thinking theology

Archive for September, 2016

An Ethic of Dishonesty

In a world where many starve, others have more than they need. In a world where lies are accepted, what is truth? In a world where the elite can do as they please and govern those with less status, what power can the poor claim? In Luke 16:1-13, we hear what was probably a common story about a person of affluence who grinds the poor for their meagre goods. This person does not, of course, do his own business, but appoints others to commit his shameful, but legal, economic abuse.

The middle man, the manager, either squanders what he takes or simply does not bother to collect. This person at some point, probably belonged to the same group of people he is now expected to gouge. Eventually, somebody informs on him, perhaps someone who wanted the job. He is fired, but realizes that he no longer belongs to a community that might welcome him. As well, he would be reduced to working in the mines or begging, work that was punitive and socially degrading.

After some thought, he calls in the debts that were owed but reduces the amount so that they are perhaps more manageable. The rich man is impressed with his shrewdness and his community is impressed that he is giving them a break.

Why does Jesus tell this story? I think it is a story about how people are caught in systemic sin and abuse. The manager has no power to change the system but he creatively figures out how to bend the system to minimize its effect. The Roman system of taxation and social hierarchy would not change in his lifetime, but it could be adapted and its harm moderated. It is not the wealth that is evil. The sin lies in its acquisition and management. So if a person is caught in the mesh of social and economic inequity, he might use the system against itself. Intentionality is key here. What does the manager learn? He learns that he cannot turn his back on his community of origin. He learns that the rich can be manipulated, He learns to have some self respect and confidence in his ability to manage. He learns that the money itself is neither a goal or a safeguard. The money is merely a means to an end.

Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”. The question for the manager and each of us is always, “Who do you serve; who/what do you love?” Elsewhere, Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” At the clergy day, Bishop Mark MacDonald reminded us that we are all caught in the structural sins of colonialism. We can try to hide and deny, or we can be shrewd and use the very tools that created a system of injustice, to dismantle that very system. If our hearts are set on a different ideology, one founded on mercy and generosity, then the mechanisms of our lives will be the seeds of change.


On this labour day weekend, I am going to ask, “What is the work of life?” Is it the job we do to earn money? Is it the duties we acculabourday1mulate? Is it the products of our hands? Is it our relationships? It could be any or many of the]
se things.

Jesus tells us, though, that we will not be able to follow the road to freedom until the people, the practices, and the ideas we carry with us, are our own. As long as we are fulfilling the expectations of others, we cannot see how to live in the freedom of Christ.

Just recently, I realized that I was going against expectations set for me when I walked away from the academic tower, when I insisted o
n having children on my own terms, when I decided that families are chosen, not endured. I was fortunate in that I loved my family of origin and could even think these thoughts, never mind express them. I remember in my youth, hearing an interview with Kahn-Tineta Horn (born 16 April 1940, New York City, a Mohawk political activist, civil servant, and former fashion model. Since 1972 she has held various positions in the social, community and educational development policy sections of the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.” She is a member of the Mohawk Wolf Clan of Kahnawake.) At the time, I was impressed by her strength of character and her resolve to be true to herself. Later, during the Oka crisis, her daughter was stabbed in the chest with a bayonet by a soldier. She herself suffered a heart attack while hand cuffed in  prison in Cornwall. Freedom is not without consequence.

To be free requires some honest measures of who we are and what we really want from our lives. When Jesus tells us to hate our families, I think he is talking about the web of family expectations, status, and obligation that unfairly trapped people of his time. And family obligations can trap us still, unless we choose how we will interact. Expectations about career, lifestyle, even how we look and dress can be chosen by us as acts of submission or defiance.

To live in the Spirit is a life time process, uncovering the way fear or a need to please have shaped us, or conversely, how we have resisted conformity by sometimes doing and acting in ways that still do not satisfy us.

So how do we begin to escape this web. I think, we need to learn how to see and hear other people without projecting our fears and doubts onto them. When we can acknowledge the humanity of others, their own hurts and failures, and their own strength and beauty, then we can begin to believe in ourselves. Jesus tells us not to live through our families, or through the dreams of others. We must value and respect our own choices and carefully examine them for honesty and commitment. Doing that allows us to stand back and let others live out their decisions also, rather than attempting to “manage” them.

Our world that desperately needs to learn interdependence, has a great deal of difficulty with authentic dissenting voices.  And so Jesus warns us to consider the price of freedom. But what work is it that we will value at the end of the day? What choices will have been honourable? What will have been our joy, our satisfaction? Freedom to recognize our own humanity and compassion for the struggles of others are core values for the followers of Jesus. On this Labour Day, may we honour all who have chosen the tough path and modelled for us the way to reach out from our tender hearts and vulnerable bodies to the vision of a better, more loving world.