due largely to the sex and color of the recipient of that evil (Glenn Beck, anyone?). But it takes a special kind of mind to conclude that that evil is necessarily targeted towards people of color and women for their own good. An mind enslaved to the concept of necessary enslavement.

In Christian circles (where I would hope that Jesus’ message of liberation and inclusiveness would drive out such demonic forces), this type of logic is propelled by thought-leaders such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper (sex) and Douglas Wilson (sex and race), but also in various forms through many, many a warm and happy Sunday morning church service.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of running across a Christian who argued that feminists and Liberation Theologians both had Hegel and Marx to thank for their existence, for without those privileged old White men, they would never have come to formulate their own selves, their own purpose, their own identity.

IOW, Thank God for the Oppressors because with the Oppressors you wouldn’t have the tools to fight Oppression.

This. This is the kind of absurd person one becomes when fighting so hard against equality and justice.

griots

Let us not be that person, that person so mired in trying to protect what little we have that we go to great stinginess, and thus not only limit our reach, but ourselves.

In order for white suffering to have a voice, white people must realize the largest and most invisible way in which they benefit from their white privilege, and it’s the same thing that’s causing their frustration being The Default. If Person A is actively supporting and benefiting from a system that oppresses Person B, it is very hard for Person B to hear Person A say, “But I’m hurt too!” However, if Person A is actively working to dismantle the system they benefit from but which oppresses Person B, then Person B is finally seen — and Person A’s pain can be embraced. In order to see a person you must see the truth of their pain. If you deny their pain, you refuse to see them. This is what makes black people invisible. And black invisibility is what makes white pain invisible to black people.

And so we live our lives never seeing each other.

When White Americans see Black and Brown Americans in this way, Brown and Black Americans will accept their pain. It is a cycle that begins with destroying The Default.

The Default here is the idea that White is the center of the universe. We can expand that to any number of factors of being and privilege: Male; Middle Class; USAmerican; Cisgendered; Heterosexual. That any of these identities makes a person “normal” and thus others “not normal.” According to this perspective, injustice is a necessary form of justice, for the unNormals need our protection to navigate the world. They are helpless children or animals without us.

This kind of thought is so prevalent that it’s like air. It must not be disregarded, but must be demonstrated against in such shocking manners that the “Normals” realize that there is nothing at all normal about their privileges.

This May Day, let’s fight for all of our rights – and thus emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.

Won’t you sing with us these songs of freedom?

The Turning of the Poor

Not only are the poor blamed for living in that harrowing position of poverty, for not being middle class, for not being what middle and upper class consider “productive members of society”, for being “lazy” despite working harder just to make it through every day, for just existing in a constant state of discomfort that others claim is leisurely and comfortable, the poor are also blamed when we try to leave poverty.

It is perfectly acceptable for a handful to leave poverty at a time. People may reactively cheer for the fortunate few raised in poverty who enter and finish college, who thrive in professional fields, and who join the management or professional class. But those positions and places are open for only a few. The vast majority of the poor are not able to enter the upper classes, are not able to leave the bitter financial insecurity, no matter how hard they may want it or try. Even getting a Master’s degree is no guarantee for a job, let alone a decent-paying one. Escape from poverty is bottle-necked – working harder and smarter isn’t the main qualification, facing a certain type of fortune is.

So the poor are expected to, as a mass, as a significant amount of families, men, women and children, remain poor and suffer the physical and social effects of poverty. While we are blamed for it. What a double damning sword.

And we come to realize that the American Dream is a trap for most of us. We recognize that we are manipulated and conditioned to believe that anyone who wills it will succeed in the so-called Land of Opportunity. And this is all a shambles, a packaged dream. As we unplug, we begin to ask for more for not just ourselves but for our fellow workers. We ask for rights for not just some of us, but for us all.

Gate

We protect collective bargaining rights. But pundits call us thugs and politicians call us thieves while the upper classes spread rumors that we are lazy and seek to shield incompetence. This is not just a Republican tactic anymore, either. For the old people’s party, the Democratic Party, has bought into the lies as well in union-heavy regions like Chicago. We are ridiculed and maligned for wanting to be in unions that will protect us from the billowing whims and desires of a shifting managerial and capitalist class. We are expected to be grateful for the good nature of the managerial and capitalist classes – those who would fire us at a moment’s notice for no reason at all. Those who would give us as little as possible as much as necessary – as they treat their workers in non-unionized Third World nations. While we try to unite, they work to divide us.

We lobby for minimum wage increases. And knowing that the minimum wage – even at full-time hours – is not enough to sustain a person, let alone a family, safely and well we ask for slight increases to ease our burdens. Never mind the fact that, had minimum wage kept up with either inflation or productivity rates for the last thirty years, minimum wage would have increased two- or three-fold; we only asked for a slight percentage increase, a couple dollars an hour. Never mind that the poor are constantly under attack for not contributing enough to the tax base. Never mind the studies that show that raising the minimum wage has a negligible effect on inflation or on the closing down of businesses. No. Never mind those, for we are rebuffed and refused once again.

We pursue the prospect of living wages. Because a slight increase in horrible, unjust wages is still unjust. And yet the ability to work and get paid well enough to live without fear, without being constantly on the edge – this is looked upon by the same class of people as a cruel joke against their vaunted system. If we seek it, we are derided as delusional communists who want to steal and commit warfare against our betters. But if this is what capitalism offers, maybe the entire system needs to be questioned. Maybe it needs to be gutted.

We seek equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, sex, orientation, race, and ethnicity. And we are told there is no such thing as inequalities. And we demonstrate in case after case that these inequalities are real and devastating. And some powerful people who have made it to the top finally agree. But only for those who are at or near the top. The rest are encouraged to lean in – to forsake all for the pursuit of business success in the hopes that that success will allow women to finally share with men. But for the vast majority of poor women, particularly poor mothers, such options are not viable. And again, the shaming continues.

We push for accessible and affordable medical coverage for all. When we do that for the poor, we are mocked and called unrealistic. We are accused of trying to destroy the country and reward laziness. In pure Orwellian tactics, we are accused of trying to kill the poor and infirmed. When we point out that every industrial country in the world but the United States covers all their citizens and for cheaper rates than we have for fractions of our citizens, we are reminded that the US is special. Apparently, that designation is one it shares with its poor. We are ever-so-helpfully informed that ERs are open and free (they are not). And when we remind them that the poor can and often do suffer from chronic issues as they do, we are ignored or told that’s why we need good insurance or we are blamed for our chronic issues.

We seek full health coverage for all women’s bodies. But then we are reminded that the conservative status of the body (read: person) of the female – and the non-cis male – is one of subservience and jilted disdain. Indeed, the very women who abide the brunt of bearing the children of men (and whose bodies pay the consequence of that which men – and particularly, patriarchy – praise them for) are despised for carrying those same traits. The very price for bearing the responsibility of bearing and nurturing children is looked upon as a sign of shame by the same society that so highly declares its value in children and mothers. But particular woe to a woman who is poor, and yet even more to one who is also Brown. Poor women workers do not receive compensations for the price of bearing or raising children, do not receive concessions, do not receive protected time off for bearing or raising children. Have to struggle to make ends meet as they are, as men are not as tied down to the fate of women’s bodies or children as men are. And as such, poor women are also refused adequate birth control and family planning at every turn. They do not have the freedom over their own bodies or over their own liberties as their male counterparts nor their wealthier counterparts practice.

We ask for the simple benefit of maintaining affirmative actions to include People of Color and women in the hiring and registration process in those very places that continue to disregard women and POC. And we are told that we are merely affirming racism and sexism. We have out-of-context quotes thrown in our face by the same type of people who tried to silence the very person they are now quoting. And we are told that to pursue such policies actually hurts People of Color because then co-workers will constantly question whether or not the POC at their workplace are adequate enough workers, are smart enough or qualified enough. Of course it is they who project these very feelings of inadequacy (feelings that are innately racist) onto the Black and Brown workers.

Those very same women and POC who are not only capable and competent, but often come from hard stock as they have had to and continue to work harder than white males simply because of the social handicaps afforded them by the hegemony – by the controlling powers*.

We poor people struggle to unite, but we are divided. And we are divided because we are simply too weak to change such powerfully embedded political, economic, military, social, psychological institutions when we are few. So they divide us on race, on gender norms, on loyalty to baseball teams, on education level. They use our cultural identities – which are good – as tribal markers that mark us as greater than or less than our peers, our fellow travelers.

No! To attain economic equality and justice, we must seek equality and justice in an equitable and just manner. We shall not be divided anymore. We shall not allow cultural differences to keep us from loving each other, even as we respect and recognize cultural differences.

We tire of their tired tricks.

We demand justice.

We are hounded and pursued and ridiculed and silenced and lied to and pushed back and hurt and ignored on every turn, every inch, every corner.

But we will not be denied.

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*As we discussed previously, Black and White servants and slaves fraternized and even rebelled against the powerful elite before, but were intentionally divided to keep the populace under control.

Forgiveness Us Our Debts

Fresh starts. That’s what New Years is about, right? Last year was a mess, so I’m going to clean up myself starting this year. But what if it’s not solely about ourselves? What if I constantly fail at my resolution because they depend upon me and me alone to get my ish together, but under the same weight I labored under and got nowhere with to this point?

And this brings us to the fresh starts and to forgiveness. And what that means… As a Christian, I look back to the example of Jesus.

 Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

That “But” is key.

image courtesy: Iran Press Watch

When Jesus talks about forgiveness – and he does a lot – much like in the rest of the gospels, he’s talking about what it means to live in the Kingdom, or kingdom-ly (or what we called a couple months ago, the un-Kingdom). Take that for what it’s worth. It may or not be advice, but it points to an subversive understanding, a more better way, and an alternative to the corrupt powers of the other kingdoms (the world) – a completely different path than lay in the realm of the “powerful” of Rome, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the United States. What Jesus says should not be applied as law, but as the preferred method of those who follow him and his Way.

But notice this in your readings of forgiveness: in nearly every instance, Jesus speaks about both financial forgiveness and personal forgiveness simultaneously – as if he cannot separate the two. They are necessarily side by side.

In Luke 7, Jesus is at the home of some religious leaders and in barges the town prostitute.  And the hosts are offended that Jesus would let her near without condemning her, let alone touch him. She’s sobbing with regret. Most likely hurt. I doubt she wants to be sexually exploited and turned into a commodity day and night again. Its likely that it is due to the social structures and rules these very hosts employ and implement and justify that she finds herself in this predicament selling her body in the first place.

So Jesus finds it necessary to share a riddle:

Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?

– Luke 7 (the Message)

Such stories in the Gospels are common – and disruptive. Disruptive to the norm, to the regulatory forces*, to the status quo and its comfort with itself and its self-righteous. There’s the Lord’s Prayer hinted at above, of course. There’s the parable of the rich debtor, but there’s also Jesus’ very own inaugural sermon, when he declared the following to be about his ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

– Luke 4 (NLT)

These lines themselves were adapted from latter Isaiah (Chapter 61 with some modification from chapter 58), which themselves were an expansion on the concept of Jubilee. Jubilee is a concept that the Mosaic Law introduced into Hebraic customs several hundred years prior. The idea is that every fifty years, families can reclaim their ancestral homes, debts are forgiven, prisoners are released. For a peasant class always under financial duress, the Year of Jubilee would be the Year of the Lord’s Favor.

So forgiveness is necessary for financial justice.

But it’s also necessary for spiritual justice.

Some Christian-led groups have been calling for Jubilee-like debt forgiveness for the poorest and most debt-ridden nations for years, most famously with the Jubilee 2000 campaign (and its offshoots) led to coincide with the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Great Jubilee. This campaign had the intent of wiping out several billions of dollars of debt incurred to** Third World nations in Africa and Latin America. More recently and closer to home, an offshoot project of the Occupy movement (which has some tenuous connections with Christian and interfaith theology and practices) named the Rolling Jubilee is looking to subvert the bankers and collection agencies and those who profit from debt incursions by buying back debts and forgiving debtors (at pennies on the dollar). As of press, they have raised over $500,000 to absolve nearly 10.5 million dollars.

Say what you may about the situation – about how and why people and nations get into debt at astronomical rates – but to be released from that obligation and being able to focus on the day-to-day, on the familial and financial and community-based obligations that are also pressing and immediate, is an immense blessing, for lack of a better word.

But even still, taking care of the material, monetary debt is necessary, but we must not forget the spiritual, mental and emotional debt that needs forgiveness. After all, none can live on bread alone.

Now, when people in the Christian church talk about forgiveness, there seems to be a fundamental power imbalance. As my friend Sarah Moon so graciously points out, oftentimes victims of abuse in a church setting are commanded to forgive their abusers. Often, we are told that Jesus forgave the child molester. Ergo, everything is all good and that person should be allowed to work in the nursery (true story. Too often). Or spouses are commanded by the pastors to go back to their abusive partners (waaaay too often). Or the pastor, well, he’s been pardoned by God for his “inappropriate” behavior. And so you are to pardon him too. Now!

But that’s not forgiveness. That’s forced, compelled, coerced, controlling, lying, false, insincere, dangerous, unhealthy, and ugly manipulation. Whatever it is, it is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness cannot work without boundaries. It cannot be forced. It needs to be nurtured and nourished. It needs to operate in safety. It cannot allow for injustice. Forgiveness does not allow for the pedophile to work with children – it recognizes that some behaviors will not change over night (if ever) and so makes a zone of safety for all those affected: children, spouses, parishioners, family, neighbors, constituents, you, me. That zone may require papers to be signed, people to be notified, offenders to be jailed. It will probably require time and distance.

But within that safe zone, miracles can happen. Miracles that both release the debtor and the indebted. Miracles that free the soul from the oppressive dictatorship of guilt and bitterness.

I find the act of forgiveness – of the spiritual and financial varieties – (though not necessarily forgetting or allowing back) to be fundamentally freeing. But if I’m honest, anything that is completely liberating is also as scary as hell.

When I recite the Lord’s Prayer with my daughter and I get to the line about forgiving transgressions, I always pause. And I often bite hard.

And then I continue. A little bit lighter.

And in this practice, I tug away at the roots and branches and leaves of bitterness or frustration or angst laying deep beneath, or flourishing just above the surface, or suckling out the sunlight like anti-plants. They steal our joy. They steal our peace of mind. They take root and they rob us of sunshine and air and water and all the good elements – they lurk in the back of our minds and convince us that life is for the dead, these anti-plants.

The anti-plants need to eventually be uprooted. Only then can our gardens grow. Only then can we be set free from the prisons of our minds and hearts and from the prisons of indebtedness to others that we could never repay. This opens up boundless opportunities – not just for the self, but for those that we are near. And herein, a new cycle appears. For we are not just free as scattered individuals, but as members and parts of networks, families, communities. The effects of liberation on our communities are innumerable.

Nelson Mendela, after 27 years of imprisonment

————
*Jesus takes note that the Pharisees did not really welcome him, did not wash his feet – but this lowly prostitute just walking off the street cleans them with her tears and hairs
**Let us refuse to say “by” as if the countries asked for or deserved to be in debt for the crime of being plundered of economic, labor and natural resources

Moving Abe

An occasional one-off with a semi-celeb on Twitter is what passes for a brush with celebrity for me. So, Chicago-based rapper and political activist (as well as would-be alderman) Rhymefest has tended to have a contentious interaction with the Occupy Movement. Unlike another Chicago-based rapper who’s worked with Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, he sees the Occupiers as wasting time and space better used for direct political action.

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Rhymefest disregards the overriding lessons of the Emancipators and the Civil Rights Era as being out of time. Fine. But then tell me that Occupy hasn’t helped to shape the discourse of American politics – tell me that the Tea Party movement also hasn’t done so. Tell me that right now this whole Fiscal Cliff nonsense isn’t largely directed by the rhetoric of one sort of radical, non-pragmatic paradigm or another.

He’s a hostage!
Well, actually…

Tell me that the post-Sandy Hook imagination of the American populace isn’t directed by one form of radicalism (the No-Restrictions-Ever-on-Guns NRA and their stand-ins) and the rest of us aren’t trying to feebly talk about sensible gun control measures.

Imagine if a large, national peace movement were actually put in place some twelve years ago – rather than a late-to-the-game anti-GOP posturing. How would the conversation about war and violence be engaged now?

Politicians, as historian Howard Zinn points out in his must-read work – including the Zinn Reader do not lead – they follow. As much as Abraham Lincoln wanted to end slavery, he had to garner popular opinion in order to get to the office of president in the first place. And before that happened, the popular perception of slavery as being a largely harmless and beneficial financial institution had to be challenged.

So, the slave narratives. So, Douglass, and Garrison, and Sojourner Truth, and Beecher Stowe. These figures and their heroic, bristling words waged a war for the hearts and souls and minds of men and women.

The reformer is careless of numbers, disregards popularity, and deals only with ideas, conscience, and common sense… He neither expects nor is overanxious for immediate success. The politician dwells in an everlasting now… His office is not to instruct public opinion but to represent it.
– Wendell Phillips

The institution of slavery was peculiar to the South. It was an issue that, as a force of evil, was only understood to a small minority of the white population. Yet all were responsible for its continuation even as it was cloaked through being race-based and therefore imperceptible to the White mind as – as a deliberate matter of dividing and conquering – it was out of the sight and experience of the Whites of the North, and out of the personal physical and psychic reality of the majority of White Southerner. The South and the North needed the issue of slavery to be pushed in the open and come to a volatile head – otherwise it would have stayed hidden. Not that slavery itself wasn’t a constant threat to the very Southern “way of life” that Southern elites were trying to maintain at all, unbelievable costs. But slavery may never have ended if its death knolls weren’t forced through abolitionism (which, again, isn’t the same as saying that abolitionists “caused” the secession. But, regardless, they had a hand in forcing the Southern elites to take a form of action, and they opened the way for Lincoln to sign both the Emancipation Proclamation and then the 13th Amendment)

That possibility would not have been the case were it not for the rebellious acts of the slaves themselves opening up the remote possibility of a way out – opening up the imagination of White Americans in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries to the radical reality that Black slaves were not property but people. I contend that slavery would have been much more profitable and therefore more desirable to the entire US if the slaves hadn’t acted out in various ways against the bitter institution of slavery

All true Reformers are incendiaries. But it is the hearts, brains and souls of their fellow-men which they set on fire, and in so doing they perform the function appropriated to them in the wise order of Providence.
– James Russel Lowell

It wasn’t Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was the actions of the slaves which energized the abolitionists who powered the imagination and moral compass of the United States which brought the conflict to a crucible. This crucible was important, for it meant that the slave-holding elite of the South believed that reparations with an abolitionist-leaning North were now impossible, ergo, they had to go on and make their own country and go so far as to start a war with their free neighbors to the North (Southern Apology Myths withstanding).

In all ages, it has been first the radical, and only later the moderate, who has held out a hand to [those] knocked to the ground by the social order.
The moderate, whose sensitive ears are offended by the wild language of the radical, needs to consider the necessary division of labor in a world full of evil, a division in which agitators for reform play an indispensable role.
– Howard Zinn

To use biblical imagery, when the reformer is the voice of the prophet, we have Moses confronting Pharaoh  “Let my people go.” Or we have a newly liberated people, who are slightly more liberated, but then codified back into serfdom through Solomon. In the meantime, we have  Moses, Joshua, Saul, and David – each of whom represents the law, each tightening the screws on their people. Each inching just a bit closer, in their kingly duties, to the role of Pharaoh over Hebrew slaves – though this time, the Hebrew ruler was enslaving his own as well as neighbors – despite the warnings against doing such in the Mosaic law.

Then there’s the Samuels and the Nathans. The prophets who spoke to and against, who checked, who lacked fear in the face of the terrifying, who dared speak against the thieving, murderous ways of the kings against common sense.

We need more Samuels and fewer would-be Solomons. We don’t need our Garrisons to turn into Lincolns. We need Occupiers to continue to Occupy the American imagination, not pragmatically bow to the whims of a fickle populace.

Occupy/Incarnate

Jesus, we Christians must remember, was not content to be a removed deity, off in the sky judging humanity and moving efforts from the heavens. The story of Gospels is the story of an incarnational God – a God who not only walked among men and women, but was one of them. A lord who did not lord, a religious leader who welcomed all into the work of ministry. The story of the Gospels is, therefore, a testimony against centering and lording forces such as imperialism, statism, and capitalism, an alternative to presidents and corporations.

In that sense, however, the greatest remaining legacy to the witness of the incarnation in the US may not reside in the four walls of the institutional church. It does not belong to the power-hungry Religious Right in its various incarnations (let alone the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). It does not belong to the Republicans, nor to the Democrats (shockers, I know!). But it also doesn’t honestly belong to me or my friends in the Christian Left or much of progressive Christianity (at least as far as bloggers) – though I like to think we’re preparing groundwork and pointing the way.

No, those on the ground, those in the trenches, those doing the dirty work – those are the ones demonstrating the incarnation by being and doing interconnectedly. Such actors are in every community of course, but as far as any large body where I see the work of community and salvation being worked out without authoritarianism, without massive centralization, that distinction goes to the Occupy Movement. Still. While the rest of us have just about forgot about them save a few slogans, they’ve been involved and part of communities in need; they’ve been incarnational this whole time.

So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless movement that brought international attention to issues of economic injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts?  Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there wasn’t any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath.  “This is what we do already, “ he explained: Build community, help neighbors, and create a world without the help of finance.  Horst said, “We know capitalism is broken, so we have already been focused on organizing to take care of our own [community] needs.” He sees Occupy Sandy as political ideas executed on a practical level. (Emphasis mine)

How to make a difference that will last? Be incarnational.

More About That Big Ol’ Table with All the Homeless and the Homosexuals

Continuation of this post.

The third critique I want to get into here goes beyond Chick-fil-A or gay people or churches or conservatives or liberals or where we find ourselves in these divides: It is the fundamental fact that our own reliance on consumerism as a way of life, as a culture, and as an economic system is fundamentally destructive – literally, figuratively, physically, socially, spiritually destructive. It is consumerism, rather than creativity combined with sustenance, that is not just killing us in terms of health problems (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes), not just in terms of the ecology (which indirectly but even presently affects all of our health in tremendous ways – from ice caps to greenhouse to toxins in the air, land and water), but in terms of actual starvation – specifically of third world children, women and men.

While we argue over whether or not we should support or boycott one fast food franchise, our habits of eating meats and processed foods are actively stealing necessary resources from the majority of the world, just to feed us more (and yet less) than what we need to remain healthy. If American Christians really cared about the starving of the world, we’d eat out a lot less, we’d drastically consume less meat, we would support community farms and gardening so as not to steal grains from overseas. Because when we have such an over-reliance on a small stock of grains (and specifically genetically modified ones), we erode topsoil and limit precious farming land – allocating what property and work third world farmers have towards the propulsion of our already full tummies.

But if we cared for the poor of the world and the US, we wouldn’t just stop there. We’d not only not shop at Wal-Mart (which I’ve made a pretty good habit of boycotting over the last decade ever since I saw what they did to the small stores in my parents’ town in Oklahoma. All the stores. Every last one), we’d cease shopping at any ridiculously low-priced store, any big-box, any retail location that doesn’t pay living wages to its employees and doesn’t pay its vendors enough to maintain a living wage for their employees. We’d shop locally, at little shops, at local machinists, at bakers’ shops, getting ingredients from local millers and nearby organic farms, because that money tends to stay in the community – rather than going to some corporate office somewhere where it then goes into hiding. Our money should be circulated to afford more higher-paying jobs.

Space Junk

But then, the majority of poor and lower-middle class people who shop at Wal-Mart do so because it’s exactly what they can afford with what little they have. I stock up on highly-processed foods from Aldi because it’s 20-60% cheaper than buying from a major grocery chain, let alone a corner grocer, and a lot easier than making food from scratch – which is something that I’d like to do, but, like a lot of this country’s poor, I run low on energy and/or time and/or resources when it comes to this. Generally speaking, the working poor cannot afford to shop at the farmer’s markets, even when we’re well aware how much better they are for us, even when they allow for TANF credits (though I just found out that TANF will match, dollar for dollar up to ten dollars, what is bought each visit to a city-sponsored farmer’s market in Chicago – and these are in poor neighborhoods in Chicago such as Austin and West Humboldt Park), even when everybody tells us we should and why we should.

How do we allow for a place to address social-class, poverty, sexuality, racial, gender issues, though? Especially when some of those issues are self-perpetuating, or seemingly at odds with each other – when homosexuals feel that black men and women are working against their interests and black families feel slighted by non-black LGBTQ, or when African Americans are slighted by the service industry – whether they be police or waitstaff or banks – or when Black, Latino or indigenous students become distrustful of the very same educational systems that they are told are supposed to deliver them from poverty. These things do not happen without reason. They are not imagined problems.

I pledge a round table. No kings, no positions above or below. No servants, nobody is slighted nor unwelcome. A table of shared humanity and talents and skills where the learning and the restoring can begin.

We must discover this fact together. We must find out why they are not imagined. We must discover anew the fine art of friendship – extended beyond our borders and the limits we have manufactured to protect ourselves and our ways of life..

And when I say “we” here, I mean “we privileged.” Whites, males, heteros, English-speaking, middle and upper class, educated, professional class, Christian, with able bodies and minds and all that stuff that many of us take for granted and in whatever area that we have privileges. Once we recognize our privileges those bonuses in life that give us a distinct (though rarely recognized) advantage over others who do not share those identity traits – then maybe we are ready to sit at the table. But perhaps we should go over some ground rules before we shed our shoes, elbow up, and grub on down.

We’ll touch on those ground rules in the next installment. Let’s just say that those who’ve spoken will need to shut, and the currently shut down will open. Oh, and lots of work, and lots of sharing, and lots of good stuff. I promise. Soon.

But I’d like your ideas. What would be some good ground rules for a great gathering? For a place of learning and sharing? A place of equilibrium, of justice, of feeding.

The Strings Attached Are Attached to All of Us

We live in this big, intricate, messed up, imperfect world filled with imperfect humans. And it seems like most of us know that and take that for granted. Most American Evangelical Christians sure do. What many of them don’t seem to notice, or at least acknowledge, is that we also live in this interdependent, intricately connected, living, breathing society.

Society is not just a concept. It’s not an out-there thing disassociated from our everyday reality. It is very present and it is very real. We may not be able to touch it like the hard oak of this heavy but falling-apart table I like to rest my feet on occasionally, but it is every bit as real as the sweat gleaming off my forehead.

So it bothers me to no little effect when people complain about having to participate in society and act as if they owe it nothing – as were the basic arguments raised this last week over the healthcare ruling from the Supreme Court. It’s an argument that the poor are using the government to steal from the rich (rather than the truth that the rich are stealing from the poor), or that we’re being forced to buy something we don’t need. And for all the problems of the Affordable Care Act – and there are many, many – these reasons don’t come into play, but expose a deeper problem in contemporary American society and politics: we believe we do not benefit from the very systems that benefit us and we believe that our benefit is not the result of exploiting the very poor of our country and the world.

But first the good stuff. We benefit largely as a result of shared work. That’s how a society functions. Everybody puts in; everybody gets results.

The dreams we have, the work we do, the benefits we enjoy, the language we possess, the identities we carry, the food we eat (less that you hunt and grow), the health care we enjoy, the cars we drive, the streets we roll down, these are all effects of the shared work of society. One cannot decide to not participate. One cannot decide that they owe nothing to society nor that society has not given them and continues to give them what they need and often what they desire. If these people want to live like a hermit, fine. Let them fix their own water, electricity, food. Keep them off our roads. Allow them the privilege of developing their own language for their imaginary conversations with imaginary friends. They need to stop using ours for their fantasies.

Plank road in forest in Tillamook County, Oregon
Look, a socialist road!

Now, if you drive, you have to have insurance, right? Because you’re socially responsible for the economic burden that could happen due to any accident that may occur to or as a result of your car. It’s part of the price of participating in sharing the roads. Sometimes the cost is nearly unbearable, but when we run into a problem, we’re better off for it. That day may not happen for some of us – but it could happen to any of us no matter how safe and responsible we are (or believe we are) as drivers – and that is the point.

Everybody needs healthcare insurance. There is no getting around that. If you don’t have it, but something, anything, unexpected pops up (an unidentified lump, an accident, a heart murmur) everybody else pays for it. Everybody needs it. If you don’t want it, it doesn’t matter. You need it. That’s why it’s called “insurance.”

Everybody shares the load. That’s what makes a society. If you can’t handle that, never ask for a job, fix your own water, become a hermit. Because we don’t deserve to have to share the cost of society with selfish people who take without considering to help and then want to cut off food and survival functions for workers and mothers and children who do or will or want to give back through their sweat, who create wealth for the privileged classes.

Which brings us back to our second point.

American patriots constantly point out how generous the United States is, both in terms of government and private charity. But we don’t acknowledge the strings that come attached. We talk about how much we help Haiti and African people but ignore the fact that they are in such dire straights because of oppressive economic lending practices, because we deplete their resources, because we have installed leaders that were horrible for their countries but were good for us.

That’s how it’s always turned out, in Southeast Asia, in Latin America, in the Pacific… With our influence and money, we get to curry favors and effectually rob what we now deem “developing” countries so that they need to ask for more favors – wherein we or our surrogates come in to effectively own the country and its resources (be it water, energy, diamonds, gold). To add demonic joy, we love playing these countries against each other to distract other countries in the region while we keep them in check (cf, the Middle East).

These are the costs of society that we need to gather and figure how we can do without and how we can run off. We live in Orwellian times. “Freedom” means the freedom of rich white people to steal from most of the rest of the world and not give a sh*t about the rest of us.

We may be free to dream of a better world for us all, but we’re not allowed to speak it outloud, for fears that somehow a better world for all is somehow fascist. I believe conservatives should focus more on reducing the costs of healthcare rather than putting all their efforts in oppressing the poor and keeping them from receiving it.

So some things you don’t have a choice on. So what? A lot of people don’t get to decide whether or not they’ll sleep with one eye open or whether or not their home will be collateral damage for our War on Drugs or our War on Terror or our War on War or whatever other euphemism we can figure for Blowing People Up for Political Expediency and to Extend Our Imperialism and Corporate Interests.

Get over it. Get involved in society and help us find better ways to live and act as a civil social humane society.

Until we get to the point where all are protected and truly represented in an equitable system, though, I believe that the government’s obligation is to protect the most vulnerable.

I’m a socialist. But I’m one because Jesus and the prophets taught me to be one. If the Christian Right (and most every interaction with people who complain about having to help other people I have had in the last few years has been with a conservative Christian) does not believe in sharing and helping (and it’s pretty obvious they don’t), and they can’t see where the Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens both as neighbors and as citizens through government, I’m not sure what Bible they’re reading. Tt’s not the Hebrew and Christian one. It’s not the one written by Commie Pinkos. Perhaps the Satanic Bible…

The Gods of Comfort vs the Prophets of Discombobulation

“But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel.”

Walter Brueggeman, on Moses, Egypt, impartiality as read through the lens of Exodus 11:7, quoted above:

[This declaration] occurs not in a doctrine but in a narrative and an uproven memory that we must let stand in all its audacity. It is not reflective theology but news just for this moment and just this community. The God who will decide is not the comfortable god of the empire, so fat and well fed as to be neutral and inattentive. Rather, it is the God who is alert to the realities, who does not flinch from taking sides, who sits in the divine council on the edge of his seat and is attentive his special interests. It is the way of the unifying gods of the empire not to take sides and, by being tolerant, to cast eternal votes for the way things are 

There is not much here for the reasoned voices. No prophet ever sees things under the aspect of eternity. It is always partisan theology, always for the moment, always for the concrete community, satisfied only to see only a piece of it all and to speak out of that at the risk of contradicting the rest of it. Empires prefer reasoned voices who see it all, who understand both sides, and who regard polemics as unworthy of God and divisive of the public good. But what an energizing statement! In his passion and energy, Moses takes sides with the losers and powerless marginal people; he has not yet grown cynical with the “double speak” of imperial talk and so dares to speak before the data are in and dares to affront more subtle thinking… 

Seen at a distance, this bald statement is high theology. It is the gospel; God is for us. In an empire no god is for anyone… [T]he urging I make to those who would be prophets is that we not neglect to do our work about who god is and that we know our discernment of God is at the breaking points in human community.

It is not that the prophetic voice isn’t looking for truth, but she will not be satisfied by the “There are two sides to every story” false equivalence. He is not placated when he sees injustice. The prophets leave the comfort and familiarity of home and hearth and even their own country to report and point and scream and jump up and down and shock the kings and queens with discomforting stories. The prophetess does not side with the people she was raised with, but with her new people. Her people are now the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the hurt, the evicted, the suffering, the sick, the rounded up, the pushed out, the expatriats.

protest

The gods and priests of the empire – of the markets, of consumption – in their “impartiality” are truly really partial. They prefer the way things they are. They do not like to be upset. They want all to remain as it has been and forever will be. They may change a few seats on the deck, but the boat remains in the same direction, the majority of those seated remain seated, barking out orders followed by men with bullhorns and whips, demanding extra sweat, extra steam, extra breath from the rowers and steam room workers.

These are the gods, and their priests, who do not concern themselves about the oppression. Because concerning themselves about such things in any significant manner means to upset the cart. And the cart cannot be upset. The order of things cannot change nor be brought down. They must, at all costs, remain. They do not hear the cry of the slaves, the sick, the outsiders and lepers.

But God and the prophets of God do. They hear, and they cry out to the pharaohs and demand to, “Let my people go!” And when they are not heeded, when Pharaoh and his gods do not relent but harden their hearts, the Almighty Bearer of Justice liberates them by overthrowing the carts, by flinging the chariots and their horses (and their industrial bombers and nuclear weapons) into the sea. It is the prophets’ job to declare liberation and seek justice – and not to settle for the way things are. Because the way things are is not right, and the God of Justice seeks to make all right.

Restoring the Lands

The housing bubble of the 00’s followed in Chicago’s westside Austin neighborhood as if on steroids. The median sales price of a house in Chicago at the beginning of the decade was roughly $150K, and for a house in the 60644 zip code was 100,000. Just before the bubble crashed the Chicago-wide value climbed over twice as much, fueled by speculation, predatory lending, greed, widespread beliefs (spread by experts) that the value of housing will never depreciate, and – most importantly – from a can’t-fail attitude by the banks and loaning institutions that were eager to cash in on rising prices.

As we can see, the prices rose over a period of time to astronomically silly levels. In another Chicago neighborhood, Logan Square, my pastor showed me several houses and the sky-rocketing prices that they went for as much as twice to three times to then even quadrupling over what they previously were sold for within the range of about fifteen years. The largely Mexican American residents and working class whites were being sold and forced out of their homes by rising tax properties or landlords who smelled opportunity. In the meantime, they were losing their homes and communities, friends, schools, churches, doctors, support networks.

When the prices astronomically dropped (about three-fourths in Austin overnight), many others had lost what little equity they had.

Doesn’t sound like losing much to some people. Middle class whites like to say, “If you don’t like it, just move.” And maybe it’s easier for them, but when it’s been your home for a generation, and when you consider that a sizeable portion of our society is constantly on the brink – deciding between housing and food and clothes and medicine and insurance becomes much harder when you also have to factor in extra transportation costs and time, plus the thousands of hidden costs related to moving. When you consider that landlords usually now demand two and a half months, at least, for rent and deposit before moving in and that most working poor families do not have that kind of cash available, or that credit ratings for poor are low – and disproportionately so for people of color – and therefore deny access to decent living accommodations, it’s little wonder that many displaced families end up homeless in the same neighborhoods they’ve just been residing in for the last generation.

But what if the very people of these communities had power to control their destinies? What if the property they took care of, rejuvenated, lived in, worked from, and worshiped, went to school, and shopped nearby, the property they inhabited fully – what if that property were given back to the local community? What if we could fill all the now-vacant houses with the families currently out in the streets? What if families did not necessarily need to double-up just to make it by, sharing one bathroom and two bedrooms with eight or more people?

What if – and this may sound cah-raaayyyyy-zeeeee what if the empty lots that line every block – sometimes residing in nearly one-third of the area – could be turned into gardens and even mini-farms for fresh, healthy, affordable food? Could that even be a means of providing local jobs and meaningful work for several of our community members? What if the abandoned factories, closed storefronts and shops, and vacant warehouses could be creatively reborn?

Community Garden 4

Daycare and after-school centers. Job training. Clothes manufacturing. Bicycle repair. Computer and phone refurbishing and repairing. Alternative energy. Sign manufacturing. Specialty restaurants. Mechanics (locally-based, so you can trust them? Nice). Health clinics, including mental wholeness. Library co-ops. Music centers. Recycling/Reusing/Renewing centers. Office space rentals. Art galleries. Furniture manufacturing and repair. Think tanks for scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, mothers, community leaders, students, and environmental workers to go, study, research, teach, learn about how to holistically restore the community.

Factory (sash window)
Factory (sash window)

Okay, so I’m not the most creative. But the point is, the community decides what it needs, what it has, what it can give and offer, what it is skilled at and what skills and resources it needs to build. But it needs space to occupy, ferment, and accomplish its dreams. It needs its own space. And then it’ll need less from the center. We won’t need to worry about food stamps or medicaid or social security, because the community will be able to take care of its own.

So long as others are in control of our land, we are not truly empowered and we are – to a significant degree – dependent on their mercy. That is what happens when our entire society is centered around a consumerist modus operandi. We give everything away to far off places via trading and buying merchandise and pray and expect that we’ll receive back in monetary value that we spend, again, on merchandise that is centralized in far off places – corporations that do not invest in our communities except on the rarest of occasions (and with the most triumphant of fanfare). We need a space of our own and an economy of our own.

We desire, earnestly, to work with our minds, our hands, and our lands.