Category: Economy

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

Kenotic faith

This concludes several posts about Sallie McFague’s 2013 book, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint. One of my many takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the underbelly of the American heritage of individual freedom is that we are prone to chafe at requests for restraint in the interest of the common good.

Restraint relative to public health practices, restraint relative to environmental degradation, and restraint relative to consumption of vital resources may be dismissed as “woke” ideology. It isn’t heard as an extension of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament or Jesus’ self-emptying (kenosis). This is a sad byproduct of today’s hyper polarization.

McFague devotes an entire chapter to an exploration of “kenotic theology.” This includes sharing scarce resources among the needy, with a particular focus on food, “the lowiest, most basic need shared by all living beings.” She wrote: Like “Teilhard de Chardin, I have come to realize that I cannot love God or the world, but must love both at once.”

The chapter concludes: The classic doctrine of Christian discipleship, that, made in the image of God, human beings should embody the kenotic love of God, means that our own bodies must be on the line. In other words, food (and the whole planetary apparatus that goes to produce food for the billions of creatures) should become the central task at all levels, personal lifestyle changes, and public policies.

From “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?” by Sumit Paul-Choudhury, BBC Future, August 1, 2019

Self-emptying

Sallie McFague explores “self-emptying” in various religions and Christianity in particular. I first heard the word kenosis in seminary, which enriched my understanding of the Philippian hymn. It enriched my self-understanding. McFague helped me (in my late life) to see kenosis in a much broader sense, such as restraining our consumption as consumers. She wrote: …kenosis, self-emptying, is a way to get to the goal of moderation.

Kenosis provides an alternative model of understanding our place in the scheme of things. She offers this: …the kenotic way of being in the world contrasts the imperial, market-oriented, consumer way. Kenosis, self-emptying, is not an ascetic, world-denying practice of the saints; rather, it is a catchall term for the way the world works: it works at all levels through restraint, pulling back, sharing, reciprocity, interrelationship, giving space to others, sacrifice. This way of being in the world is the opposite of self-aggrandizement at every level, from the personal through the public to the planetary.

McFague gives three examples of sainthood as living a fully integrated life: John Woolman, Simone Weil and Dorothy Day. In a world too often puffed up, “full of air,” and “full of itself,” McFague offers the counter-cultural approach of self-restraint, which puts others (and the planet) ahead of consumption.

Tomorrow: a final word from McFague about kenosis.

Sallie McFague spent her later years in British Columbia, where she discovered nurse logs, a form of self-emptying. From “Understanding the Magic of Earth Logs,” by Elisa Parhad, Garden Collage, January 26, 2017

A mindful approach

Sallie McFague suggests that a mindful approach to consumption that resists the insidious message that the purpose of human life is to consume may well revitalize religious traditions. She further asserts that restraint from consumerism need not be for the sake of ascetic denial of the world, but in order that the “abundant life” might be possible for all.

In yesterday’s post, McFague introduced self-emptying as an ancient tradition that can lead to a fuller life (a delightful turn of phrase). Taking a further step, McFague wrote: My small contribution to condemning the heresy of consumerism is to take up this challenge with an in-depth study of one form of restraint in one religion—“kenosis,” or self-emptying, in Christianity.

Kenosis, Greek for “emptying,” is the opposite of being “full of air,” like the noise a balloon (or a human lung) makes when air escapes from it. This was the Philippian hymn’s metaphor for Jesus’ emptying himself on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11). More about kenosis tomorrow.

Sometimes we use the term “dog tired” to describe exhaustion. Kenosis is a form of voluntary exhaustion.

Faith’s ecological challenge

Continuing Sallie McFague’s thought in Blessed are the Consumers (from yesterday), the most significant challenge the religions could undertake for the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants—a challenge for which no other field is so well prepared—is “restraint” in consumerism.

McFague offers a helpful suggestion about how the world’s religions might go about this challenge. She wrote: Ironically, the greatest contribution the world’s religions could make to the sustainability challenge may be to take seriously their own ancient wisdom on materialism.

McFague wove threads of ancient wisdom with today’s sustainability challenge: Their special gift—the millennia-old paradoxical insight that happiness is found in self-emptying, that satisfaction is found more in relationships than in things, and that simplicity can lead to a fuller life—is urgently needed today.

Sustainability and conservation of resources seem to be themes that both progressives and conservatives could embrace—a magnanimous act of cooperation for the common good!

From “Environmental, Social, and Governance: What Is ESG and Why Is It Important?” by Liz Starr, Global Citizen, September 6, 2022

Restraint

Sallie McFague (introduced yesterday) drew from the lives of the saints to build a basis for a life of restraint. Ancient people had plenty of built-in restraints, moderns not so much. Discipline and voluntary restraint have been out of vogue for, well, at least a century (see photo below).

In what is close to a thesis statement for her book, Blessed Are the Consumers, McFague wrote that restraint, the one thing needed now, is both a gift from the religions and a challenge to them. It could be considered a “coming home” for the religions as well as their greatest contribution to the economic/ecological crisis facing us.

Much of what claims to be conservative thought, faith or politics is too outlandish for an old respectable word. Sometimes conservatives are used by truly radical leaders. I think a better word for conservative today is restraint. Restraint is needed across the political spectrum. Restraint is a first cousin to respect.

June 30, 1922. “Washington policeman Bill Norton measuring the distance between knee and suit at the Tidal Basin bathing beach after Col. Sherrill, Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, issued an order that suits not be over six inches above the knee.” From Shorp

Nameless, faceless, helpless, powerless

It’s been a tough year for women. Progress is not inevitable and human rights can be taken away. But, freedom resonates within the human spirit, and political or religious oppression cannot erase the memory of freedom in those who have experienced it. I believe freedom ultimately will win.

(After that paragraph, this post could go in several directions. You may need to pause a moment and let your mind and emotions roam around whatever application is most relevant to your life.)

The direction I’m going with this is Afghanistan, prompted by an August 12 article by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino in The New York Times (updated on August 15) that profiles several Afghan women whose lives have been upended, and whose hopes have been doused, by the Taliban’s resumption of power in Kabul one year ago. Afghan women aren’t nameless, of course, even as the regime thwarts any hint of individualism and requires female faces to once again be covered.

The regime’s male dominance surely robs the country of well more than 50% of its brain-power and potential. The spokesman for the ominously named, decree-issuing Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice offered this mind-bending attempt to frame the narrative: “All these decrees are for the protection of women, not the oppression of women…. A woman is a helpless and powerless creature.” One day, he’ll know better. Sadly, dire Afghan poverty perpetuates this illusion.

From “Taliban Rewind the Clock: ‘A Woman Is a Helpless and Powerless Creature,’” by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino, The New York Times, August 12, 2022 (Updated August 15, 2022)

Market

With respect to all psalmists and to the Creator of the Universe who is affirmed in Psalm 121 as the whence of our help, Providence is implemented (or thwarted, even if only temporarily) by humans who have freewill, also known as agency: We make the mess; we are responsible to clean it up. So …

Our help comes from the market, by which I mean the free exercise of choice within the human community. It includes, but isn’t limited to, a free market economy. It includes, but isn’t limited to, democracy’s free and fair elections. Broadly, by market I mean the open marketplace of ideas.

Journalism is our friend. The Founders knew we would survive and flourish if the marketplace of ideas remained unfettered–as messy as it is. Democracy is our friend, in spite of its messiness. Freedom of religion is our friend. Michael Flynn was wrong when he said the US should have one religion.

A virulent movement of Christian nationalism seeks to restrict voter access and impose its religious dogma on everyone. It reminds me of the Jerusalem authorities who tried to silence Peter. Help came from a wise man named Gamaliel, who said: ” Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Gamaliel valued the marketplace of ideas.

From “Bigger Than Trump: Why election conspiracy theories have become central to the Republican Party,” by David Leonhardt, The New York Times, July 19, 2022

A rebounding economy

Heather Cox Richardson’s July 10 “Letter from an American” is a quick, helpful, encouraging interpretation of where we are today economically. She cites some important data, such as: “There are 880,000 more jobs in business, computer design, administration, and research than there were in February 2020. There are 260,000 more jobs in outpatient health care now than in February 2020, but hospitals have lost 57,000 workers, and nursing and residential care have lost 379,000. … transportation and warehousing have grown fast, with 759,000 more jobs than in February 2020. Manufacturing is back to where it was in February 2020 ….”

Cox Richardson cites a 31-part Twitter thread by Thom Hartmann that’s a helpful counter to conventional wisdom. He says the 40 years after World War 2 were years of rapid US economic growth, a time when the highest individual tax rate was 97% and the highest corporate rate was 50%. But, in the most recent four decades, over $50 trillion was transferred from the bottom 90% to the top 1%.

Cox Richardson offers this context: “…historians will tell you that in the U.S., race and gender tensions are significantly lower when income and wealth are more evenly distributed than when a few people at the top of the economic ladder control most of the nation’s capital. The rise of lynching in the U.S. in the late 1880s, just as trusts came to monopolize the economy, was not a coincidence.”

From “The US Is Nowhere Near a Recession,” by Ben Winck, Juliana Kaplan, and Madison Hoff, Business Insider, July 9, 2022

Wednesday’s PMQs

I know Sabbath is helping when I have a moment to reflect on something new. Wednesday’s Bloomberg Surveillance reported on a session in Parliament with Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially known as Questions of the Prime Minister, or Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). I’ve always considered clips of these sometimes rowdy sessions as random occurrences, but they occur at noon each Wednesday.

Bloomberg’s Tom Keene asked Henrietta Treyz, a specialist in Congressional economic policy, if her world (as an analyst) “would better off if we had President’s Questions, if we had much more fiery, visible debate within Congress rather than the sleep fest it’s become?”

Treyz replied, “I would love that. I think that would be fantastic. I think that politicians tend to speak more truthfully when they’re put on the spot, and we’re always looking for those little mistakes that might hold nuggets of truth.”

Co-host Jonathan Ferro, a transplanted Brit, said, “Politicians on both sides of the aisle in America are very thin skinned. In the UK, regardless of who’s in power, you can have a very firm, strong–you might call rude–interview, and ultimately they’ll come back the following week. That doesn’t translate in America at all. …and I wonder if that’s a consequence of the way media is set up in this country that you you have sort of fan club TV for each party on cable news.”

From “Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) – 6 July 2022” (via YouTube)