Category Archives: Violence

The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land, and Culture in Mexico

Within our indigenous community of Xoxocotla, we continue to hold the ancestral values we inherited. It never crosses our mind to leave them behind. Because in daily life we are always in contact with nature, with our lands, with our water, with our air. We live in harmony with nature because we dont like the way that modernity is advancing, destroying our territory and our environment. We believe technological modernity is better named a death threat.We still watch our children chase the butterflies and the birds. We see the harmony between the crops and the land. Above all, we respect our water and we continue to perform ceremonies that give thanks for the water.

via The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land, and Culture in Mexico.

The Myth of Scarcity and Conclusion

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

We have successfully segregated many disciplines and fields of study from each other. One of the most glaring cases of this is the division between environmentalism and economics. Politicians of various stripes can often be heard claiming that protecting the environment will cost jobs and hurt the economy. Those who argue for environmental regulation also buy into this myth by trying to argue that it will not hurt jobs, but potentially fuel a green technology revolution spurring economic growth. Both sides continue to base their arguments on the unquestioned belief in the necessity of economic growth. E.F. Schumacher explains this well,

“From an economic point of view, the central concept of wisdom is permanence… Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. There can be ‘growth’ towards a limited objective, but there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth…The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom.”[1]

“The cultivation and expansion of needs” is at the very heart of our consumer economy. Advertisers and marketers are paid large sums of money in order to convince us that we “need” the products of the companies they represent. The problem of sustainability can be summed up as the modern confusion of the difference between “needs” and “wants.” Continue reading

The Myth of Technological Salvation

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

If agriculture had been the only discovery that attempted to “free” us from nature, we as a species would have quickly run into the same problem as any other species which overruns its ecosystem. We would have destroyed the very things upon which we depend. More likely, we would have been forced to find a balance between the agriculture required to support settled human populations and the needs of the ecosystem to maintain wild game, domesticated livestock, topsoil and fertility.

What made it possible to temporarily overcome the limitations of ecosystems once more was the discovery of abundant hydrocarbons in the form of fossil fuels. This discovery mad possible innovations which powered automobiles and factories. Today the fingerprints of oil are everywhere. If a product has plastic in it, it is dependent on oil. The electricity that power our light bulbs and devices as well as what drives our vehicles, transports our products and mows our lawn are dependent on oil. Oil permeates our modern life. The process to create petroleum takes millions of years, yet our consumption of fossil fuels continues at a rate well beyond any possibility for renewal. The use of fossil fuels as the primary source of energy which makes our current global civilization possible is the very definition of unsustainable. Continue reading

The Myth of Control

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

One of the things that distinguishes homo sapiens from other species is the degree to which we are able to manipulate our environment. Other species also manipulate their environment. Beavers build dams. Birds build nests. However, beavers and birds are not capable of destroying the ecosystem on which they depend. There are cases where a species overruns their ecosystem. For example, when natural predators are absent a species might become overpopulated and eventually deplete their food source. The difference is that in the case of non-human species they quickly find themselves subject to the laws which govern ecosystems and face disastrous results with massive die-offs and possibly extinction. In other words, non-human species have a limited ability to manipulate their environment and generally are subject to the restraints that make healthy ecosystems function properly with give and take between species and a balance between predator and prey, plants, fungi, animals, bacteria, etc. Continue reading

Wading Into the Pond

The previous post discussed an ethical dilemma presented by Peter Singer concerning the choice between saving some fancy shoes or a drowning child in a shallow pond. The conclusion was that charity is the best we can do within the given social structures, but that justice requires counter-cultural living. The way of following Jesus is not charity, but justice. It requires a radical reorientation of our lives away from token charity to a new kind of Jubilee economics.

So, the question is how to incorporate these ideas into our daily lives. This is really the question with which I wrestle. Singer’s shallow pond dilemma is really more like the dilemma of two oceans and our ever more insular lifestyle. How do we make ourselves aware of how we spend our resources and the choices we make about what to buy? How do we recognize in our daily lives the impact of the choices we make? Finally, how do we attempt to live out something more than charity, embodying something “counter to the ethics of the culture” we’re in?

The Definition of Insanity
The oft quoted saying that, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results” has been attributed to Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Confucius, but more likely came from Narcotics Anonymous literature. If anyone, the addicts would know the truth of this saying. Likewise continuing to try and live counter-culturally as isolated individuals will not work.

The first thing we need to realize is that we cannot do it alone. To try and do it alone as an individual consumer is to continue within the same framework. Our awareness of the reality of the situation is muted by our own isolation from all the other individual consumers with whom we share the world. So, we must find particular people who are willing to walk this road with us. It is the particulars of our shared lives that shed light on our own inconsistencies and inadequacies. These are vulnerable relationships based on trust and shared values. These are the relationships many of us are lacking in North American culture.

We need to break out of our isolation, but we need more than just a book club. Waco just started a time exchange where people can exchange time and skills with each other rather than currency. Tool sharing is another way to build up community as the solution rather than individual consumption. Anything that you can do with other people that promotes community and shares resources moves us beyond the parameters of consumerism.

The Second Rule of Consumerism is… Do NOT Talk About Consumerism
The second thing we need to do is learn how to talk about our finances openly and honestly with others. We have all sorts of justifications built into our lives for the way we live. We have to make ourselves vulnerable to critiques of the choices we make. The prophetic strain of the biblical narrative calls into question anything, any structure, choice or lifestyle, that is complicit or participates in the oppression, exclusion and marginalization of those who bear the image of God as well as the exploitation and domination of God’s creation. Shedding light on those realities in our lives requires the aforementioned relationships of trust, honesty and vulnerability.

One attempt to shed light on our own participation in these systems of domination that I read recently involved agreeing to a corporate tax based on the grades of the corporations from whom we purchase goods and services (A practical, creative tax for a better world).

This “holy excise tax” is designed to 1) disincentivize our demand for unneeded cheap consumer goods and services (mostly bought from companies that grow profit for investors by hiding real costs); and 2) raise revenue to give to organizations that care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

We are using the Better World Shopping Guide, which gives companies from a large variety of categories a grade from A to F, depending on the social consciousness of their business practices, considering human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. Companies rated B have a 10-cent tax on each receipt, while companies rated C, D and F get a 25-cent tax. In addition, the guide has a list of the top 20 corporate villains, including Exxon Mobil, Walmart, Verizon, Kraft, Nestle and Bank of America. We pay 50 cents each time we support these socio-economic goliaths.

This is just one example of a creative attempt to help reveal the realities hidden in our credit card statements. There are others as well. No matter how you try to learn to talk about our hidden financial realities this last point is essential to making it successful and healthy.

Misery Loves Company
The last thing that I think the church has uniquely to offer in this area is a theology of grace and love alongside the prophetic. Some Christians that have tried to radically live out biblical economics through a common purse or other methods have found themselves right back in the waters of domination and oppression as they create new forms of legalism and oppression. So, recognizing that none of us is completely able to live somehow outside the system is essential.

The goal is not in fact to live outside the system. In order to live counter-culturally you have to continue struggling from within the dominant culture. I have lived and worked closely with Christians that have a long history of attempting to live outside the system in isolated colonies. The unspoken reality is that they are much more a part of the world than they would ever admit, because they interact daily with people outside the colony and are the primary economic drivers in the region.

The question then is not “How do extricate myself from the systems of domination?” but instead “How do I begin to organize my life with others such that our existence challenges the status quo both within ourselves and the broader culture?” It is only as members of the culture and web of domination that we pose a threat or challenge to the system. (Why are the relatively small numbers of people involved in Occupy protests across the country such a threat to the Powers that they are willing to spend inordinate amounts of money to have the police and authorities attempt to forcibly remove them?)

This means that there is no one righteous, no not one. No one is able to say that they are embodying the reality we hope for. What we need is a confessing movement. Then we can take steps together to live out this new way of living that we have glimpsed in Jesus, not out of self-righteousness or guilt, but in the grace and love of the Prince of Shalom.