“Oh, yes, rowdy old capitalism. Let it ply its music.”

Workers, a category that seems to subsume us all except the idlest rich, should learn what they need to learn to be competitive in the new economy. All the rest is waste and distraction.

Competitive with whom? On what terms? To what end? With anyone who has done a clever thing we did not think of first. And will these competitors of ours be left to enjoy the miserable advantage of low wages and compromised health? And is there any particular reason to debase human life in order to produce more, faster, without reference to the worth of the product or to the value of things sacrificed to its manufacture? Wouldn’t most people, given an hour or two to reflect, consider this an intolerably trivial use to be put to, for them and their children? Life is brief and fragile, after all. Then what is this new economy whose demands we must always be ready to fill? We may assume it will be driven by innovation and by what are called market forces, which can be fads or speculation or chicanery. Oh, yes, rowdy old capitalism. Let it ply its music. Then again, in the all consuming form proposed for it now, it is a little like those wars I mentioned earlier. It is equally inimical to poetry, eloquence, memory, the beauty of wit, the fires of imagination, the depth of thought. It is equally disinclined to reward gifts that cannot be turned to its uses. The urgency of war or crisis has been brought to bear on our civil institutions, which is to say, on the reserves and resources of civility we have created over many generations.

– Marilynne Robinson, in her new collection of essays, saying again what needs to be said about what we are actively forgetting in these days of efficiency and productivity.

“As a result, wars are fed, not persons.”

Whereas forms of aid and development projects are obstructed by involved and incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and impenetrable customs barriers, weaponry is not. It makes no difference where arms come from; they circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world. As a result, wars are fed, not persons. In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war. The death count multiplies because the number of people dying of hunger and thirst is added to that of battlefield casualties and the civilian victims of conflicts and attacks. We are fully aware of this, yet we allow our conscience to be anesthetized. We become desensitized. Force then becomes our one way of acting, and power becomes our only goal. Those who are most vulnerable not only suffer the effects of war but also see obstacles placed in the way of help.

Pope Francis speaking yesterday at the United Nations Food Program in Rome. What is true on a global scale is also true in our city.

“Let there be a moratorium on such preaching!”

Legalists and antinomians are equally guilty of hermeneutical gerrymandering to annex New Testament texts to foreign modes of ethical discourse. Christian preachers, at least since the time of Clement of Alexandria, have preached hundreds of thousands of disastrous sermons that say, in effect, ‘Now the text says x, but of course it couldn’t really mean that, so we must see the underlying principle to which it points, which is y.’ Let there be a moratorium on such preaching! The New Testament’s ethical imperatives are either normative at the level of their own claim, or they are invalid.”

– Richard B. Hays in his classic The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

“…a cog in the machine of a racist hierarchy.”

In America, racism is a default setting. To do nothing, to go along with the market, to claim innocence or neutrality, is to inevitably be a cog in the machine of racist hierarchy.

These two sentences, by Ta-Nehisi Coates in a moving article about Nina Simone, perfectly summarizes why neutrality isn’t an option when it comes to racial injustice. The options are few: we resist or we collude.

“A deeply segregated church does not appear without history.”

Self-absorbed Christians who are apathetic toward injustice do not emerge from a vacuum. A deeply segregated church does not appear without history. In the United States, grief and pain related to race are often suppressed, and the stories of suffering are often untold. Our history is incomplete. The painful stories of the suffering of the African American community, in particular, remain hidden. Often, American Christians may even deny the narrative of suffering, claiming that things weren’t so bad for the slaves or that at least the African Americans had the chance to convert to Christianity. The story of suffering is often swept under the rug in order not to create discomfort or bad feelings. Lament is denied because the dead body in front of us is being denied. But the funeral dirge genre of Lamentations 1 requires the telling of the full story of death – the cause of that death, the history surrounding that death and the historical effects of that death – because a dead body cannot be ignored.

In this section of his essay-like commentary on Lamentations, Dr Soong-Chan Rah is reflecting on the imagery of the funeral dirge that is found at the beginning of the book. While the tendency to downplay our country’s historic racist underpinnings may be an understandable American practice, it is a distinctly unBiblical one. For Christians to overlook or deny our ugly history requires ignoring entire sections of the Bible that make practices like lament and repentance normal for those who worship the God of Scripture.

“The revolution out of which our tradition came has not ended…”

The revolution out of which our tradition came has not ended; it is accelerating. The movement of those forty million Europeans to the North American continent was only the beginning. There is not place on the globe today that can stand secure and changeless. It is all changing. It is changing before our eyes. No one can predict what will happen to global culture in even the near future. If you have come out of the pilgrim tradition of the children of Israel, from Egypt to the promised Land, and have used that magnificent opportunity only to become a Philistine, then take heed. Do you live comfortably behind high walls and bronzed gates, and worship regularly at the altar of Baal? Are you pleased with the prospects of Social Security and a special pension plan, or the apparent security of America’s nuclear deterrent and the overwhelming power of its society and technology? If that provides comfort, then live in fear and trembling, because it will all be taken away from you as surely as the security of our forebears. I proclaim it.

-Zenos Hawkinson in a sermon in 1978. Hawkinson was a history professor at my denomination’s college and he was addressing a people with strong immigrant memories.

“…we have only colonized more and more territory eastward of Eden.”

We can appropriate and in some fashion use godly powers, but we cannot use them safely, and we cannot control the results. That is to say that the human condition remains for us what it was for Homer and the authors of the Bible. Now that we have brought such enormous powers to our aid (we hope), it seems more necessary than ever to observe how inexorably the human condition still contains us. We only do what humans can do, and our machines, however they may appear to enlarge our possibilities, are invariably infected with our limitations. Sometimes, in enlarging our possibilities, they narrow our limits and leave us more powerful but less content, less safe, and less free. The mechanical means by which we propose to escape the human condition only extends it; thinking to transcend our definition as fallen creatures, we have only colonized more and more territory eastward of Eden.

-Wendell Berry, “Two Economies” (1983).