By: Jocelyn Perry
With the recent uprising in Egypt and the current protests in Wisconsin, the playbook for “struggle” is being tested. The paradigm of institutionalized oppression is being challenged with direct-action based on peaceful resistance. We as people of faith also must continue challenging the structures that keep us from growing into the “Body of Christ” as we are called to become. As “transforming our swords into plowshares” answers the question of how to practice transformational struggle, the Gospel story of loaves and fishes gives us a model for challenging conventional economics. But we have fear. Our fear of clearly listening to the needs of others and to our own hearts hold us back from bending our knee, sitting in the grass, and giving thanks and sharing. We are scared of Scarcity.
John 6:10-13 tells us, “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand people were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.”
In this gospel story is an anarchical critique urging us to vigorously question our social and cultural systems in order to mature into the “Body of Christ”. The sustainable economic model (also know as the permaculture economic model) based on the observation of natural systems, gives us a model upon which our community can develop. A more compassionate system of sharing based on the gospel story of the loaves and fishes is possible.
In Design for Sustainable Economics, Robert Gilman states, “The real evil is the continued dominant use of [conventional economic] concepts long after they have become seriously outdated and destructive. This is indeed the belly of the beast, and until we can replace these concepts with a more Earth-friendly approach, our prospects are grim.” Gillman wrote this in 1992–long before the destructive forces of the economic crash of 2009 and the subsequent economic decline that we are currently experiencing. Gilman goes on to model an economic theory that includes social and organizational capital among the inputs into a sustainable system. The social and organizational relationships as modeled in the Gospel of John are not only a redistribution of resources but also a faith practice.
John 6: 12-13 says, “When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” In this passage we have a clear view of a sustainable system that repurposes wastes and practices hospitality. If we recognize what has been discarded and we repurpose waste, energy flows back – creating a system of abundance.
By recognizing the “intangible” in the act of service we build social and organizational structure. Recently, in his essay, The Myth of Scarcity, Joseph Barker aptly states: “Rejecting the myth of scarcity can open us up to new possibilities. It moves us from a fatalist attitude towards the marginalized poor as a necessary part of the economic powers that be to seeing them as actual living and breathing human beings.” The gospel story of the loaves and fishes is a sound rejection of the myth of scarcity upon which our current economic system is based.
Conventional economics are assume that we must input labor, land, and manufactured capital to produce goods and services. As these goods are bought and sold, consumption is created. Sustainable economics expands reality to include social and organizational capital, quality of life, and natural systems which recycle waste(s) and accepts services as an input–thereby renewing life.
Consumption coupled with materialism (the theory that only matter exists), is destroying our society. Our current economic system does not consider environmental impact (like clear-cutting), affecting our economic health. Our current system objectifies Land and does not honor the living energy that flows between all beings. The gospel beautifully reminds us of our interconnection and the importance of respecting Creation as part of our economic health: “There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand people were there). “ For almost two years, I have lived in monastic community and have had first hand experience of sharing food, clothing, and a home with folks in community as a daily practice of faith. Taking time to express gratitude and mutual love has strengthened our community. We have sat at a common table and shared.
Finally, is dumpstering an act of faith? Well, in New York City–one the wealthiest cities in the world–to see someone digging in the trash for food is a sign of not only the suffering of a broken person but of a broken community—the poor in body. Nevertheless, I have found some great clothes in the trash of New York City. Expensive clothes thrown on the street – wasted – by the poor in spirit. Our prayer is that Jesus’ message of abundance lived out in the Gospel of John will grow in the hearts of all beings and in our broken community.
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