Thursday, September 25, 2008

the "bad apple" theory strikes again

I am astonished, in the midst of the "US sub-prime mortgage crisis," "US credit crunch," "global financial crisis," etc, that the trusty old "bad apple" theory is being trotted out again... you know, it's not really a problem with the whole economic system, but it's the greed of those Wall Street bankers that have gotten us all into this mess...

Now, of course, there is more and more economic analysis in "mainstream" publications and newscasts that have been pointing out the broader realities of people spending more than they are earning, of unsustainable levels of indebtedness, of habitually "living beyond our means"... and there has even been a growing body of writing in "mainstream" sources daring to state the obvious - that our way of life in North America is unsustainable and needs to change dramatically (and in fact will change, whether we like it or not).

So it's rather discouraging to hear the same old stuff about the need to investigate potential "abuses" and "fraud" in the system... not that such things don't exist, of course... as if weeding out some "bad apples" (along with the mother-of-all-bailouts) will enable the system and "the rest of us" to continue on our merry way and spend, spend, spend...

I find myself asking what it's going to take for us to finally realize that, as so many voices have been saying for such an awfully long time, "the emperor has no clothes." How long are we going to keep watching the parade go by, pretending to ourselves and to each other that the emperor is finely dressed when we know that it just ain't so?

And what is it going to take for the Christian church worldwide - not just a few subcultures here and there, but the worldwide body of Christ - to understand and live its vocation not as a kind of chaplain providing religious goods and services and a thin veneer of justification to an unjust and unsustainable economic world order, but as an alternative community that lives and embodies and demonstrates a different way of living, including a different way of structuring economic assumptions and relationships...

Following the lectionary, I've been reading Exodus again... and struck, yet again, by the stark contrast between the economics of the Pharaoh (whose reply to an increasingly obvious unsustainable situation is "more of the same" - make the same amount of bricks, but now find your own straw) and the economic "desert curriculum" that God uses to try to train an alternative community (... quails in the evening, manna in the morning, just enough and not too much, hoarding results in spoilage, sabbath-keeping for the people and the land...).

I'm not saying it's easy - the "desert curriculum" never is - but isn't it time we realized that we're "in the desert" and that "more of the same" (just as many bricks, but now without the straw) isn't going to cut it anymore?

As long time readers of this blog know, these are issues I've been wrestling with for a long time (the current news makes me think of this blog post from a while back), and I've spent a lot of time working at what the implications might be for my own life and ministry (see the string of posts under the "sustainability and music" and "community supported music" labels). My latest CD reflects some of my own struggles with this, and is an attempt to articulate - and to help us to sing - an alternative economic vision more in line with biblical teaching and God's intentions for the planet.

Will the current "crisis" help to force us to take a good hard look at our own lives and economic assumptions and practices? Are we prepared to embrace our vocation to embody God's alternative economics?

Or do we just want to "throw the bums out," find some more "bad apples" to put in jail, and continue on our merry way?


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