Sadly, I’m going to need to do something I’ve never done before on Cerulean Sanctum: bail on a series mid-stream.
Due to scheduling conflicts, I won’t be able to complete my extended look at Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. I will need to step away from blogging for a few days to attend to other things. My sincerest apologies to all my readers.
There is, however, some good news. Caleb Stegall at The American Conservative wrote an excellent review of Deep Economy that covered many of my points, save for the analysis of how the Church in America fits into the picture. After reading Stegall’s commentary, regular readers will probably surmise what I was going to say anyway. In fact, if you readers would like to step in and provide the commentary for Stegall’s analysis, you’ll do as noble a job as I would have done (if I were noble and had the time to do the rest of the review justice).
Thanks for staying with Cerulean Sanctum and for understanding.
10 thoughts on “Regrets for Deep Economy…”
Man, I must’ve truly disappointed people. Very sorry. 🙁
I wonder if people understand how pivotal the issue of economics is to the Christian walk? “Where your treasure is” fills a huge part of the life of us humans, and in America, where the treasure of most resides in the paycheck and credit card bills, life with Christ is often overshadowed by the so-called “reality” of how we spend our money.
The other day, while taking my wife to find a decent pair of glasses that don’t cost the moon, I pondered the idea of local economies where you got the things you need from people in the community around you. As a result, people in every community would have skill sets that haven’t existed in over a century. You want furniture, you get it from the guy who makes it. You want shoes, you visit the cobbler, and if you want vegetables for dinner, you go into your back yard and pick them, or visit the neighbor who has what you don’t. The reason we don’t do these things is due to economic concepts of growth, efficiency and progress that have created the world we live in today, where it is more efficient to send strawberries from California to Florida than it is to just get them locally.
Everyone agrees that it is more efficient to have 500 people churn out thousands of pairs of shoes and ship them all over creation than it is for a family to produce shoes for a small community. But is it better?
At the root of this question is the incredible complexity of our daily decision-making processes. We have available to us, and pushed at us, an immense variety of goods. They exist because of economies of scale that Adam Smith never dreamed of. Because they can exist, they must be sold. And here is the catch…They needn’t exist. The only reason there are thousands varieties of shoes is because it is possible to produce and market thousands of varieties of shoes. Need does not enter the picture. Want doesn’t even enter the picture. Advertising exists to create want. The urge for more wealth is what fuels consumerism. The tragic result is the concurrent increase in the pressure to meet personal desires because it is by stroking those desires that marketers expand their markets.
Christians should not, cannot, must not become involved in the trap of consumerism, simply because it is the worship of something other than God. Consumerism is the worship of our personal desire to have. There is no room in our hearts for both God and Adidas, Lexus, HP, McDonalds, and TiVo. Christians must choose between one or the other: Me and my desires, or God and His desires. In this day and age, it is an economic decision, between the economy of this world and all it provides, and the economy of the Kingdom, and all God provides.
(blushing in shame)
Dan, I think it’s just that most of us in your reading audience are over-challenged by the standard.
We’re just struggling with the whole idea of doing more with less; with living a tiny bit greener; with the very concept of kenosis.
Don’t give up on us.
Come back and persuade us of the ultimate godliness of stewardship.
Amen. Dan, your blog is fantastic. Take your time and then please pick this up when your life allows.
When it comes to blogs, you da man.
Well, heck, I’ll have a go…
The point at which any exposition on any kind of future stumbles is when it comes to individual action. As Harry Seldon of Asimov’s Foundation series postulated, only the actions of large numbers of people can be calculated, individual actions have far too many variables. Or, to be even more philosophical, we can quote K from “Men in Black”:
Stegall, in his critique of “Deep Economy” cites the primary weakness of McKibben as being an inability to counter the arguement that even people in the depths of consumerist gluttony will still consider themselves happy, even if they could be happier with less. Like Steve Martins “The Jerk”, he only needs one more thing, and then he’ll go.
As a Christian, it should be obvious to me that the desire to consume more, have more, be more, is the same compulsion that moved Eve to pluck the apple from the tree. The blind acceptance of my state is the same denial of compunction that moved Adam to accept the apple from Eve.
But it’s not.
Or perhaps I should say, every ounce of my human will seeks to turn me away from seeking to have the same attitude that was in Christ. What I have instead is a world that seeks to divert my attention away from Christ and His attitude of emptying Himself. The world is full of wonders and goodies that will fill my mind, empty my pockets, and most of all, consume me with thoughts of myself. Anything but thoughts of those things which are honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, any excellence and anything worthy of praise.
From an economic perspective, it doesn’t seem like the actions of a few could amount to a hill of coffee beans. But Christianity is not about measurements, it’s about obedience. I think where McKibben perhaps faltered, at least, according to Stegall, is at that point of becoming too scientific about measurements. As though somehow peace could be arrived at by formula. “Simply give the things on this list up, and you too can be happy” is an all too familiar materialization of human rationalization. Happiness is not arrived at by denial, but by acceptance. We do not achieve happiness, we are given happiness. There is no action that I can make in my own strength that will make me or anyone around me happier.
I know, I know, “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” And I won’t go against the word of Christ; We must deny the old man, and fall into grace and put on the new man. But let’s focus on the meaning of deny: “to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.” This is an act of omission more than anything else. Like a snake shedding its skin, we leave it behind as something no longer needed. Once we bury our intentions in rules, the battle is lost. Or as someone once said: “If you have to make a law, then it’s already too late.” Making Christian action a “do not” list brings us back to Moses and the broken tablets. The entire history of human existance is a decidedly unhappy stuggle against; God, rules, authority, mothers, fathers, one another.
So what then?
Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”Did you catch that? “The God of peace will be with you.” That sounds like happiness to me. The actions we are called to undertake are not a list of “don’ts”, and not even a list of “do’s” It’s more like a list of “be’s”. We are called not to merely to do these things, we are to be these things.
This is where I believe Stegall fails in his views is the issue of social power and freedom. There is, underlying any movement, a desire for change that becomes so fierce that people seek more that mere compelling argument and move instead to force. This the Christian is never called to do. (Even in the end, unbelievers will not be forced to worship God, they will do so out of the realization of Who His Is. Being seperated from Him at the point of acceptance will indeed be Hell.) We are called to lead by example, as Paul called the Philipians to do, first exemplifiying Christ and His example of “kenosis” and then his own example. Any social power the Church has is one of clear example, not one of pressure to conform. Freedom or lack of it, as measured by Stegall, becomes something endowed by the actions or inaction of the community, and not something that Christians (and only Christians) have intrinsic in our relationship with Christ. As Christians, we alone have the power to transform lives, not because of who we are, but because of Who resides in us and lives through us.
Unfortunately, and this brings us back to the beginning of this missive, the people of Christ, the Christians, are conformed to the things of this world, following the example of Wal-Mart, and not that of Christ. The answer, however, is not simply to stop being consumers, but to take a good hard look at ourselves and question why we are doing what we are doing. Why do we live in the home we do? Why do we drive the car we do? Why do we eat the things we do? Why do we work in the job we do?
If we are honest with ourselves, then we will discover that the answers are motivated by fears, unease, and concern for our future. We are haunted by the “concerns of this world.”
It is not peace.
It is not “happiness”.
The Bible: “Those who loose their life will find it”. I think McKibben points out that what we are chasing after is material things to make us happier (and doing plenty of damage to the world at the same time).
Excellent commentary, David!
I would add this:
I think Peter’s confession at the end of that passage is one of the greatest commentaries on our times than perhaps any other passage in the Bible.
To eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood asks something unnaturally deep of us. But unless we do so, we cannot have life within us. The result is that most of us turn away and do not truly follow Him. We say we do, but we don’t. Instead, we adopt a form of godliness that has no power, no life, no redemption.
To Peter’s question, we go any place we can that avoids having to deal with the person of Christ, the One poured out for our sins and for our redemption. Instead, we find what we believe to be true life in baubles and trinkets. And because those cannot satisfy, we only crave more of them.
I’ve been reading Tozer’s book, I Talk Back to the Devil, and he makes much of the wholly surrendered life that is satisfied with Christ alone. To Peter’s question, nothing satisfies but Christ, yet because we fail to press in to where Christ dwells, we do not find Him. Then we go away and say that He is not there. Or we find the hem of his garment and come away saying that all there is, substituting the world for apprehending Christ’s fullness.
The one who has Christ needs little else. That one has rested from acquiring more. That one stands in stark contrast to the rest of mankind, the jostling horde that screams for More and will not be happy until all of More is plumbed.
This is why I’m so concerned for my fellow American Christians. We seem to have no concept that Christ is all we need, no idea that More only damages that relationship, no understanding of the profligacy that results when we let the world satisfy that part of us Christ alone can fill. And when someone talks that way, they’re a crackpot countercultural revolutionary. In our country, that’s tantamount to treasonous thinking. That’s what unlimited growth has done to our souls; it’s made black white and white black.
I think, more than any program or function, Christians need to stop trying so hard to be Christians. Life in Christ is not about effort, it’s about surrender. As one of my father’s first students told him: “Meester Riggins, you try too hard.”
The Christian who accepts the salvation but not Lordship of Christ will constantly be returning to the well, never satisfied because they have not surrendered. There is no bible study, no worship service, no book, that will satisfy the desire the be fed and nourished until Christ is our food and drink. Once He is, there is literally no where else to go, no one else who satisfies.
David, Dan, and others,
In regard to encouraging a local economy, have you looked into the idea of local currency? Here’s part of an article I wrote for In Business back in 1998:
“[…]As production for World War II and President Franklin Roosevelt’s work programs helped get the national economy back on its feet, local money faded away. But the last few years have seen a resurgence in local currencies, which are being used to keep money in the community and out of mall-based chain retail stores that decimate downtowns and force longtime merchants out of business. Local currencies affirm the value of labor among everyone in the community and reaffirm connections frayed in a mobile, increasingly impersonal society.
“The current revival is coming out of a sense of alienation with the global economy,” says Susan Witt, executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society and editor of its Local Currency News publication. “Scrip is deliberately limiting choices to local sources. It’s also limiting choices to people you know, people you have a face-to-face relationship with — those you see at PTA and Board of Selectmen meetings or at work. A yearning for connectedness is behind this revival.”
The resurgence of local money flies in the face of global trends such as the consolidation of national currencies into one unit in the European Union. “Europe is catching up to the U.S., where the monetary destinies of hundreds of millions are controlled by fewer and fewer authorities,” notes Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca HOURS, the local currency of Ithaca, New York. “When decisions are made by people far away with different priorities, many local economies become vulnerable. Farmers in this country, for example, have long understood that money moves from rural areas to major money centers — with deadly effect. Local and regional money can revive deflated, discarded economies, both rural and urban.”
The standardized products generated by multinational production hurt local economics and reduce people’s sense of connection with a community, says Witt. “So many of our goods now are cookie cutter goods,” she explains. “We don’t know the story behind them. We don’t know what our money is doing — it could be invested in wheelbarrows in Brazil or paper chips in North Carolina or a shoe factory in Taiwan using toxic materials and harming workers. When you buy a local product, chances are you know the person who made it. If it’s a wooden table or chair, you might even recognize the forest it came from. There’s a sense of wholeness, of connection.”
Like U.S. dollars, local currencies are a legal form of taxable income. The Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service have no prohibitions on local currencies, as long as their value is fixed to the U.S. dollar, the minimum denomination is worth at least $1, and the bills do not look like federal money.
I posted this link a month or so ago, but it was at the end of discussion that was wrapping up:
I’m interested in your thoughts.
I finished the book and didn’t really like it all that much. Made a few comments about it at my place. I believe the author’s basis was fear and not faith. I did get his point (and yours) about community and whole heartedly agree. And we are responsible to take care of the earth – it is our stewardship.
Just a few thoughts. My mind hasn’t fully settled on what hung me up about this book.