Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It was a while ago... $$

...June of 2007 in fact, that I recommended reading Bill McKibben's book, "Deep Economy". The material seems more important now than it was then because it posits a different model for economic stability.

Our present model demands continued growth, which at this point means that Americans, in order to keep each other employed, need to buy things they don't really need (stuff) with money they don't really have (on credit cards). But suddenly, in this economic downturn, people are starting to save their money, shop carefully, and limit their purchases. That this savings is rooted in a fear of the future is problematic for a number of reasons. But that we've moved away from profligate spending towards saving ought to be a good thing - and yet the leaders of the free world are gathering today, collectively concerned that people won't be buying enough landfill this holiday season.

McKibben posits that shifting towards localized and regional economies is the solution. He addresses the possibilities of such a shift in various industries, including agriculture and energy. Of course, such shifts aren't intended to be total, or isolationist, but rather are intended to encourage a scale of production and consumption that is more humane. A byproduct though, and McKibben is not alone in believing this, is that economies are more resilient. McKibben spends the first 103 pages defending the fact that we've got a problem. Of course, back when he wrote it, in the heady days of the early 21st century, those were important pages. Now, you can skip that part if you'd like and start reading on P104.

Of course, this is entirely contrary to everything the government is presently positing as 'the way out'. In addition, any steps that you or I might take towards scalability and localized shopping will be more costly in the immediate, not less. I won't go down the road of talking about Adam Smith and challenging the notion that if we all act in our own self-interest all will be well, other than to note that maybe, if I take the long view, it IS in my self-interest to shop locally, getting my salmon from the dock rather than the warehouse store, even if it costs me a few more bucks in the immediate present.

You might wonder why I'm even talking about this - after all, I'm a pastor, not an economist. True, but my hero (Jesus) talked more about money than heaven, hell, or homosexuality (forgetting, by the way, to mention the latter directly at all). It seemed that His interest was in getting us to both live simply AND fearlessly with respect to our own provision and economic well being. I believe we need a different model in order to get there, and that the model might need to come, not from the dems or reps, or the EU, but from somewhere else, perhaps Acts 2, or Matthew 6, or I Timothy 6, or...?

How are you reacting to the economic crisis? How is it affecting you? What does the Bible have to say about all this?


At 15/11/08 15:39, Blogger Spence said...

Just stopping by to say hello Richard. Just came across your blog. Cheers

At 15/11/08 19:43, Blogger Outish said...

Quite wise Richard.

I admire you for stepping forward into the choppy waters of finances. We, the flock, can be quite sensitive about mixing our theology and our economics.

Here's to living simply and fearlessly!

For myself, I think we are meant to see the community as a much more central part of our lives. It is difficult today, people live further apart and hold a host of loose associations of community (my neighborhood, my Church, my office etc.). So it's harder for us to determine our community than two millenia ago when you lived in close quarters with your neighbors, worked from home and walked everywhere else. But still, at the risk of putting thoughts in God's head, I think He thinks that the community is a very important part of all aspects of our lives.

The early church was a community that was able to understand this quite well. They were very community focused, giving where there was need, helping those who could not help themselves. They did this imperfectly of course, but they understood who among them was in need, they understood their personal responsibility to the community as a whole. This is where I think we fall short, we see ourselves (or maybe just I do) as individuals in a community rather than individuals of community. Putting our interest before that of others.

Because I think that's the whole point. The Body of Christ applied socially. We all serve different purposes, different skills and shortcomings, but it takes relationships, community, to understand when the eye needs to help the hand. Relationships based in Love.

God is Love, and they will know we are Christians by our love. Love is important I guess. So if our love for one another gives our community strength greater than the sum of it's parts. And true relationships build us up emotionally, spiritually, and economically then I think we would be moving forward.

The tough question on my end would be: How do we define community in our modern times?

Wait. That sounds familliar.

Who is my neighbor?

Wasn't the answer to that question rather universal? But the community is supposed to be smaller. Right?

Hmmm, yes, now I've confused myself.


And of course once we figure that one out then there's the whole balancing Community and Evangelism issue faced by the early Church as well...

I don't mean to sound cynical here, I guess it's just in my style, but I do genuinely wonder about the issues I have raised here.

At 15/11/08 20:13, Blogger jeb said...

wendell berry says that the 'economy' would like to make disconnections in our lives that lead to dis-ease. then it would present great 'cures' that it happily sells to us for much profit. he reminds us not to be deceived. health and connection are so close at hand. connection between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.
living within the margins of connections is not impossible. this can best be done within a communal effort. individualism is not the self interest of the individual. let's be creative. we create our own reality depending on our values.

At 16/11/08 23:52, Blogger Dave said...

FWIW... read and re-read Deep Economy from page 104 as Richard recommends. Read it in light of our current "crisis" and in light of Jesus' call to a life rooted in relationships, with God and with others, that is our neighbors, enemy and best friend alike.

How we chose to spend or not spend is a critical issue to talk about in our churches... WAY TO GO Richard. Keep engaging the economic side of life in light of sustainable local economies.

At 17/11/08 09:52, Blogger BenMc said...

I think the presumption of limitless growth is half of the problem, and the other half is the distance between borrowers and lenders so that there is little to no common interest shared between the two. I like the idea of a more local focus, which may address both problems; I'll have to read that book.

Recently I came across an article by the guy who wrote Liar's Poker who talks about this recent mess as a reckoning stretching all the way back to the 80's (a judgement day of sorts?). Just an interesting observation as to how that fits with your sermon topic yesterday.

Here's a link to my post on that article if anyone's interested:

At 18/11/08 21:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am confused about a statement in your blog. Are you inferring that Jesus didn't care about homosexuality, that homosexuality is ok, because He did not talk about it?

At 18/11/08 23:30, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

homosexuality? I simply said that it clearly wasn't Jesus central issue since He never mentioned even one time. I'm not inferring that Jesus thinks it's OK because he doesn't talk about it - I'm just saying that because He didn't talk about it, it must not be as big an issue as, for example, how we make and spend our money, and how we treat the poor.

I did intend to infer that, too often, the contemporary American church has far more to say about homosexuality and than consumerism and greed.


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