“In a jaded world, we need to remind the public, by word and deed, that politics is also, and importantly, about efforts to achieve justice, ensure human dignity and the rule of law, and strive for the good society”  p 71

I stumbled across this book at the thrift store a few weeks ago, wondering if this was a really quick response to what has happened in the US with the election process. I quickly realized that it was published in 1998, and was about Bill Clinton. It helped me understand a bit more of what seemed to many to be a curious and surprising election result earlier this month….

“in my judgement, it is far worse to excuse wrongdoing, watch ethical standards sink, and allow justifiable outrage to die than to confront wrongdoing” p 64

“if narrow (values free) utilitarian arguments prevail, we will inherit a world in which it will be commonplace to punish people according to the politics they champion rather than the laws they violate or the personal misconduct in which they engage. We will, in short, become a nation of men and not of laws” p 67

“During moments of crisis, of unfolding scandal, people watch closely. They learn from what they see. And they often embrace a prevailing attitude and ethos, and employ what seems to work for others. So it matters if the legacy of the president is that the ends justify the means; that rules do not apply across the board; that lawlessness can be excused” p 50

“What we need in our president is one who stands against destructive cultural norms, not one who embodies, manipulates, and exploits them” p 42

“A president whose character manifests itself in patterns of reckless personal conduct, deceit, abuse of power, and contempt for the rule of law cannot be a good president” p 38

“We – all of us, but especially the young – need around us individuals who possess certain nobility, a largeness of soul, and qualities of human excellence worth imitating and striving for” p 40

“Do Americans still acknowledge, implicitly or explicitly, that core ethical values like honesty, respect, distinguishing right and wrong – good character – are important and often even decisive?” p 36

“The founders (like the ancient Greeks) believed it was important that the head of the good polity be a man of good character, and they advocated that the office of the presidency be filled by persons whose “reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence” p 37

“As the novelist John Updike put it, “the fact that…we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.” Updike is right; if we have full employment and greater economic growth – if we have cities of gold and alabaster – but our children have not learned to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then the American experiment, no matter how gilded, will have failed.” p 35

“is this what the feminist movement has come to? To make the world safe for gropers and fondlers? To make socially acceptable a “no harm, no foul” rule? To give a green light to the sexual predator, so long as he stops short of rape and eventually takes no for an answer? To countenance the advances of a man in a powerful position who is ready and willing to take advantage of a woman….These are the real world signals being sent, and, as night follows day, these are the real-world signals being received, by aggressive young men and vulnerable young women across America.” p 23

My recent reading on the circular economy reminded me of a book that I read 36 years ago in one of my classes at the Kings University in Edmonton. I remember how we were challenged to think through some of our assumptions and beliefs regarding culture and economics. I remember the Biblical roots to what we now call a circular economy.  I also remember that one of our professors said that if you think you have a new idea, look about about 30 years, and you may find it there.

Small is Beautiful was a great little book that promoted thought and reflection. It was almost as difficult to read now as it was then, but provided some great insights. Here are some quotes as they relate to development of a circular economy. (we accept that now we would use more inclusive language in reference to “man”).

“Man is small, and therefore, small is beautiful”

“The illusion of unlimited power, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production. The latter illusion is based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most…the irreplaceable capital which man had not made, but simply found, and without which he can do nothing.”

“To get to the crux of the matter, we do well to ask why it is that all these terms – pollution, environment, ecology etc. – have so suddenly come into prominence…Is this a sudden fad, a silly fashion, or perhaps a sudden failure of nerve?”

“The changes of the last 25 years, both in the quantity and in the quality of man’s industrial processes, have produced an entirely new situation – a situation resulting not from our failures but from what we thought wre our greatest successes. And this has come up so suddenly that we hardly noticed the fact that we were rapidly using up a certain kind of irreplaceable capital asset, namely the tolerance margins which benign nature always provides.”

“The substance of man cannot be measured by Gross National Product. Perhaps it cannot be measured at all, except for certain symptoms of loss.”

“We must thoroughly understand the problem and begin to see the possibility of evolving a new lifestyle, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption: a lifestyle designed for permanence.”

“We still have to learn how to live peacefully, not only with our fellow men, but also with nature, and above all, with those Higher Powers which have made nature and have made us.”

“It is always possible to dismiss even the most threatening problems with the suggestion that something will turn up.”

“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single minded pursuit of wealth… does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited…already the environment is trying to tell us that certain stresses are becoming excessive.”

“We find that the idea of unlimited economic growth, more and more until everybody is saturated with wealth, needs to be seriously questioned on at least two counts: the availability of basic resources and…the capacity of the environment to cope with the degree of interference implied.”

“I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity,…because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroys intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man.”

“Our wealth depends on making inordinately large demands on limited world resources and thus puts us on an unavoidable collision course, not primarily with the poor (who are weak and defenseless), but with other rich people.”

“The economics of permanence implies a profound reorientation of science and technology, which have to open their doors to wisdom…Scientific or technological ‘solutions’ which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself are of no benefit, no matter how brilliantly conceived”

“We need methods and equipment that are cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually everyone, suitable for small scale application, and compatible with man’s need for creativity.”

“There is a need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work…as something ‘decreed by Providence for the good of man’s body and soul’….it is work and the relationships established by work that are the true foundations of society.”

“When people ask for education they normally mean something more than mere training, something more than mere knowledge of facts…maybe they cannot themselves formulate precisely what they are looking for, but I think what they are really looking for is ideas that would make the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. When a thing is intelligible, you have a sense of participation.”

“Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world.”

“Education can help us only if it produces ‘whole men’. The truly educated man is not a man who knows a bit of everything, not even the man who knows all the details of all subjects,…he will not be in doubt about his basic convictions, about his view on the meaning and purpose of life.”

“Among material resources, the greatest, unquestionably, is the land. Study how a society uses its land and you can come to pretty reliable conclusions as to what its future will be.”

“Is the land merely a means of production or is it something more, something that is an end in itself?”

“Man has not made it [land], and it is irrational for him to treat things that he has not made and cannot make and cannot recreate once he has spoilt them, in the same manner and spirit as he is entitled to treat things of his own making.”

“The fundamental ‘principle’ of agriculture is that it deals with life,…Its products are the result of processes of life and its means of production is the living soil. A cubic centimeter of soil contains millions of living organisms, the full exploration of which is far beyond the capacities of man.”

“It remains true that agriculture is primary, whereas industry is secondary, which means that human life can continue without industry, whereas it cannot continue without agriculture”

“agriculture has to fulfil at least three tasks: to keep man in touch with living nature, of which he is and remains a highly vulnerable part, to humanize and enoble man’s wider habitat and to bring forth the foodstuffs and other materials which are needed for life”

“we should be searching for policies to reconstruct rural culture, to open the land for the gainful occupation to larger numbers of people, whether it be on a full time or part time basis, and to orient all our actions on the land towards the threefold ideal of health, beauty and permanence.”

“Modern agriculture relies on applying to soil, plants and animals ever increasing quantities of chemical products, the long term effect of which on soil fertility and health is subject to very grave doubts…there are highly successful farmers in many countries who obtain excellent yields without resort to such chemicals and without raising any doubts about long term soil fertility and health.”

“Their [the Soil Association] methods bear the mark of non-violence and humility towards the infinitely subtle system of natural harmony, and this stands in opposition to the lifestyle of the modern world. but if we now realize that the modern lifestyle is putting us in mortal danger, we may find it in our hearts to support and even join these pioneers rather than to ignore or ridicule them.”

“when the Lord created the world and people who live in it…I could well imagine that He reasoned with himself as follows: ‘If I make everything predictable, these human beings, whom I have endowed with pretty good brains, will undoubtedly learn to predict everything, and they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all, because they will recognize that the future is totally determined and cannot be influenced by human action. On the other hand, if I make everything unpredictable, they will gradually discover that there is no rational basis for any decision whatsoever and, as in the first case, they will have no motivation to do anything at all. Neither scheme would make sense. I must therefore create a mixture of the two. Let some things be predictable and others unpredictable. They will then amongst other things, have the very important task of finding out which is which.”

“I thus come to the cheerful conclusion that life, including economic life, is still worth living because it is sufficiently unpredictable to be interesting.”

“Any organization has to strive continuously for the orderliness of order and the disorderliness of creative freedom.”

 

 

This book provided some fascinating insights on moving us away from a linear economy based on unlimited natural resources to a circular economy that integrates our soils and other resources in a way that promotes flourishing of our economy and our communities. This book resonates with me because it reflects and integrates our values, experience and our approach to business.

“A linear economy, with its kickstarting money cycle, is massively wasteful of both raw materials and finished products. Elements and consequences outside the money-valued cycle are costs loaded onto the environment and society at large. The solution to this downside is the idea that increasing economic growth would allow enough surplus to clean up the mess and heal the sick – the cure was hiding behind the problem.” p 9

“The circular economy is about an economy that will work long term and add, not detract, from social and environmental capital and flows…Because as circular economy is a dynamic system and inclusive, it is an economy which includes flows of resources (energy and materials), and information.” p 15

“A circular economy is led by business for a profit within the ‘rules of the game’ decided by an active citizenship in a flourishing democracy” p 21

“At the turn of the 20th century, the economy became ‘disconnected’ from its resource base and it was assumed that it was about a circular flow of income and an accumulation of wealth driven by the idealized decision making of individuals and businesses seeking maximum ‘utility’ or satisfaction from moment to moment…Natural and social capital, the reservoirs of resources for production became an incidental part of the economic playbook rather than the economy being nested within the environment and what society demanded of the economy” p 28

“Debt is a claim on future wealth. Debt therefore demands economic growth to meet the interest payments, if these payments are not to become an ever bigger part of the economic pie and prompt a downward spiral – less spending, less production, less work and so on.” p 43

“What is there was another way of seeing the world, one based in the science of our times, one which entrained systems in a virtuous cycle of capital building rather than in a vicious one where human, social, manufactured and natural capital are transformed into financial capital?” p 47

“Ordered, complex, intertwined mutually interdependent systems are the new normal. That is where the economy and business exists, and hence the notion that a circular economy is an expression of systems thinking: an opportunity to upgrade our economics and business to match an expanded, richer vision.” p 48

“Previous patterns of growth have brought increased prosperity, but through intensive and often inefficient use of resources. The role of biodiversity, ecosystems and their services is largely undervalued, the cost of waste are often not reflected in prices, current markets and public policies cannot fully deal with competing demands on resources such as minerals, land, water and biomass” (statement from the European Commission). p 90

“The quest for sustainable (holistic) solutions, which would simultaneously address economic, social and environmental issues, is jeopardized by the ‘silo’ structures of public administrations, academia and many corporations.” p 91

“Work is the most versatile and adaptable of all resources, with a strong but perishable qualitative edge: (a) it is the only resource capable of creativity and with the capacity to produce innovative solutions, and (b) human skills deteriorate if unused” p 99

“Water and energy savings, as well as waste prevention, now become profitable activities that positively impact the bottom line of corporations. Whereas in the industrial economy, sufficiency and prevention options during the utilization phase of goods present a loss of income, and are thus undesirable.” p 99

“Sustainable politics should build on simple and convincing principles, such as: do not tax what you want to foster, punish unwanted effects instead. Also, it should promote sustainable solutions, ideally, sustainable solutions create self-reinforcing virtuous circles, which guarantee their longevity.” p 103

“A sustainable tax policy of not taxing renewable resources, including work, constitutes a very powerful lever to accelerate, boost and generalise the circular economy and its positive impacts on resource security and regional job creation, while simultaneously reducing GHG emissions.” p 105

“Perverse subsidies is where non-renewables and stocks of natural capital (soils, fisheries, groundwater, forests) are exploited at prices which are below market values and which probably already inadequately reflect the true value of the resources.” p 109

“The basics of circularity are very easy. Materials are of two types ideally: those which are consumed and rebuilt through the biosphere safely – biological material or ‘nutrients’, and those which cycle at high quality for longer in the technical nutrients cycle…the sharing economy must fit a circular economy by intention” p 131

“Trapped between high hopes place on the potential of materials that have yet to be invented and the growing concern generated by the need to mine more stuff, we often seem to overlook the wealth of resources already in circulation” p 153

“In the idealized schematic of a circular economy, the loop is eventually closed on the biological side and on land via the agency of sunlight, fungi and bacteria and the other communities of life in the soil. Here, then, soil is a simplified notion of natural capital in agricultural systems.” p 162

“We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process: it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they begin to flourish.” p 176

“Being in favor of more cognitively rounded individuals in a restorative economy could be described as taking a position about what is right and good. So maybe we are stuck with morals somewhere but at least the focus is shifted outward – from ‘what is good for me and mine’ to ‘what is good for us and also me?” p 184

“People are social beings and formal education empowers learners to be empathetic, to respect the views of other and to contribute their own views, knowledge and skills clearly and with confidence.” p 189

“Regenerative systems are enmeshed in natural and social processes in ways that make their purpose far more complex. While technology remains the means for augmenting nature, it ideally becomes a factor within the larger social and ecological context rather than the engine driving that complex.” p 192

 

 

We often acknowledge that everyone has a story. Here is a wonderful book about “story” and a good fictional story needs to have some of what we long for in our own stories.

“A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story” p 48

“If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you” p 59

“I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breath and face conflict with courage” p 59

“I wondered….if we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.” p 70.

“The idea that a character is what he does remains the hardest to actually live.” p 74.

“I believe that there is a writer outside of ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.” p 86

“The real Voice is stiller and smaller and seems to know, without confusion, the difference between right and wrong and the subtle delineation between the beautiful and the profane. It’s not an agitated Voice, but ever patient as though it approves a millon false starts. The Voice I am talking about is a deep water of calming wisdom. p. 87.

“by this time I really came to believe the Voice was God, and God was trying to write a better story.” p 88

“People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.” p 100.

“the inciting incident is how you get them to do something,…It’s the doorway through which they can’t return. The story takes care of the rest…the character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen” p 104-105

“great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear…fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life” p 108.

“there is a force in the world that doesn’t want us to live good stories. It doesn’t want us to face our issues, to face our fear and bring something beautiful into the world. I believe God wants us to create beautiful stories, and whatever it is that isn’t God wants us to create meaningless stories” p 116

“it made me think about the hard lives so many people have had, the sacrifices they’ve endured, and how those people will see heaven differently from those of us who have had easier lives. p. 143

“sharing the story with someone made the story more meaningful” p 154

“the reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. Its about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. p. 177

“I think this is when most people give up on their stories….they get to the middle and discover it was harder than they thought,….and they go looking for an easier story. p 179.

“Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person.” p 180.

“story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing. p. 188

“after a tragedy, I think God gives us a period of numbing as a kind of grace. Perhaps he knows our small minds, given so easily to false hope, couldn’t handle the full brunt of reality” p 192.

“misery, though seemingly ridiculous, indicates life itself has the potential for meaning, and therefore pain itself must also have meaning…pain then, if one could have faith in something greater than himself, might be a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort.” p 196

“the book of Job is about suffering, and it reads as though God is saying to the world, Before we get started, there’s this one thing I have to tell you. Things are going to get bad…God say’s to Job, Job I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn’t about you” p 197.

“Its written in the fabric of our DNA that life used to be beautiful and now it isn’t, and if only this and if only that, it would be beautiful again.” p 202.

 

In the cultures where both we and our children currently work, and also now in relation to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation efforts with our First Nations in Canada, we have to consider how we in our world, can work together for the good and benefit of all.

“Only when we see and respect both – undeniable differences that give communities a peculiar character and commonalities that bind them together – will we be able to honor each and promote the viable coexistence of all”  Miroslav Volf in A Public Faith

Below are some of the quotations in this book that I have learned and benefited from.

“Faith does its most proper work when it 1) sets us on a journey, 2) guides us along the way, and 3) gives meaning to each step we take. When we embrace faith – when God embraces us – we become new creatures constituted and called to be part of the people of God.” p 16

“In all our activities, and certainly in all our work, we strive to succeed. By this I mean that we want to 1) accomplish what we have undertaken to do, 2) accomplish it in an excellent way, and hopefully, 3) contribute to some larger good……We need power and creativity to succeed, but we inhabit a fragile and uncertain world and are ourselves fragile and unpredictable creatures….since power and creativity are in short supply, to succeed we often seek the help of what we describe as the “higher power”” p 24

“If God is the source of our being, then we do all our work in the power that comes from God. God gives, and therefore we exist and can work. God gives, and therefore we can succeed in our work… it is God who gives us power and creativity, and it is ultimately God for whom we work. Hence it is quite appropriate to ask God to bless our endeavors…we pray not so much for God to miraculously bring about a desired result but to make us willing, capable, and effective instruments of God’s hand – which is what we were created to be in the first place” p 26-27

“In our quiet moments, we know that we want our lives to have weight and substance and grow towards some kind of fullness that lies beyond ourselves….when we work for the well-being of communities, our work acquires a richer texture of meaning than when we work just for ourselves..our work can find its ultimate meaning when, in working for ourselves and for community, we work for God.” p 33-34

“God blesses us, and we succeed in work; God delivers us so that we aren’t weighed down by our failures and can achieve lasting happiness; God directs us so we can work in morally responsible and morally excellent ways; and God gives meaning to our work in that God gathers all our efforts on behalf of ourselves and our communities and works through them to create, redeem and consummate the world. Our faith will have a positive difference when God is at work in our work in these four ways” p 36.

 “The impulse to eliminate religion is mistaken also because religions can and often do play and indispensable role in fostering healthy and peaceful social relations” p 39

“Absolute hospitality” seems generous and peaceful, until one remembers that unrepentant perpetrators and their unhealed victims would then have to sit around the same table and share a common home without adequate attention to the violation that has taken place..Hospitality can be absolute only once the world has been made into a world of love in which each person would be hospitable to all. In the world of injustice, deception, and violence, hospitality can be only conditional – even if the will to hospitality and the offer of hospitality remains unconditional.” p 47

“It is neither the character of the Christian faith nor some of its most fundamental convictions are violence inducing. The Christian faith is misused when it is employed to underwrite violence…Christians are manifestly not to gather under the banner of the Rider on the white horse, but to take up their crosses and follow the Crucified…If they were to do otherwise….First, they would illicitly arrogate for themselves what is reserved for God, Second, they would mistakenly transpose the violence from the end time to a time which God explicitly refrains from deploying violence in order to make repentance possible. Finally, they would wrongly transmute a future possibility of violence into a present reality.” p 51

“Properly understood, the Christian faith is neither coercive nor idle. As a prophetic religion, Christian faith will be an active faith, engaged in the world in a non-coercive way – offering blessing to our endeavors, effective comfort in our failures, moral guidance in a complex world, and a framework of meaning for our lives and our activities. To be engaged in the world well, Christians will have to keep one thing at the forefront of their attention: the relationship between God and a vision of human flourishing” p 54

“The challenge facing Christians is ultimately very simple: love God and neighbor rightly so that we may both avoid malfunctions of faith and relate to God positively to human flourishing….today’s most fundamental challenge…to really mean that the presence and activity of the God of love, who can make us love our neighbors as ourselves, is our hope and the hope of the world – that this God is the secret of our flourishing as persons, cultures, and interdependent inhabitants of a single globe.” p 74

“I want to make Christian communities more comfortable with being just one of many players, so that from whatever place they find themselves – on the margins, at the center, or anywhere in between – they can promote human flourishing and the common good.” p. 79

“Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures” p. 81

“If Christian identity matters, then difference must matter as well. In the most general sense, get rid of difference and what remains will be nothing- you yourself, along with everything else, will be drowned in the sea of undifferentiated “stuff”…to erase difference is to undo the creation, that intricate pattern of separations and inter dependencies that God established when the universe was formed out of no-thing. Literally, every-thing depends on difference. .. the gospel is also about difference, after all, it means the good news – something good, something new, and therefore something different!”  p 95

“A central challenge for all religions in a pluralistic world is to help people grow out of their petty hopes so as to live meaningful lives, and to help them resolve their grand conflicts and live in communion with others” p 100

“all our efforts at sharing wisdom should focus on allowing wisdom to shape our own lives – including making us willing to both repent and forgive – and to show itself in all its attractiveness, reasonableness, and usefulness. We need to trust that it will make itself embraceable by others if it is going to be embraced at all. In that way, as sharers of wisdom, we honor both the power of wisdom and the integrity of its potential recipients” p 117

“in relations between religions, both differences and commonalities count. If we see only differences, we will “empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than cooperation” If we see only commonalities, we will either have to conform ourselves to others or they will have to conform to us; most likely, we will distort and dishonor both others and ourselves. Only when we see and respect both – undeniable differences that give communities a peculiar character and commonalities that bind them together – will we be able to honor each and promote the viable coexistence of all” p 140

 

On a recent visit to Honduras, we had the privilege of visiting one of the family impact groups led by the Association for a More Just Society in some of the poorer areas of Tegucigalpa  (http://asjhonduras.com/cms).  When the youth aged 10-15 were asked about what they agreed to as a group, they initiated with the “ideals” of “love” “respect” “unity” “compassion” “honesty”. These young people did not learn this from Sunday school. I had heard many of these words before – including in the seven sacred teachings of our First Nations people in British Columbia, that include, “respect”, “love” “honesty” “humility” “courage” “truth, and “wisdom”. The late Richard Twiss, a North American Indian, said a few years ago, “If the European settlers took a little bit of time to understand who we were, they may have learned something more of God’s character.” (not the exact quote – it comes from a talk at The Justice Conference – Portland)

Honduras picture

These “ideals” are characteristics that are part of God’s character that He created in all of us – in His image.  It reminded my of Genesis 1:27, where we read, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.”  In Honduras last week, we clearly saw the characteristics that come from God being poured out from the mouths of these precious young people.

During our visit to Honduras, we were led in a devotion on Luke 5, when Jesus heals the paralyzed man. Some men had the audacity to vandalize someone’s property, ripping apart their roof so that they could lower a paralyzed person. In response, we read, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Bible doesn’t say anything more about these men, but its not likely that they were sophisticated and upstanding persons, otherwise they would have considered the legal implications of vandalizing someone else’s property. But Jesus saw their faith.  He saw how these people were living out the image of God in them – love, respect, unity, compassion. For them, faith was action.

The men in the Luke 5 story lived out the greatest commandments as we find them in Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this. Love your neighbour as yourself.” They were using their God given “image” to love those around them. In 1 Peter 2:17 we read two important words: “Honor everyone”

It makes me think that we have been given some of the characteristics of God so that we can honor everyone. We are called to draw out and encourage the image of God in each person that we come in contact with.This is part of our mandate as Christians, and its part of ASJ’s mandate. Honor everyone.

 

“When we break out of the bonds of self centeredness, entering into the experiences of other people, we come closer to fulfilling God’s purposes for human beings.” (Richard Mouw, Uncommon Decency)

When we reflect on Christmas, we think more about our community, about peace on earth, about helping those around us. We don’t always do a great job connecting our own ambitions with those of our community or thinking about our communities’ greater good.

There was a great article in the Vancouver Sun a couple of years ago (Dec 17, 2012) (http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Caring+about+inequality/7708249/story.html). This is a letter signed by the 31 signatories of the Interspiritual Center of Vancouver Society – ”leaders in communities of spirit and faith.”

This letter addresses the growing gap between rich and poor – and cites a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). BC has the largest gap between rich and poor, and reflect intentional choices by governments.

“These choices flow from a belief system that holds economic growth as the ultimate value and believes a prosperous business community produces growth that trickles down through society. Unfortunately, as the OECD secretary-general points out, the trickle down of wealth to the rest of society is just not happening.”

“Governments continue to invest public resources in efforts to entice business activity to come or stay here. They provide corporations with infrastructure, tax concessions, subsidies, favourable labour policies, and access to the natural resources of the commons. As corporate incentives expand, funds for targeted benefits and essential services shrink. The resulting re-allocation of public wealth into private wealth has measurable negative effects on equality, wellbeing, natural habitat and economic stability for all of society, and means poverty for those on the lower tiers”

“Instead of focusing on economic growth at any cost, we need to focus on the health and sustainability of our society by bolstering the caring sector and upholding the strengths we need to face the social and environmental challenges ahead. We seek leaders with the vision and courage to share with citizens the work of crafting an effective sharing culture”

I can’t help thinking about Canada. As the price of oil falls, are we going to let our regulations designed to protect the environment and the future of our children slide further in an effort to reduce the costs for the internationally owned companies removing our resources?

I couldn’t help thinking about my discussion with the mayor of a community of 300,000 in the Philippines in 2008. Do we encourage economic development at any cost with the hope that economic benefits may trickle down through society, or do we proudly encourage economic development that protects our natural resources, and the short and long term health of our community?

How can we encourage public engagement to make our communities truly better places to live for all, not just for the privileged?

Let us work to “break out of the bonds of self centeredness, entering into the experiences of other people, we come closer to fulfilling God’s purposes for human beings. And we become more Christlike, since the incarnation (entry of Jesus into our world – Christmas) is the ultimate ministry of empathy.” Richard Mouw, in Uncommon Decency

Many of us react negatively to the word “power”. We conclude that power is limited, and either we have it, or someone else has it – therefore life is all about a struggle for power. In this book, Andy Crouch explains how God created us to have power –  and to use our power to help others flourish. In other words, power is not limited, but can be multiplied if we use the power that God gave us as He intended! This is another book given to me by our daughter – who is in the helping profession in countries where the concept of power is very obviously being misused.

When we misuse power, we are playing god – which is is not what God intended when he created us. Here are some quotations:

“I believe the deepest form of power is creation, and that when power takes the form of coercion and violence, that is actually a diminishment and distortion of what it is meant to be.”

“Power is rooted in creation, the calling of something out of nothing and the fruitful, multiplying abundance of our astonishing world. It is intimately tied to image bearing: the unique role that human beings play in representing the cosmos’s Creator in the midst of creation.”

“Power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be.”

“It is the unique power of human beings to invest our creations with meaning….the more debilitating form of powerlessness is to be cut off from making meaning. There are able bodied people all over the world whose physical capacity to make something is undiminished, but who are denied any opportunity to make their own sense of the world.”

“Because the ability to make something of the world is in a real sense the source of human well being, because true power multiplies capacity and wealth, when any human beings live in entrenched powerlessness, all of us are impoverished.”

“If we have done our job well, at this stage we will have surprisingly little to do because others will be taking up their own creative task. And if they do their task well, the creation will be enriched, more useful, more beautiful and more capacious for further creativity. This is power as it is meant to be.”

“It is the Creator’s desire to fill the earth with representatives who will have the same kind of delighted dominion over the teeming creatures as their maker. Which means image bearing is for flourishing. The image bearers do not exist for their own flourishing alone, but to bring the whole creation to its fulfillment.”

“the loss of image caused by injustice is equally devastating. On the one hand, the image born by the god player ceases to resemble the true Creator God and begins to bear false witness…far worse than this hypertrophied false image, however, is the effacing or even eradication of the image bearing capacities of the poor who cease to believe that they bear any image at all.”

“He [God] hates that the poor, who have infinite value as image bearers in their own right, become devalued and commoditized, pawns in the self-inflating schemes of the god players.” 

“Benevolent god playing happens when we use the needs of the poor to make our own move from good to great – to revel in the superior power of our technology and the moral excellence of our willingness to help. Benevolent god playing makes us, not those we are serving, the heroes of the story.”

“Because we believe every one of our neighbors is an image bearer, however broken their relationship with the One whose image their bear, we will find much common ground for working for justice and freedom.”

“To covet is not just to take; it is to desire – to long for a godlike mastery over parts of creation I have not been given to steward.”

“Most of us…have an absurdly low estimation of the power we have and how many opportunities we have to use it well. And curiously, this blindness afflicts the visibly powerful as often as the seemingly powerless.”

“Coercive power is instant but short-lived, creative power is patient and enduring.”

“Institutions are at the heart of culture making, which means they are at the heart of human flourishing and the comprehensive flourishing of creation that we call shalom.”

“the most basic power in any institution is the power to distribute power. This power is always shared.”

What I knew about Jonathan Edwards came from local evangelical churches that wanted to experience more of God, or of the Holy Spirit. What I did not realize until recently is that he had very strong words to say about a Christian’s responsibility to the poor.

Jonathan Edwards was a pastor of a church in Massachussetts in the early 1700s. He is mostly known in relation to the Awakening, or the Revival of the church in the eastern US at that time. My questions in relation to Christians wanting to “experience more of God”, or “revival” is for what purpose? To me, it would only be more overwhelming to understand more of God’s heart for the many victims of abuse and violence around the world. It turns out that Jonathan Edwards also had strong words for our responsibility to our neighbours.

In his book, “Generous Justice”, Timothy Keller brings up this sermon given by Jonathan Edwards in March of 1732. The verses in the Bible that he introduces his message is from Deuteronomy 15: 7-11, specifically verse 7 “If there is any poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward your poor brother.”  We have to remember the context of this passage. God had promised the best piece of real estate in the cross roads of the then known world to the people of Israel. All the nations around Israel would be traveling through Israel on the various trading routes of the time. God wanted his people to be an example to all the nations.

Here are some quotes from Jonathan Edward’s sermon on “The Duty of Charity to the Poor”

“Tis the most absolute and indispensible duty of a people of God to give bountifully and willingly for the supply of the wants of the needy”

“Men are exceedingly apt to make objections against such duties,..God said…beware that you have not one objecting thought against it, arising from a backwardness to liberality.”

“Jesus said in Matt 26:11, “the poor you always have with you”. This is to cut off the excuse that uncharitable persons would be ready to make for not giving, that they could non find nobody to give to, that they saw none who needed.”

“We are commanded, therefore, to give our poor neighbour what is sufficient for his need.”

“This is a duty to which God’s people are under very strict obligation. It is not merely a commendable thing for a man to be kind and bountiful to the poor, but our bounden duty, as much a duty as it is to pray, or to attend public worship,….And the neglect of it brings great guilt upon any person.”

“we should love our neighbours as ourselves; for men are made in the image of God, and on this account are worthy of our love…we have the same nature,…like desires of good, like needs, like aversion to misery,…”

“consider how much God hath done for us, how greatly he hath loved us, what he hath given us, when we were so unworthy, and when he could have no addition to his happiness by us.”

“What would become of us, if Christ…had been as ready to excuse himself from dying for us, as men commonly are to excuse themselves from charity to their neighbour?”

“Your money and your goods are not your own. They are only committed to you as stewards, to be used for him who committed them to you.”

“Many persons are ready to look upon what is bestowed for charitable uses as lost. But we ought not to look upon it as lost, because it benefits those who we ought to love as ourselves.”

“It is easy with God to make up to men what they give in charity. Many but little consider how their prosperity or ill success in their outward affairs depends on Providence…how easy is it with God to increase their substance, by suitable seasons, or by health and strength, by giving them fair opportunities for promoting their interest in their dealings with men,…”

“Consider what a shifting, changing, uncertain world you live in, and how often it hath so happened, that men have been reduced from the greatest prosperity to the greatest adversity, and how often the children of the rich have been reduced to pinching want.”

“If providence should so order it, that you or your children should be brought into the same circumstances, would you make light of them (the poor) then? Would you not think that your case was such that needed the kindness of your neighbours? Would you not think that they ought to be ready to help you?”

“Giving to the needy is like laying up against winter, or against a time of calamity. It is the best way of laying up for yourselves, and for your children.”

“Showing mercy to the poor does as much belong to the appointed way of seeking salvation, as any other duty whatever.”

 “If you expected to meet with no trouble in the world, because you gave to the poor, you mistook the matter. Though there be many and great promises made to the liberal, yet God has nowhere promised, that they shall not find this world a world of trouble.”

“How can you tell what blessings God hath yet in reserve for you if you do but continue in well doing?”

“Some may object against charity in that they are not obliged to give them anything, for though they be needy, they are not in extremity….this is not agreeable to the rule of loving our neighbour as ourselves. That rule implies that our love towards our neighbour should work in the same manner, and express itself in the same ways, as our love towards ourselves.”

“Some may object against charity..because he is an ill sort of person. He deserves not that people should be kind to him. He is of an ill temper, of an ungrateful spirit and particularly because he hath not deserved well of them, but has treated them ill, has ben injurious to them, and even now entertains an ill spirit against them……. we are obliged to the rules of God’s word… that of loving our neighbour as ourselves….we are commanded to love one another as Christ hath loved us.”

“Christ denied himself to help us, though we are not able to recompense him, so should we be willing to layout ourselves to help our neighbour, freely expecting nothing again.”

“Christ loved us, was kind to us, and was willing to relieve us, though we were very evil and hateful, of an evil disposition, not deserving any good, but deserving only to be hated and treated with indignation, so we should be willing to be kind to those who are of an ill disposition, and are very undeserving”

“We are particularly required to be kind to the unthankful and to the evil. We are obliged, not only to be kind to them that are so to us, but to them that hate, and that despitefully use us.”

“Some may object concerning a particular person that they do not certainly know whether he be an object of charity or not….they know not whether he be in want as he pretends, or if they know this, they know not how he came to be in want, whether it were not by his own idleness, or prodigality….we are commanded to be kind to strangers whom we know not, nor their circumstances”

“Some may say they are not obliged to give to the poor till they ask…..we shall do them a greater kindness by inquiring into their circumstances, and relieving them, without putting them upon begging.”

“If they are come to want by a vicious idleness and prodigality, yet we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices…If they continue not in those vices, the rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them. If we do otherwise, we shall act in a manner very contrary to the rule of loving one another as Christ has loved us.”

“He has brought himself to want by his own fault – in reply, it must be consider what you mean by his fault. If you mean a want of a natural faculty to manage affairs to advantage, that is to be considered as his calamity. Such a faculty is a gift that God bestows on some, and not on others…you ought to be thankful that God hath given you such a gift, which he hath denied to the person in question. And it will be a very suitable way for you to show your thankfulness, and help those to who that gift is denied, and let them share the benefit of it with you.”

“the law makes provision for the poor, and obliges the respective towns in which they live to provide for them…..I do not suppose that it was ever the design of the law, requiring the various towns to support their own poor, to cut off all occasion for Christian charity”

Jonathan Edwards makes very strong statements about our obligation to the poor. It makes us think about our own community, and our own personal involvement in Circles of Care. Does our obligation to help the poor mean that help can be demanded of us by the poor? What does mutual respect and dignity mean for us in our community? How can we work to build a community that we all can be proud of?

 

Do we have a tendency to neglect the rights of others by imposing paternal benevolence, where it is accepted that a certain segment of the population can choose what is best for others? The book entitled “Journey Toward Justice, Personal Encounters with the Global South”, by Nicholas Wolterstorff is a fascinating unfolding of human rights and our responsibility to all persons because of their dignity and worth.

“the twentieth century was filled with regimes that believed it was acceptable to treat some people like animals or worse if doing so would bring about the good society for others”

“Rights are grounded in the worth, the value, the dignity of human beings”

“Understanding what rights are requires distinguishing between how well or poorly a person’s life is going – his well being – and, on the other hand, the worth or value of that person himself.”

“Justice is important because justice is based on rights, and rights are grounded in one’s self worth, and being treated by one’s fellows as befits one’s worth is important.”

“there is a normative social bond between you and me whereby you bear legitimate claims on me as to how I treat you, and whereby I bear legitimate claims on you as to how you treat me…the language of rights is for bringing this reality to speech” 

Where did this notion of rights come from? Wolterstorff mentioned that there is a difference between objective rights and subjective rights, where objective rights specifies the right thing to do in various situations, whereas subjective rights specifies rights that individuals have or possess. Wolterstorff suggests that the notion of rights (the right thing to do – or justice) came from the Bible, first in the Old Testament, but then carried on in the New Testament.

“Christian scripture speaks often and emphatically about justice. I would have heard and read many of the passages about justice; in singing the Psalms I would have sung about justice. But it all passed me by. Nobody called it to my attention; nothing in my situation made it jump out.”

“Though Christian scripture speaks often about justice, it neither gives a definition nor offers a theory of justice. It assumes that we know well enough what justice is. What it does do, over and over, is enjoin its readers to act justly and to right injustice. It enjoins them to do so out of a love for justice. It sets those imperatives within a theological context that explains whey we should love justice, whey we should right injustice, and how we should understand what we are doing when we act justly and right injustice.”

“Firstly, the reference of the biblical writers to justice is never in the context of an abstract discourse on the nature of justice but alwasy in the context of the injuction to do justice and to right injustice”

“Secondly, when we seek to do justice and to right injustice in our actual fallen societies, we have to set priorities. Nobody can do justice to everybody, nobody can right all injustice.”

“Third, powerful and wealthy people…too are the victims of injustice – the victims of episodes of injustice. But compare that to the situation of the widows, the orphans, and the impoverished in old Israel. Their daily condition was unjust, or highly vulnerable to being unjust….their daily condition was systemically unjust.”

“If one is seeking to do justice and right injustice, one will not ignore episodic injustices, but one will give priority to systemic injustice. On will give priority to the fate of those whose daily condition is unjust.”

Wolterstorff draws special attention to the New Testament, because as he says, the New Testament is all about love and grace, not justice….

“One line of thought holds that though its true that God continues to love justice and to have a special concern for the vulnerable, it is not your and my business to seek to reform those social structures that oppress people, nor is is your and my business to press government to bring wrongdoers to justice. Change in oppressive and corrupt social structures can happen only if those who inhabit these structures have a change of heart…the New Testament instructs us to seek changed hearts”

Wolterstorff observed that English translations of the New Testament use the word “righteous”, whereas the Greek implied acting “justly”, or “justice”- doing the right thing, which is much different than many interpretations of righteous.

“In present day religious talk by Christians, righteousness has come to mean being right with God, this being understood as a matter of the inner self. Being right with God in one’s inner self does, of course, have consequences for how one treats one’s fellows. But righteousness as such is understood as a matter of the heart”

“If we act justly, if we do the right thing, then justice in our relationships will be the result. Justice in our relationships results from our acting justly; it results from our doing the right thing”

“Treating one’s neighbour justly is cited as an example of loving one’s neighbour. Just action is an example of love. The love that Jesus enjoins on us for our neighbours is not to be understood as sheer gratuitous benevolence that pays no attention to what justice requires.”

“the love that Jesus attributes to God and enjoins on us…seeks to advance the good of the other. The good of the other (and of oneselft) has two dimensions: the dimension of the well-being of the other, and the dimension of respect for the worth of the other. Love attends to both dimensions – not just to the former.”

Wolterstorff ties the concept of justice and rights with the Biblical word “shalom”

“In most English translations of the Bible, the Hebrew word “shalom” is translated as “peace”. And shalom does indeed require peace…but shalom goes beyond peace…a nation may be at peace and yet be miserable in its poverty. Shalom is not just peace, but “flourishing”, flourishing in all dimensions of our existence – in our relation to God, in our relation to our fellow human beings, in our relation to ourselves, in our relation to creation in general.”

“To be human is to be a creature who is treated with disrespect if she is deprived of education. To be human is to be a creature who is treated with disrespect if she is deprived of education. To be human is to be a creature who is treated with disrespect if she is not allowed, to a considerable extent, to set her own course of life rather than have someone else set it for her. And to be human is to be a creature who is treated with disrespect if she is forced to live in aesthetic squalor. When social arrangements force some of our fellow human beings to live in poverty, those human beings are wronged, treated unjustly”

Lastly, we have to think about why bother – why is this important – how do we have hope?

“Christian hope for the righting of injustice is not an optimism grounded in the potentials of creation, but hope grounded in the promise that Christ will bring about his just and holy kingdom. That hope is to take the form, in part, of our participation in Christ’s cause by ourselves working for the righting of injustice. But then we learn that God moves in mysterious ways, sometimes bringing our best efforts to naught, sometimes wrestling liberation out of appalling oppression.”

In the end, its an explanation of the Biblical call to “love your neighbour as yourself”, and our response as per Psalm 23 – “he (God) leads me in paths of righteousness (a definition that includes justice) for his namesake…