Globalization and the Value of Life

I’ve been thinking about an interview I heard the other day on the radio with a union worker who, defying his union leadership, supports Donald Trump (note: this is NOT a post about a particular candidate – this is a systemic problem and that’s what I want to emphasize).

His rationale was that illegal immigration is the cause of the weak job market. He believes that Trump is the man to fix that and thus restore us to an economy filled with well-paying working class jobs.

That this gentleman blames immigrant workers rather than globalization for the gutting of the earned wage economy in this country points to a central problematic narrative – one which is expertly manipulated – in our national discourse.

If this gentleman’s analysis did extend to globalization, it’s not unlikely that he would blame fellow workers around the globe rather than the system that pits his labor against theirs to detriment of both (and the planet) and for the enrichment of the people who created the system.

Modern globalization of world capital really began with the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1948. It was further fertilized by the Uruguay Round of negotiations that took place from 1986-1994, resulting in the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Look at those years – that’s Reagan, HW Bush, and Clinton. This is a BIPARTISAN doing. The Doha round of negotiations began under W Bush and continues to this day under Obama. NAFTA started under HW Bush and was signed by Clinton. CAFTA has been signed (and almost certainly the TPP will be) on Obama’s watch.

The result is the concentration of wealth through the accumulation of capital by the very few. In the process, many of the rest of us have been literally invested in the system enough (think 401Ks over pensions) to have a stake in its preservation, but we should be under no illusion that we are its real or intended beneficiaries.

And the rest of the people – the millions of people in this country who will never have a decent paying job and who have no accumulated wealth to fall back on and the billions of people around the world whose national economies have been violently stripped of any residual capacity they had to be self-sustaining in the wake of colonialism – those people are desperate and in the cold light of globalization, they are disposable.

The majority of the world’s population has value only to the extent that they are consumers (whether they earn, borrow, receive, or steal the funds to support their consumption habit). And our ecosystems have value only as economic commodities.

This represents the height of dehumanization and crushing mechanism of environmental destruction. It is a political problem, an economic problem, and an environmental problem. It is a moral, cultural, and theological problem.

We cannot address if we do not see it for what it is.

if it’s always darkest just before the dawn, we ought to have one hell of a sunrise

If only every child could flee to Egypt
could go another way
when evil
creeps astride or
breaks the glass or
holds out its arms.

Bullets in babies
strangled boys huddled by their beds
girls who went to gather firewood and water
and instead found death.

School children and more
school children.

Though Herod got it wrong
the massacre of innocents has become
a daily feast of bloodshed.

 

 

 


* this was written a while back, but today I’ll add a dedication to the memory of Tamir Rice

 

For the Grief of the World – the Grief of the Whole World

I awoke this morning thinking not only about the horrible attacks in Paris, but about the fact that around 4 dozen people were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut on Thursday.

Last night I grieved publicly for the deaths in Paris.

On Thursday I said nothing.

There are thousands of people killed on a daily basis around the globe in spasms of senseless violence, in ideological moves for power and control.

Most of the time I say nothing. Most of the time if I stop to grieve at all its in the abstract.

One shred of clarity I have in midst of all of this horror is the conviction that no one life ought to be valued more than any other. According to my faith (and many other faiths and the beliefs of people of no faith at all in their own ethical language), we are all precious children of God.

It may be easier for me as an urban person of European descent to identify with urban European people out for an evening’s meal or music who die a needless death. And the incidents in Paris are a deep, deep tragedy.

But neither must I allow myself the luxury of grieving only them. I must not overlook and must not forget the violence we humans do to one another (and to the earth) on daily basis. Its sheer magnitude is heartbreaking and daunting. But that fact must not keep us from finding ways to care for one another, That fact must not keep us from working to bring about peace and justice for all people.

Rules of the Game

Political pundit on the
news says our wars
work best when we have
skin in the game

Skin in the game,
as if wars happen
any other
way

brown skin
black skin
white skin
bodies of
boys and girls
soldier bodies
breathing and
not

the tight animal
fear of bloody
sleepless nights and
days of
no bread
no school
no work
no sense of
safety
at
all.

Skin in the game.

Bright American lives
women and men
with mad skillz and
dedicated hearts.

Our skin in the game.

Until they return
home to our
indifference, our
distance from
their pain,
the pain they
caused, the pain
they know that
cuts through
every cord of
stable hope,
every shred of
soul’s gentle
desire.

Skin in the game.

Endangered bodies of
other lands trying to live
their daily lives.
Hoping for
clean sheets,
ample meals with a
bit of wine
music lessons
soul-settling worship
a good doctor for a
child ill with some
easy disease,
perhaps pinkeye,
as the worst thing
that happened today.

Their skin in our game.

In our games we play
Risk and Battleship
without popcorn and laughter,
writ large across the
map of black-ink
borders and language.
Minecraft with
real mines
that take off legs
at the knee
at best.

We play them like a game.

But there is – always –
skin in the
game.
That is how war is
played.

For some there can be
no forgetting.

A Midweek Morning’s Prayer

Gracious and loving God,

This morning I pray across the
great gaps of our differences,
across the pain we cause one another.
I grieve my own complicity –
intentional or unintentional –
in the suffering of of the world.
I lift up our yearnings for justice,
our deep desires for wisdom,
the kindness we hope to
give and to receive.
You have created us
in love, for love.
May we embody that
love with our lives.

Amen.

A Short Sunday Meditation

We have conditioned ourselves to accept violence done to others. And in some ways we do so in order that we may live – so that the deaths of Turkish peace activists, the shooting of Tamir Rice, the campus killings in one state after another, the countless acts of brutality near and far do not jolt us from the necessary stuff of our daily lives.

But sometimes we need to let it touch us. We need to let it touch us not so that we get mired in despair but so that we let it change us. Not so that we are changed toward bitterness and fear, but so that we are changed toward love and compassion and a drive for justice. So that our hearts are more open and more determined to engage one with another in ways that interrupt bloodshed as the price of doing the business of life.

A Morning (Mourning) Prayer for a Difficult Week

dear God, dear God,
we don’t know what to
make of this week.
Or last week.
Or next week.

So much sorrow surrounds us
even in the midst of the beauty of the day.
Grief
pain
broken windows, broken hearts, broken spines.
People held in place by a
heavy, brutal hand.
Bricks and mortar
bricks and stones
argued points
harsh words
history.
We think other people are ignorant and
they think we are,
a sharp crack in cultural understanding.
We lift up to you natural disasters and
human ones.

God, we witness destruction and
we know death,
distant and near.
Help us not to turn away.
Give us wisdom so that we might
speak well into sorrow,
that we might act with skill and compassion,
that we might mend old wounds
or at least stop wounding
or at least want to stop wounding.
We confess our sins,
for we have wounded.

Help us to turn our faces toward justice like we
lift them to sun on lovely spring day.
We cry out for a transcendent presence,
something greater than us,
something that asks us to be better
today than we were yesterday, to be better
tomorrow than we were today.

Jesus taught us to side with the oppressed.
May it be so
wherever we might find them.
May we find them.
May we seek them.
May we living according to your transcendent presence.
May we live into that world,
on earth as it is in heaven,
heaven on earth.
May we make it so.

Amen.

A Desperate Evening Prayer – April 27, 2015

Prayers for Baltimore
Prayers for Baltimore
Prayers for Baltimore

Prayers for Nepal
Prayers for Nepal
Prayers for Nepal

Prayers for all who suffer
all who know fear
all who are caught in the middle
who are caught out in the cold
who are left hungry
who are hungry for justice
who see no other way
who have no hope
who have no reason for hope
who have no home
Prayers for all who grieve.

Amen.

Wedding Banquet sermon: Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet. But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

There’s a lot going on in this story. It’s complicated and even confusing when we think about the images of God and Jesus that we typically embrace around here. Jesus starts this out like he does so many of the parables — the kingdom of heaven is like this

There are multiple meanings we could make of the story- and I don’t want to foreclose any for you. But, as with all stories from the Bible, we need to find a way to get a hold of this, to make some sense of it. So I’m going to offer a couple of ideas.

Let’s talk for a minute about this in the context of Jesus’ time, about the world into which Jesus offers this parable. What do we know?

First of all, we know Jesus is not all sweetness and light here. This is not warm fuzzy Jesus. Jesus is angry. This is the beginning of chapter 22 in Matthew’s gospel, right? At the beginning of chapter 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem — it’s the narrative we traditionally think of as Palm Sunday. He’s been traveling around the countryside, preaching, teaching, and healing. And then he comes to Jerusalem. He enters with crowds shouting Hosanna and cloaks and branches on the road. He’s got his disciples with him. And Matthew tells us the city is in a clamor, in a turmoil wondering about this man Jesus.

What happens after that – he goes to the temple and turns over tables and turns out money changers, he withers the faithless fig tree, he gets into it with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. These are the people who have sold out their faith to the empire. Then we get a parable about a vineyard. And then we get another parable about a vineyard. All of these are pointed at the Pharisees, the religious authorities beholden to the Romans, the servants of empire.

The Pharisees are already ready to go after him – they want to have him arrested, but Matthew tells us they were afraid of the crowds. Because the people believed Jesus to be a prophet. This story we’ve heard is the final straw – because verse 15, the aftermath, reads “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” He has been getting on their nerves, threatening their power, and after this, they’ve had enough.

And then we come to this story  —  this hypothetical situation that Jesus is posing:

We’ve got a king with a son who is getting married – we’ve got an invitation to all the best people — to this fancy event. The king has gone all out to prepare. But his invitation gets mocked, gets ignored. He sends an emissary or two and they get messed up, even killed. This is all wrong. So the king deals with them — in terms that would make sense to the people who are listening — to those who were listening in Jesus’ time and to the audience that Matthew had in mind later, which was also probably a Jewish one.

Then we get a turn that we’re more comfortable with — the king says  “Invite everyone.” Everyone. No conditions — last week we were talking about conditions, right? Or the lack of conditions? Everyone is invited. That sounds like the God we preach in this church, right? All are welcome.

There was a story a year ago about an Atlanta couple, Carol and Willie Fowler, whose daughter Tamara cancelled her wedding at the last minute. The reception dinner for 200 was paid for and planned, so the couple prayed about it and then turned to an organization that works with the homeless. They invited 200 homeless men, women, and children to a celebration.  It was a grand event.

We get that. What an incredible parallel to the banquet Jesus describes. Everyone belongs at this table. Pretty incredible message for this weekend. Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, an annual event where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are encouraged to tell their stories. Tomorrow is Columbus Day, where we paradoxically celebrate the “discovery” of this continent — and the genocide of the native peoples who had been living here for centuries. We live in a world where people have to somehow prove their worth, to prove their very humanity. We measure people based on their wealth, their looks, their productivity.

That’s not the measure God takes. We are all invited to the table.

So if Jesus had just stopped there, we’d be in pretty good shape. Let’s put ourselves at that banquet okay? Close your eyes for a minute. Get a vision of yourself at that banquet, gathered around that table. You can see it, can’t you? This works, this inclusive vision. Right?

But Jesus, does he stop there? Nope, he does not.

Somebody gets singled out here. The King comes out and there’s a man without a wedding robe. Now, our first question would be – okay, people invited in off the street, what’s the big deal. But most sources seem to agree that it’s pretty likely that provisions were made – people had access to wedding robes, whether their own or those provided by their host, the king. So regardless of interpretation, the general agreement is that this is a deliberate act by this person.

My father has been known to describe me as contrary. So I feel for this person a bit. He is being contrary. But if you look pretty closely, it could even be considered an act of treason – this being the king and all. The whole story comes together to suggest that the stakes are pretty high.

So here comes the king:  “Friend” – how’s that for a loaded word? not sure whether he really means that, but it’s a civil way to address somebody. We don’t get the tone, but regardless, this is pretty restrained. The king’s giving ‘em a chance.

And what happens – okay – put yourself there, standing in front of the king – nothing. Not a word. Speechless. Are you there? Can you feel it? Maybe you’re watching or maybe that’s you. Doesn’t say a thing.  Talk about awkward.

I write thousands of words each week for my online classes. It’s what I’m required to do and most of the time it’s not a problem. But every once in a while, I find myself staring at the screen and going “I don’t have a single thing to say.”

That’s not the only time I’m speechless. I logged on to the New York Times – the newspaper’s – website yesterday – and here was the breaking news that greeted me

Four Bombings Kill Over 50 People Around Baghdad

Some Remains in Mexico Are Not of Missing Students

Football Clouds Justice at Florida State, Records Show

Hundreds Attend dictator Duvalier’s Funeral in Haiti

Stray Shot Kills a Child in New Jersey

We know I could keep going. Sometimes we just stand there, struck mute by the pain and horror of the world.

This is different from silence, which can be restorative, nourishing. Sometimes we just need to hush, right? And listen. It’s not always better to say something than to say nothing.

I don’t think that’s where we’re going here. Silence can be valuable. But it can also be deadly.  Sometimes an answer is called for. And we’re not talking about excuses – we’re talking about taking this seriously, being real.  Our language – and our silences – shape the reality we live in.

We preach a loving God around here – and I absolutely believe that to be true. But what I hear here is that there are things that matter.

It’s not just the absence of a robe that gets this guest in trouble.

It’s the absence of an answer.

It’s a failure to respond. To speak to the needs and the heart of the community.

We are talking about lines to be drawn, behavior that is acceptable — or unacceptable. Not belief. We’ve turned Christianity into something that’s about what we believe or don’t believe. For Jesus it’s not a question of belief. That’s not the standard he’s talking about.

It’s not about what’s in here, up in our heads.

It’s about what’s out here, all around us.

The offense is in the behavior – this unexplained refusal to participate in the life of the community. The king has opened his table to all, welcomed all — and this guest showed up, but refused actual engagement.

We serve a loving God, but it is okay to let. Jesus. challenge. us.

This is what makes us different from the fire and brimstone people — we know this invitation and table are open to all. Just look at the literacy event we just had here  — what a perfect banquet, totally in the kingdom’s vision — young and old, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, good and bad – okay, I ain’t going to call anybody bad, but we all have our good days and our not so good days, right? Gathered in God’s name to celebrate our common mission, to learn, and to join together in God’s work in this world.

But this story is also what makes us different from the prosperity gospel people — those who look at all this as what we can GET from GOD. This whole Christianity thing is not just about what GOD does for US. It is about OUR responsibilities in the COMMUNITY. It about how we function in RELATIONSHIP to ONE ANOTHER. Here we are – God is telling us to PARTY with one another – and somebody is going to say no.

In those terms, there is a wide range of acceptable behavior. And then there are forms of disrespect, of I’ve-got-my-rights-and-my-freedom-and-to-hell-with-you, of I’M-GONNA-STAND-MY-GROUND-EVEN-IF-YOU-END-UP-DEAD, of contempt and ignorance and flat out ugliness to one another.

That.is.not.okay.

So God says no. That is not acceptable. Talk to me. No? Not going to talk to me? Not going to enter a conversation about this? Then no.

So this guy gets hustled out and cast out. Through his actions, he separates himself from God’s presence and from the company of those who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus. It’s a refusal of fellowship of community.

He’s cast out of the light and back into the outer darkness, back out onto the streets with all the other folks who decided to ignore the invitation, those who chose not to participate.

Those who not on condition of belief, but by their behavior, separate themselves from God’s promise.

Because many are called. The invitation is there. But few are chosen. And you know why? Because they opt out. They refuse to engage with their neighbors. They turn up their nose and reject the fellowship and the conversation. They opt out of the community.

They don’t know what they’re missing. WE know what they’re missing. We’ve gotten a look at the fellowship of the table, one that calls for the generosity of spirit for all.  But they elect to go another way.

They are missing a great party.