Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Great Sermon (read at your own risk)

What follows is a condensed version of the head-smacking-good sermon from my pastor this past Sunday. For the full version, check out the Life at Jeff Street blog.

The king is in his castle. The queen is on her throne. The president is in his office. The congress is in session. The corporate chair is in the boardroom.

And so begins the royal story, as Walter Brueggemann calls it, the story that shapes and dominates our culture…The story that shapes and dominates and often defines our reality.

Global warming? Nuclear war? Healthcare? Endangered animals? Re-instatement of the draft? The cost of gasoline? The cost of milk? The answer to these questions, indeed often the questions themselves are shaped by the royal consciousness, revealed through the royal story.

We are children of the royal consciousness,” says Brueggemann. “All of us, in one way or another, have deep commitments to it” (The Prophetic Imagination).

we live in a world phony down deep

in which we participate at a slant.

Ours is a seduced world,

where we call evil good and good evil,

where we put darkness for light and light for darkness,

where we call bitter sweet and sweet bitter

where we call war peace and peace war,

so that we rarely see the truth of the matter.

(Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth)

Which is why so many Americans were initially supportive when our nation invaded Iraq. The powers deceived us well, showed us authoritative pictures, Colin Powell dressed in all of his military finery with all of his military doodads. And we, as Americans, swallowed what they wanted us to swallow. The royal version of the story. Weapons of mass destruction…

Jesse came home from a day at the fair with his classmates, and told me that he saw military vehicles there, was able to get in one, push the buttons, even, my, don’t they start young…that he saw military vehicles there that cost three million dollars. “Can you believe that?” he asked. “Well, yes,” I said. “That’s where our tax money goes. That’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not have healthcare, that’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not have affordable housing, that’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not…”

Kings and queens and pharaohs and parliaments and presidents pass down fear-based, greed-based decrees, and we the people shape our lives to the realities that they create...

The royal story, according to last night’s news, is that we’re going to keep our soldiers in Iraq for the next four years. But there’s a sub-version unfolding: a mourning mother sets up her folding chair on the side of the highway. And even now, the reality that George Bush and other leaders of our nation have created is being re-shaped. God is relentless in God’s purposes, and God's desire is peace.

Some of you have been involved in some sub-versions this week.

Susan, Dan, Sue and Mike have been exchanging e-mails this week, talking about how they can get more kids at their kids’ school to “opt out,” meaning to sign a sheet saying that the school does not have permission to give their name to military recruiters. We need to put up posters, they’ve said. We need to develop posters, they’ve said. We need to have a workshop, they’ve said. These e-mails may not amount to much. But maybe they will.

Yes, some of you have been involved in some sub-versions this week. In fact, you’re involved in a sub-version right now. Because simply being a part of this community is a sub-version, being a part of any true community is a sub-version in this world that so values individualism. Tithing is a sub-version in this world that so values the accumulation of wealth. Meeting for worship is a sub-version in this world that puts a premium on time. Telling the truth about who we are and where we hurt during joys and concerns is a sub-version in this world that teaches us to mold ourselves to look and act and own like everyone else.

Yes, a sub-version is unfolding, and you and I are smack dab in the middle of it. God is pursuing love over hate, peace over war, justice over oppression, community over alienation, authenticity over falsehood. God is writing a whole new story, and we just might be some of its lead characters. Imagine that!


Eleutheros said...

Dan, you have but to say that these observations and questions are not in keeping with your blog and they will cease, but with this current post, I'd hardly know where to begin:

“That’s where our tax money goes. That’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not have healthcare, that’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not have affordable housing, that’s why there are so many people in our nation who do not…”

This is a fallacy never long or deeply analyzed by those who repeat it. If we just didn't spend money on tanks and bombs, we'd have that money for housing and health care. It assumes that money is some sort of magic wand that when waved, housing and medicine appear out of thin air. See the entry in my blog of 'The Beginning of Wisdom' [long and dry, what can I say?].

Govenments create money by fiat. When a little money is pursuing a lot of goods, it makes the price low. When a lot of money pursues a few goods, the prices are high. The second you pulled off billions from the defense budget and tried to buy housing with it, the price of housing would soar and no one could afford it. Likewise food, medicine, clothes, education and all the things we'd probably agree are of comfort to the folk.

Housing and medicine and food grow organically and as a fuction of reality, you cannot will them into existence. Nor can waving a pile of tax money create them, it can only make them more expensive.

I could give you 100 examples but here's but one: I taught at a small private college 20 years ago where almost every student there was paying the tuition out of pocket. It was a bargain, an individual 10 week class was about $100. The owners of the college discovered that they could qualify for Pell Grants and all sorts of guaranteed loans. In ONE term the price of a class went from $100 to over $700, the price of the education rising to meet the money available for it. No one could any longer afford to go there out of pocket and only grantees had access to the college. It eventually closed with no one being able to avail themselves of the education it once offered.

It smacks, Dan, of yet another round of THEY should do something about the problem. Why, if only those nasty evil people misspending our taxes would do a better job, we'd all have housing and medicine.

Dan Trabue said...

E, you're welcome to post your sometimes frustrating but often intriguing thoughts here.

Don't know how well I can respond, though. I'm just a poor dumb Kentucky boy who always thought economics was more on the mystical and less on the scientific side. But then, that may be just my own ignorance.

I have tried reading your post, The Beginning of Wisdom and, as I recall, couldn't make too much from it. Again, I'm sure that's more to blame on my increasingly limited brain than you're writing.

For what it's worth, I understand in a limited sort of way you're concept that money is a human derived construct, different than wealth and think there's something to that.

But I also know that in the real world, we create policies and invest dollars here and there already and it does have an impact, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. I'm looking to increase the positive impacts.

So, I can tell you what makes sense to me. For what it's worth.

Seems to me that if we're paying x million dollars to pay for x million soldiers' training, housing, education and healthcare, and do so without fatally damaging the economy, it seems to me that we could do the same for the homeless.

Further, it seems to me that if we're paying x million dollars to house and feed criminals in jail, then some of that money spent on housing the homeless would be saved in decreased jail and legal costs.

Further, it seems to me that if we're already spending x million dollars on emergency health care (our hospitals don't turn away people when they come in with pneumonia or frostbit toes), then we could save that money by investing in healthier people upfront.

My point, I suppose, is that the money is already being spent. Resources are already being used. I don't see how investing the money in the direction of housing instead of the direction of military is going to change anything so far as driving up costs.

But then, again, I'll admit I'm not the sharpest nail in the wall when you start talking money. Just know what makes sense to me.

voixdange said...

Great Post Dan.

Eleutheros said...


Thanks, and I'll try to make my contributions constructive.

No way to treat the subject any way but superficially within the confines of comments, you're just going to have to take me up on that beer I offered on another blog.

Other than the poor writing, the reason the 'Beginning of Wisdom' is so thick to understand is that we, as a whole, are really under the spell and enchantment that makes us view money as real. We actually believe it, no matter what we might say. To see it otherwise is to fight one's way through a thick fog of a lifetime of bias.

OK, by one means or another, we are feeding and housing the encarcerated and the military. But here's the rub. All those people eat and stay somewhere, eh? If you pulled the entire military and prison budget and turned all those people out on their own, they STILL have to eat and be housed. Your net gain is zero, isn't it. But, one might say, all those ex-military and ex-felons could provide for themselves! I've heard people say that about the homeless too.

Concerning preventative medicine, good luck with that one! Would I be unfair to point out that some of the discussion on your blog and the spin-offs of it shows how quickly the hackles rise when the suggestion is made that there are positive things people can do to improve their own lot? People, by and large, are not unhealthy because they don't have access to vaccinations, physical exams, and such. The great and vast majority of health problems are self-induced by lifestyle. That and the belief every little frailty of the human condition requires medical intervention.

Tangled in the Gordian knot of economics is also this: about a third of the houses we have been building at a feverish pace over the past five years are unoccupied. People build and hold them as investments.

Dan, have you heard of or witnessed (or participated in) one of those economic lessons that appear in the government schools where the teacher puts down a number of tokens, cookies, pennies (whatever) and the class is to go through an exercise to see how under different economic systems this wealth is distributed? As if wealth is a fiat, appears there on the table to be passed out in some equitable way to everyone! If that exercise resembled reality, the actions of the participants would make the supply of wealth grow and decrease all the while they were playing. It's like a giant Rubic's cube, turn one plane and you change a lot of others.

That is, stop funding the military (or scale it back greatly) and a lot of other things change as a result, there aren't necessarily any resouces there apply to the homeless just because you are not funding the military.

madcapmum said...

Hi Dan!

I'm still reading Illich, The Rivers North of the Future, and what he has to say about social programs in the light of the gospel is fascinating. You really should add this one to your "must read someday" list.

I'm pretty waffly about church in general, and I'm wondering if you wouldn't see churches, as well-intentioned as they are, as being part and parcel of the royal consciousness?

Dan Trabue said...

Some churches, Miss M. But not all.

While it may be the norm today that churches are tools of those in power (hello? Pat Robertson?), there are plenty (errr....some) churches that don't buy in to the status quo, or at least make a deliberate effort to try and not buy in to it.

I'll agree with Eleutheros that it is easy to be entranced by one or more aspects of the popular consciousness and difficult to check oneself out, much less a whole community of folk such as you might find at church.

But that is what Jesus' message was. Freedom to the captive. Sight to the blind. Justice for the poor. Community for all who'd take part.

And so there are some churches who've tried to remind themselves of that and who kick at the goads of popular culture and the dominant paradigm and thereby strengthen others to check out of the system.

Or so I think and so I've found in my life.

madcapmum said...

I don't think I was implying that the churches were tools of those in power, so much as power-holders themselves, simply by being an organization. The more I look at the church system, the more I think it's inevitable that they decay very, very rapidly, because of the need to self-perpetuate.

Dan Trabue said...

Some churches, I say again. Many, even. Most, perhaps.

But what about those churches out there challenging the powers that be (including other churches)? Those churches questioning the status quo? Those churches who have no need to self-perpetuate (and I can see how that would be a dangeous need)?

What about the Amish community who, when a neighbor is in need, assists? What about the little urban church taking up the struggle along beside their poor neighbors (being poor themselves)? What about the church made up of campesinos in Nicaragua, committed to helping one another withstand the brutality of war and of economic injustice?

I WAY understand being fed up with the church, but please understand that there are all types out there.

Kim said...

Totally unrelated...but interesting all the same...

Buddhist Monks doing peaceful artist work!

Hope to see you 'round the forest events.