Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Politics of Jesus

I finished the above titled book by John Howard Yoder over a week ago and it has been one of the best reads in a long time. I would have to rate it up there with "The New Testament and the People of God" by N. T. Wright as one of the few great books in my life. "The Politics of Jesus" did not challenge as much paradigm restructuring as with Wright's book, since I was already familiar with most of Yoder's arguments, but it certainly helped clarify and unify a lot of the ideas that have been forming in my mind the past several years.

The book is composed of several essays, some of which could almost stand alone, but if I could sum up the essence of this work in one sentence, I would have to say that the underlying theme was that we must read the New Testament, and particularly the Gospels, with the recognition that Jesus ministry was very political in nature, and the ethic that he preached was not intended to be followed in a pious, individual sense, but as the written constitution of a brand new human social institution-the new humanity of the new creation order, the kingdom of God. The utter impracticality of this Way is precisely why the cross is such a stumbling block. And the church has historically under-emphasized the radical bits of Jesus' social ethic in favor of a system of law and order based upon "nature".

By "nature" I mean an approach to social ethics that may or may not be heavily founded upon biblical "principles" or even direct commandments (The Decalogue is a prime example.) The contrast with the politics of Jesus lies in the choice of whether to exercise one's sway in the various echelons of society, for good or for ill, or to deliberately pursue subordination, humiliation, and social imbecility.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wow, it has been a long time since I've written. Lent is drawing to a close with Holy Week beginning this Sunday. I have been reading and reflecting on a lot of things, and been busy with my family and garden. I have continued to think about our consumption of goods and what implications those may have, but this thought process always leaves me with more irking questions than I started out with.

Here are the two biggies:
1. Where does the buck stop? Am I, the consumer, morally responsible for the working conditions and wage of the producer, or is that something solely between the employer and employee?

2. Am I, the consumer, responsible for the pollution and waste caused by the manufacturing process? Global warming aside, there still seems to be a lot of unhealthy air to breathe, water to drink and land to live on because of toxic industrial practices.

Now that I've got them written down, I think I'll have a shot at answering them. First of all, no, I don't think we bear any guilt as consumers. It is not a sin to buy or not to buy. I am not responsible for the actions of miserly corporate policy makers. However, I can make a positive difference, perhaps, in not buying from those whose practices are less than desirable. It is a choice, then, not between good and evil, but between what is acceptable and what is better. In fact, it's a whole lot more fun to see how much less I can consume when the guilt part is taken out of the equation. We live in a culture where it is common to make accusations, point fingers and blame. But this does little to improve our situation. It either causes people to get on the defensive and spend more, or gives people a false sense of righteousness when they "go green" and buy "fair trade". I suggest a third way- lay off the guilt tripping and let's see how far we can go fueled simply on our love for humanity and the rest of creation.