[February 2012 Synchroblog] Economic Inequality: Coming Back to Our Senses

Our Synchroblog this month explores the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor in our country and others. Reports show that this gap is has reached its highest level in 30 years. One only needs to look at history to see that money equals power in this world. And when so much power is in the hands of a few, the many are disadvantaged. The extremely poor are even more at a disadvantage. Dr. Cornel West says, “Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.”

I didn’t want to be part of this blog. It gives me a pain in the gut to think about these things. I have seen few issues create more anger and divisiveness than this one. I have seen it turn seemingly civil and kind people into raging, snarling foes. Even for those who can contain their anger, there remains a certain unwillingness to see the plight of others who are impacted by their views. And I have no solutions. I do believe that re-regulating Wall St.* and insisting that the very rich and the big corporations pay their fair share in taxes is the right thing to do. That’s just common sense. But I don’t know how to change our love for this beast that ensnares our lives. We need to try. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that reference the poor. That’s a significant clue that this is supposed to matter.

In all honesty, all I know to do is call out to the church, for we are the embodiment of Jesus now. Jesus turns power upside-down. He is the one who takes an axe to the roots of systems that exploit and oppress. Like Jesus, we are the persistent little stream of water that gradually softens the rock hard foundations of the structures of power. I don’t know so much about what to do, but I do think we can explore who we are meant to be.

I have come to believe that money stands in opposition to the Kingdom. There is nothing else about which Jesus gave such an explicit warning. He made it very plain in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt. 6:24) Jesus is rarely so dualistic in his thinking. But here He is very plain. It’s either/or.

Money seems to break down the very essence of who we are meant to be as human beings. It disembodies our faith. It quickly divides us into the haves and have-nots, distancing us from the realities of each others’ lives. The money/power thing exposes how one of the saddest questions in the scripture has played out throughout time: “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” With the heart of Cain, our answer is a loud and definitive, no. We do write out our checks to a local charity or dish out food at a homeless shelter. But truthfully, we are the jealous workers in the vineyard, so afraid that someone will get something they don’t deserve, especially when we’ve worked so hard.

We have forgotten that the source of the goods we produce buy and sell were never ours to begin with. We are divorced from the acts of others in our communities that make it possible for us to work at all, to manufacture, create, transport materials, or buy and sell anything. The further away we have moved from tilling the earth to forth food in order to survive, the more disembodied our lives and services have become. Trading stocks and making decisions that affect the lives of millions have become an a-moral acts, truly distanced and disconnected from the men, women and children who are affected. Finally, we have dared to believe that what we have earned is our own. We have hidden ourselves away from any reminder that in truth we all are needy, dependent people because our very ability to think and create and work comes from God from the start.

Christianity involves coming back to ourselves as a whole. Jesus is not just a ticket to heaven, but the means of reconciliation and restoration to a communal life of Shalom, which is a community of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight**. Even the Our Father prayer invokes community. Together we say, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” This Jesus thing is all about being intimately connected with the needs and realities of the other.

In small ways and within small groups, some things are beginning to change. Churches are connecting with those who create community gardens for themselves and others in need. This allows for the dignity of taking part in working for all, as well. Interest is growing in establishing more local, sustainable food supplies. There is a renewed interest in handmade goods and skills. People are simplifying their lives and getting rid of stuff. With less to protect, perhaps we’ll have more to share. With less to protect, we may recover faith in a new way. We might actually remember what it means to trust for our daily bread, trusting God by trusting each other. Maybe we’ll also remember what is means to be grateful.

In light of all this, I celebrate a woman with a level of faith I don’t know yet: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

[*Seriously, how did de-regulation happen? Was everyone asleep? That de-regulation happened was a clear example of the power wielded by those with extreme wealth.] [** The word shalom is described in “Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin”, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.]

LInks to the other Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in:

Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …

Kathy Escobar – Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up

Carol Kuniholm – Wondering About Wealth

Glenn Hager – Shrinking The Gap

Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution

Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses 

K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice

Abbie Watters – My Confession

Steve Hayes – Obscenity

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Showing 8 comments
  • Liz
    Reply

    Ellen – I completely understand wanting to avoid the subject and yet here you are willing to stand up and say something. Thank you for letting your voice be heard – for speaking out bravely against the self centeredness that the plight of being extremely rich or extrememly poor perpetuates. I lament the same thing as Cornelius “Seriously, how did de-regulation happen? Was everyone asleep? That de-regulation happened was a clear example of the power wielded by those with extreme wealth.”

  • Tammy Carter
    Reply

    I love this sentence you wrote, “This Jesus thing is all about being intimately connected with the needs and realities of the other.” I believe this might happen only MINIMALLY. We do sometimes have to get in survival mode and take care of ourselves. It’s not a purposeful selfish mode. It’s just sometimes the reality of life situations or events that occur. I am tempted to go into my view of health insurance and health care providers(yes, I am one, but not really proud how things are right now) and how one or two procedures can send someone into bankruptcy and then, they find themselves not only trying to recover physically, but financially.
    All that being said, going into community with the goal of giving and helping others can be risky. We can give what we can with a pure heart and desire. But then, wonder why we end up alone struggling to get our own needs met. I’m not saying we give and expect something in return. I just think that at different times in life we all can fall into that “other” category and asking and getting our needs met is sometimes difficult, especially in this economy.
    And thanks for the reminder of the poor widow putting in all she had. A very faithful act and one I need to think about. It all boils down to trusting that God is faithful and in control of my life. I have to trust that He will provide even if it’s not from intimate community.

  • Carol Kuniholm
    Reply

    You make some powerful statements here: “I have come to believe that money stands in opposition to the Kingdom. There is nothing else about which Jesus gave such an explicit warning.” And “Money seems to break down the very essence of who we are meant to be as human beings. It disembodies our faith.” Prayerfully reading what you have to say, I find myself agreeing – completely. The church is in real trouble because we’ve allowed that. Our faith is disembodied. We’ve put our trust in money, rather than God. And we’ve refused to speak clearly about the dangers of wealth, because we don’t want to offend those with the deep pockets. And yes – we’ve been asleep. But the shouting in the streets has forced us to at least try to wake up and understand where we are, and why. Thanks for your post.

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