Monday, March 02, 2009

"Redistribution of wealth" - who me?

Getting my doors blown off by yet another great book.
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.
Don't even think about reading this book if you aren't ready to get rocked back on your heels with his stories and challenges about wealth and redistribution, poverty and homelessness, love and service, war and violence, Iraq and Mother Teresa. If you like the way you live and don't want to make any changes that might affect your family, your community, and the world, then DO NOT read this book. In fact, don't even read the rest of this post.

If, however, you choose to read this post, do not, I repeat, do not write to me and tell me that he's just a rebel or misguided somehow or unpatriotic or not a Christian. Don't write to me and tell me that I am a communist or marxist and recommend that I make my way to Cuba to join the revolution. Please! I beg you, don't get angry at me. Remember that you have been warned. You can turn away now.

Still reading? Then check out a couple of quotes that have sent me to my knees and to the local Crisis Assistance Ministry organization with bags and bags of stuff that we don't need and won't miss - shame on us!

* It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor so we don't feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their houses. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations and never have to open up our homes, our beds, our dinner tables. (page 158)

* (Speaking of faith-based nonprofit initiatives) The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves tranformed. No radical new community is formed. (page 159)

* There are many progressive liberals who have taught me that we can live lives of disciplined simplicity and still be distant from the poor. We can eat organic, have a common pool of money, and still be enslaved to Mammon (the personification of the money god that Jesus named in the Gospels.) Rather than being bound up by how much stuff we need to buy, we can get enslaved to how simply we must live. (page 162)

* Simplicity is meaningful only inasmuch as it is grounded in love, authentic relationships, and interdependence. Redistribution then springs naturally out of our rebirth, from a vision of family that is larger than biology or nationalism. As we consider what it means to be "born again," as the evangelical jargon goes, we must ask what it means to be born again into a family in which our sisters and brothes are starving to death. Then we begin to see why rebirth and redistribution are inextricably bound up in one another, as a growing number of evangelicals have come to proclaim. It also becomes scandalous for the church to spend money on windows and buildings when some family members don't even have water. Welcome to the dysfunctional family of Yahweh.

So it is important to understand that redistribution comes from community, not before community. Redistribution is not a prescription for community. Redistribution is a description of what happens when people fall in love with each other across class lines. (page 163)

* I am not a communist, nor am I a capitalist. As Will O'Brien of the Alternative Seminary here in Philly says: "When we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and communism will not be necessary." (page 164)

Ouch, ouch, ouch. This book stings. Its truths hurt. It is waking me up from my privileged, insulated, well-indoctrinated, profoundly selfish "American dream." And it is demanding that I make a decision about how I live now that I am awake.

(Middle of the night correction - This dream I have been dreaming and living is not uniquely American. It didn't begin here, and it won't end here. It is a dream that revolves around me and what I want and think I need. It is a dream that lulls me to sleep when so many people all around the wintry world are wide awake trying to figure out how to stay warm, how to feed their children and themselves, how to get clean water to drink, and keep a roof over their heads. It is a dream that keeps me comfortable in the huge church I attend instead of uncomfortable with how distant it is physically and philosophically from the desperate pain and suffering of people in this growing city. It is a dream that whispers to me in cynical and self-serving tones about how many of the poor choose poverty over hard work and alcoholics choose alcohol over sobriety and greedy people choose houses and cars and clothes they couldn't afford over frugality, so it's not my problem. It's the dream that has somehow separated me from the unruly, uncontained, unimaginable love and grace that ought to overlook a multitude of faults and meet needs, the same inexplicable love and unfathomable grace that has brought me to the place I am right now. No, it's not an American dream; I apologize to those who are offended by my reference to the USA in this context. It's not Italian or Spanish or South African or Brazilian either. Although it is a dream shared by millions in every nation, it is my personal nightmare. And it's time for me to wake up and do something about it. Added at 4:01 am, March 3rd.)

If you come to this blog and don't find an update for more than a month, it will very likely be because I took this book - and The Book that this book is based on - seriously and sold this computer and gave the money to someone whose need is greater than my greed. After all, how many computers, printers, pots and pans, coats, scarves, bags, markers, blank journals, sticks of incense, candles, skirts, t-shirts, pairs of shoes, books, magazines, and square feet of living space does one woman and her family of four need?

Redistribution of wealth... who me?


Smell Goods Lady said...

It's good to be awake. It is even better to make that decision to be awake, instead of ignoring it. There's a lot of ugliness being uncovered. The American Dream is one that was given to deceive the people. Truly contrary to what Christ talked about.

May The Most High be with you during this change.

Lisa said...

Congratulations, Gail!

Welcome to the next step on your amazing journey!

THANK YOU for sharing this incredible truth. We need to be knocked up side the head with this kind of wisdom. Real world stuff, for sure.

How cool to hear Jesus/Buddha/Gandhi,etc. speaking to us through this author.

I was appalled last week to hear (on NPR) that the few 'posessions' Gandhi owned (his glasses, sandals, and a few other things) are going to be auctioned off!!!

Anyway, I look forward to the manifestation of this awakening in your life ~ and in the lives of those close to you. Changes like this cannot be made without a high price and a strong ripple effect.

Peace and Courage to you, dear one.

Lori said...

I'm ordering the book, can't wait to get it. It's funny how when our eyes are wide open, it will cause us to get uncomfortable. And it will hurt, especially in the choices that can't be put on hold.

PS Sorry about my strange sense of writing lately. What did you think about the one I wrote before. "Honestly Haunted" I have always bordered on the bit of the Morbid side, but hopefully thought provoking. Blessings

Amy said...

Wow ... this needs to go on my reading list. I'm afraid it might blast me out of my comfort zone (and what is there really to fear?).

I'll say this again ... my animals live better than most people. It's sad ... and major food fro thought.

John Lynch said...

Demonstrating compassion for those we perceive as less fortunate can make us feel better about ourselves but is that the only goal or would we also like to optimize the utility of the entire society?

If the goal might be to lift a maximum number of people up so that each of us enjoys not only the basic physiological needs as expressed by Maslow, but is also able to enjoy higher level fulfillment, we might consider the efficient use of our resources from a capital as well as labor and talent.

As a society we must determine the minimum human standards and rights that we feel anyone should enjoy, irrespective of ones ability to contribute or interest in doing so. Access to food, shelter come to mind first. Adding things like access to health care seems to make sense but can come at a significant cost to society as a whole. The line must be drawn somewhere as diverting capital from those that can exact a considerable return and "investing" it with those that are a financial drain on society's capital will reduce the utility of society as a whole. The question, therefore, is to what extent will we tolerate a lower societal rate of return to guarantee everyone a standard. And how do we avoid this safety net from becoming further incentive toward lack of contribution to society.

I would argue that full out Socialism reduces this return to the point where the overall success of the people is greatly reduced. A world with no entitlements leaves the uneducated and unmotivated to a life unfit for a citizen of our nation or even perhaps our pets. While we consider our posture we should not forget the value that efficient deployment of capital and talent brings to all of us both rich and poor.

I would suggest that describing this awareness as discovery of some "truth" implies that other well intentioned people that differ in their views have not yet evolved to this correct understanding can be offensive to those of that mind. While I might not be in the same place on these issues as Gail or most on this blog, I respect each of you and welcome discussion as we all proceed on our journey.

GailNHB said...

Itiel and Lisa and Amy and Lori, I agree with all of you on the issues of discomfort and the challenge of finding out that what we have thought and believed for so long needs to be rethought and reconsidered. The decisions that are coming to mind and heart these days are big decisions for me to make, for our family to make. There is a high price to pay for stepping outside of conventional thinking in terms of wealth, poverty, and how those and other similar issues will affect the way that I live.

John, thanks so much for that comment. You have given me much to think about as well. I agree that the decision to change my choices are not made in a vacuum, that it is necessary to think of "the big picture" of our society as a whole and the capital of society as well. There is always the issue of whether or not helping people and thereby creating a standard of living which everyone can attain can turn into a drain on society. There will always be people who don't want to work. There will always be flaws in the political and financial systems we set up; there always have been. I agree with you on those points.

Here's what I know: My family and I have too much stuff. Most of my neighbors do as well. There are many thousands of people in Charlotte who have almost nothing. I am willing to give up some of what is excessive in my family to help those who have nothing.

I will leave the questions of larger societal ills and downfalls, future political and economic systems to people who know more about macroeconomics. I do not in any way claim to know how the big stuff gets decided. I hope and pray that those who know more than I do will make wise decisions with compassion and forethought.

I know that if I wait until the larger questions of economics and social definitions and societal drain get answered, hundreds of people will continue to languish in hunger and not be able to clothe themselves well enough to get to jobs they want to have. I may not be able to affect our society as a whole, but I know that I can make a difference in the lives of a handful of people, and I really want to do that.

The last thing I want is for anyone to feel like I am saying that they have not evolved to an optimum level of thinking. I don't think anyone who has commented here would want anyone to think that. I apologize if anyone has felt insulted or belittled. That is not my intention.

John Lynch said...

Each of us must find a level of charity with which we are comfortable. Make an impact on something important to you personally and you will mitigate that which must be forcibly diverted to accomplish good.

It is far more efficient for you to choose to allocate resources for good than for the government to tax the people and attempt to create similar good.

I can tell you feel some guilt in your possessions while others go without. I would only suggest that in your acquisition of these items, many people were provided wages that provided families homes and food and a quality of life. While frugality is a virtue, what you have done is no sin.

I see you are in Charlotte.... perhaps we might have lunch sometime and talk about Poly days.

Paola said...

Definitely a WAKE-UP call. Thank you for sharing and reminding me what I read once: "It's not about how much I give, it's about how much I still have left" I'll also get and drop some bags full of stuff others can give better use to than me. Thank you for your example!! Y gracias por permitir que tus journals sean de bendiciĆ³n para otros.!! Let's change!!