Tag Archives: justice

The Economics of Love

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

october jamie

A friend of mine once said to me, “I only work now, so that one day I won’t have to”. We shared a good laugh about her statement – a sentiment of how many people define what it means to make a living. If I’m honest, too, I share this idyllic effect of what life’s efforts should be. This is the American dream, right? Wendell Berry is a prolific writer (poet and prophet) of what it means to live in a manner worthy of being called “living”; and his definition is quite different from my friend’s ideology and the overall historic American anthem of “Work less and make more”. Such reductionistic investment, according to Berry, is not sustainable and is actually devastating to society and the sanctity of life. He advocates for and has sought to practice a lifestyle that involves the complex workings of a whole community – many hands sharing skills and resources, and distributing them equally among its members. The combined effort within any and every community, as God defined it to be when He said “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), is about generating new generations that reflect and glorify God’s wondrous works of love.

There seems to be an n economic correlation between working and loving. We are motivated to work for what we love.  In God’s economy of love, endurance and disregard for greed is at the core. However, we seem to be hard wired to want to take the path of least resistance and keep what we think we rightfully earned along the way. There’s something to be said, though, about the result of generations of this kind of lackadaisical living. We desperately need Jesus, now more than ever, to rewire our brains and put new desires in our hearts to be “good stewards” of the earth and life itself. We need to understand the high price Christ paid for us to keep living. The price industry pays these days for us to keep living is so low that is perpetuates poverty and insufferable living. God’s design for generational living is being unraveled by the hands of mankind. Generations will cease to exist if God does not intervene. We need to know the reality of resurrection! We need to acknowledge the cost of living and act accordingly.

Berry sums up our current predicament this way: “Decades of cheap labor, cheap energy and cheap food (all more expensive than has been imagined) have allowed our society to incorporate itself in a material structure that will have to be seen as top-heavy. We have flooded the country, the roadsides and landfills, with shoddy “consumer goods”. We have too many houses that are too big, too many public buildings that are gigantic, too much useless space enclosed in walls that are too high and under roofs that are too wide. We replaced an until-then-adequate system of railroads with an interstate highway system, expensive to build, disruptive of neighborhoods and local travel, increasingly expensive to maintain and use. We replaced an until-then-adequate system of local schools with consolidated schools, letting the old buildings tumble down, replacing them with bigger ones, breaking the old ties of neighborhoods and schools, and making education entirely dependent on the fossil fuels. Every rural school now runs a fleet of buses for the underaged and provides a large parking lot for those over sixteen who “need” a car to go to school. Education has been oversold, overbuilt, over-electrified, and overpriced. Colleges have grown into universities, universities have become “research institutions” full of undertaught students and highly accredited “professionals” who are overpaid by the public to job-train the young and to invent cures and solutions for corporations to “market” for too much money to the public. And we have balanced this immense superstructure, immensely expensively to use and maintain, upon the frail stem of the land economy that we conventionally abuse and ignore.”

Ouch. Yes, these are painful truths in our modern day material world. But there’s nothing new under the sun and these are not the only truths. Every civilization throughout history has sought to capitalize itself by demeaning another; but God lovingly humbled Himself and became human to restructure, from the ground up, a secure foundation on which we can build an everlasting existence. While He was here on earth, Jesus established a spiritual economy of love that seeks to cultivate wealth within the soul. From the inside out, we can be inspired to care for each other and our world in a way that does not deplete our capacities but deepens our appreciation for and activates us to do what we were created to do – love God and love others. In the meantime, God’s love for us never runs out; and God will not let us forever manufacture glory for ourselves. One day, maybe soon, Jesus will come again to re-create all things. But until then, God wants us to keep our hands on the plow and to keep sowing seeds of love. May the words of the apostle Paul cheer us on: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Reference:

  1. photo by Jamie Wasson 2013
  2. What matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth by Wendell Berry

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

Face Forward

Lost and Found

 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22:31 – 32

The heavy sound of old rusty metal scraped along the ground as the gate opened. The high tone of intersecting locks clinked and harmonized a dissident refrain, as the latch closed the gate behind her. She silently stood there and waited. It was almost noon and the summer sun made no apologies about its heat. Sweat had already formed on her brow.

“Face forward,” the guard instructed. These two words merely informed the prisoner what to do, not who to be. Today was different, though. This phrase had been repeated so often in her ears – years of hearing it instinctually made her react. She turned. But instead of seeing the long narrow hallways of the prison that had led her in and out of her cell block or day room or showers, she saw in front of her a parking lot and the big stone main gatehouse. The highway was accessible just a mile or so from there. She had entered through that gate to where she stood today, eighteen years ago – to remove her from the world as she knew it…or to remove the world as she knew it from her? It was a coin toss. She thought about this irony and smiled slightly, knowing her pockets were empty. She spent her last penny on the outfit she currently wore, which she had bought to wear for her release day.

She sighed, as the flashbacks started to fill her mind. She knew those memories would remain with her as long as she lived. Yet, she was determined to keep learning how not to let them haunt her. Something, indeed, was dead the first time she entered through the gate into the prison compound. She was found guilty for a capital crime that she did not deny committing. She was sentenced to twenty-five years. Her prison time was calculated according to her age and offense. She was tried as an adult; after all she had just turned eighteen. Ironically though, she had felt so childlike, but the courts didn’t care about that. She had no family to care about her either back then; at least, not the healthy kind that could solve problems without making more of a mess. She closed her eyes and sighed again. As she inhaled, she thought about the fresh air she breathed. She heard the swooning sound of the cicadas, and thought about them trying to find their mates to ensure something about them would live to another season. What was this new season for her going to look like? Did it matter that she was free now? She felt so alone. The air she breathed today was the same air that surrounded the prison the day before. The locusts in the trees were the same locusts she had heard yesterday, as she laid in her bunk thinking about how hot it was, just like today’s temp.

Then she opened her eyes and saw a car drive through the main gate and make its way around the perimeter of the parked cars to pull up to the place where she stood. The restless feeling inside her chest eased a bit. She sighed a third time, smiled widely and her eyes began to tear.

“They came,” she thought. Had she doubted? Maybe a little. The triggers were real and heartache would always be part of her life, regardless of whatever side of the prison gate she found herself.  Her parents pulled up a few feet from where she stood. Her dad was driving and put the car in park, leaving the blinkers on. Her mom got out first. These folks were not her birth parents. Her birth parents had died while she was in; though they had abandoned her before she ever went in anyway. The people that came to greet her now had helped give birth to her spirit. They started visiting from the local church a decade and a half ago, and an important connection was made – the kind of love and attention she had never known, always wanted to know. As her “mom” stepped out of the car and walked towards her, she felt a foolish blush come over her, as she thought about her doubt that they would come for her.

Her mom seemed to sense her moment of weakness and smiled as any loving mother would. “Did you think we forgot about you?” her mom noted, less as a question and more as a reassurance that her fears were not un-noticed. “We got stuck in traffic for whatever reason. But here we are!” her mom announced. Her mom embraced her tightly and they lingered in that pose for a few moments. They were allowed to now; since during visitation, quick hugs were mandatory.

Her dad, she had come to appreciate, was the strong silent type. He simply stepped up, put one arm around her, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Let’s go”.

She turned back to look at the guard. It was such a reflex. He nodded and said “Walk on”. Then he added, “God bless”. Her eyes scanned the concrete facade of the correctional facility that had been her home for what seemed a lifetime.

“Yep,” she thought, “what a blessing it’s all been.” She wasn’t just thinking about her parole that she had prayed would come for the past five years, but her entire incarceration experience was its own blessing in disguise. She had arrived there so long ago, dead inside and feeling like she was being buried. She was initially convinced that any sort of “living” was not possible within those walls. But she would soon come to find out what resurrection really meant. Feeling dead, discarded and alone were lies; and she had learned, while she was imprisoned, what it meant to be alive for real, loved unconditionally and acknowledged as something special. She committed her time in to learning how to serve others with the same compassion that was shown to her. How would she show it now? She was still committed to finding the right path to serve best.

She got in the back seat of her God-parents old Buick and belted herself in. Her dad looked at the center rear view mirror at her.

“Ready?” he asked.

She looked at him and then shifted her gaze to look through the windshield towards the gatehouse. “Yes,” she said. She did not look back. This intentional gesture felt significant.

“I think taking the back roads will be best, rather than the highway,” her dad said. “We’ll take the scenic route,” he added, looking back at her via the mirror again.

She faced forward and replied, “Okay”.

References:

  1. Lost and Found; oil painting by Sylvia Martinez 2015
  2. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  3. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  4. Cain’s Redemption by Dennis Shere
  5. Learn about Face Forward Re-entry Program; Volunteers of America