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Take a Break, Make a Pour Over With Wess

Last week, my staff spent time making a number and coordinating a number of daily videos for the campus community around self-care practices. There was this one with Faculty Member Jim Hood, doing a walk in the Guilford Woods that people really loved, and another one from my colleague, Evelyn Jadin, who made a video about Visio Divina which is pretty rad.

I wanted to share with you all the one I made about making a pour over cup of coffee (in my PJs!). Most of you know, I love all things coffee. Plus, our 12 yr old. daughter L. ran the camera and had a lot of fun doing that. This was shared with students, staff, and faculty of Guilford but the sentiment is true for all of you as well.

For more information about how to get Fireweed Coffee you can visit our website and order online, or follow us on social media: Instagram / Twitter.

Thanks for continuing to read gathering in light in these times. There is more to come.


Ways to Connect with Wess: If you like this post and/or have feedback you think I should know about feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Telegram @cwdaniels or subscribe via email by clicking here.

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Blog Entries The Technological

Using Roam Research in Academia

I have fallen in love with the note-taking, research, “second brain” app called, Roam Research. It is a simple application that enables me to take notes and do research in ways that I have not been able to do with other note-taking systems. As someone who loves to read, research, and write, I find Roam’s approach to be really refreshing and unique. I am excited to use it. I am excited to take notes and work on ideas in its environment. I find myself wanting to continue to develop ideas and take notes even when I’m done with the initial task at hand.

I find Roam has at least three strengths:

1. Prioritizes writing over organizing,
2. Links ideas together (manually and automatically),
3. Harnesses Return on Attention in ways that other apps cannot – the more you use it and the more notes, research, and information you put into Roam, the better it gets.

If you research, write, journal, and even manage tasks, I’d recommend you give it a shot. Here’s how:

  • Setup an account to Roam Research – it is free
  • Watch this short video on YouTube (below)
  • Start typing out some thoughts or notes. Create new pages that are separate notes, ideas, concepts.
  • Begin linking pages together by using the shortcuts [[]] and (())
  • Open Roam on your mobile and use the Quick Capture feature

Here is a whole long article I wrote for the website RoamBrain on how to use Roam Research for academic work. I think you will enjoy it if you are interested in learning a new app of this kind.

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Blog Entries Quaker

Listen to My Interview On the EasterPod

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, text and closeup

This past Sunday, I am on a new episode of the EasterPod, a podcast by Corey Easterday.

This one is extra special for me because Corey is not only a friend and a great person, leader, and creative entrepreneur, he was also in my youth group when I was first a youth pastor back at Barberton Evangelical Friends Church from 2001-2003. Corey was in 7th grade then, now he is doing all kinds of really great things, not least of which is being the National Director for the Laundry Project.

In this episode, Corey and I cover a lot of ground: I share about my personal story, how how I came to pastoral work at Barberton Friends and beyond, how I became a Quaker and why I still am one today, we discuss my passion around anti-poverty work, the book of Revelation, my work at Guilford College, and Fireweed Coffee. As you can see, it is a wide-ranging conversation.

I hope you will tune in, share the episode with folks you think would find it helpful, subscribe to hear more of what Corey is doing, and share your feedback!

Here’s the episode:

6. Revitalization, Resisting Empire, & A Long, Storied Friendship w/ Wess Daniels

This podcast can be found:

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Blog Entries

Caring for Self and Others in Times of Trouble: Some Spiritual Tools and Tips

This was shared with me from Alexander Levering Kern, graduate of Guilford College and Executive Director Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service (CSDS) at Northeastern University. He and his family attends Friends Meeting at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I think you will find it helpful. Please share with others as you see fit.

  1. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe some more. Take time in your day, at any moment, to take ten deep even breaths. Carve out 5-10 minutes to meditate or practice mindfulness or contemplative prayer. Start here, now, wherever you are.
  2. Ground yourself in the present moment. Focus your awareness on something real, enduring, or beautiful in your surroundings. Look up often. Discover the wonder and awe that is already here.
  3. Acknowledge your fears, anxieties, concerns. Offer them up in prayer, if you pray. Write them in your journal. Share them with others. Feel what you feel, honor it, and know that it is not the final word.
  4. Remember you are not alone. Ever. You are surrounded by care and support. Reach out. 
  5. Create and sustain community. Show up for one another. Listen compassionately. Practice empathy. Even while avoiding “close physical contact,” message the people you care about. Stand with those most vulnerable and those who suffer the brunt of prejudice and fear. Check in on folks. Call your mother, father, guardian, mentor, little sibling, long lost friend. 
  6. Unplug, judiciously. While staying aware of developments, do not let the Corona-chaos govern you, but forgive yourself when and if it does.  
  7. Practice kindness. There is a temptation in health scares to view others as potential threats. Remember we are in this together. While practicing health guidelines and appropriate caution, remember to engage one another. Smile when you can. Bring good deeds and good energy into our world.
  8. Stay healthy through sleep, diet, exercise. See healing and wellness holistically – mind, body, and spirit. 
  9. Make art. Discover, imagine, engage your hopes and fears, the beauty and ugliness of our world. Write, paint, sing, dance, soar.
  10. Practice gratitude. In the face of crises, make note of the things for which you are grateful: your breath, the particular shade of the sky at dusk – or dawn. The color blue, the color green, the gifts and strengths you have, other people in your life, the ability to laugh. A pet.
  11. Connect with your spiritual, religious, humanist, cultural, or other communities. Find strength and solace and power in traditions, texts, rituals, practices, holy times and seasons. 
  12. Pray as you are able, silently, through song, in readings, through ancestors. Remember the long view of history, the rhythms and cycles of nature, the invisible threads that connect us all.
  13. Practice hope. Trust in the future and our power to endure and persist, to live fully into the goodness that awaits.  
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Blog Entries

Holding Family Meetings To Keep A Sense of Routine and Connection in the Midst of Covid19

A couple of years back, we came across a book called “The Secret of Happy Families,” which I am not necessary recommending but there were some handy ideas in the book. One of them was the idea of a weekly family meeting, and a basic layout for what that meeting could look like. So we borrowed that idea and did it consistently at first and do it off and on now, but enough that the kids know the general routine. For the basic family meeting, there’s an opportunity to talk about a) what went well last week, b) what could have gone better, and c) what are our intentions for the coming week. Everyone gets to talk for themselves, with feedback from the group. When we do this, we often do it on Sunday evenings during dinner.

Seeing as how we’re all experimenting with new routines in life because of the Coronavirus, we adapted this concept yet again.

In lieu of going to meeting for worship, because ours was cancelled as many were, we had our own family meeting this morning (we have 3 kids – 8, 10, and 12 yrs). This is something we do from time to time & in the coming weeks we will be more consistent with this practice.

Not only does having a family meeting for worship help keep some sense of routine around worship, but gives us an opportunity to discuss how we’re all feeling, share worries and gratitudes, pray for those people and thing we are concerned, and share information about how things are shifting.

Here is the format we used for a family meeting this morning:

  • Silence (about 5 mins)
    — Ask if anyone has anything they wanted to share out of the silence with the rest of us
  • Each person shares any worries or concerns
  • Each person shares their gratitudes
  • Someone offers a prayer for these concerns and gratitudes shared
  • Business items (opportunity for sharing key info out to the family) – During this part of our meeting we discussed family expectations for the coming weeks (for Heaven’s sake – don’t use all the toilet paper!), how things will likely shift with school and work and what that means for all of us, new things we’d like to try in the changes, discuss the morning checklist (a staple we use to help the kids be more self-guided), and re-read the tech guidelines we crafted last fall.
  • Closed with a blessing from J. Philip Newall

The blessings of heaven, 
The blessings of earth,
The blessings of sea and of sky
On those we love this day
On every human family
[And on all of God’s creation]
The gifts of heaven,
The gifts of earth,
The gifts of sea and of sky.

J Philip Newall

This little model of family meeting will be something we keep coming back to over the coming weeks and months to try and help keep some semblance of routine and organization in the family. I’d love to hear what others are doing as well.

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Blog Entries

The No. 666 & Resisting Empire: Inverse Podcast Interview

Inverse Podcast with Hosts Jarrod McKenna and Dr. Drew Hart

Last week, my interview with the Inverse Podcast was published. The conversation with Drew Hart (Professor at Messiah College, Author of The Trouble I’ve Seen, Changing the Way the Church Views Racism) and Jarrod McKenna (Australian theologian and activist) was a lot of fun and broad in terrain. The main focus of the podcast was my book, Resisting Empire, where we spent time discussing Quakerism, some of the broad themes in book of Revelation, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the Mark of the Beast, the meaning of the numbers 666 and more. It’s well worth the listen, and great intro into a very different way of reading and understanding the Book of Revelation.

Jarrod’s Instagram

I recommend not only listening to my interview but checking out all the great guests they have on Inverse. They’re doing really great work.

You can listen to Inverse through Apple Podcasts, Overcast, and anywhere you get your Podcasts.

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Blog Entries

Register Now for Online Webinar: Leadership Amongst Friends

Dear Friends, I am co-facilitating an online course for Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, UK on Leadership Amongst Friends with Zélie Gross and John Gray, two British Quakers. The six-week course runs from 20 April to 31 May 2020.

I’d like to invite you to consider joining us this year if you are interested in spending some time thinking through your own leadership practices and what insights can be gained from leadership theory as well as the Quaker tradition.

Here is what we’ll be looking into:

How does leadership work in our non-hierarchical Society of Friends, and what does it mean to take a lead when working in relationship with others? This course is for anyone across our programmed and unprogrammed traditions who is interested in questions of leading and building a participatory community within a Quaker context.

The structure of the course will be three modules focused on:

  1. Leadership and the self, led by Wess Daniels
  2. Quaker distinctives in leadership, led by John Gray
  3. Leadership in Quaker communities, led by Zélie Gross

Each two-week module offers the unique contribution of a course leader’s experience and skills, but all three of us will be participating in the discussion forums and we have been working closely to develop the curriculum for this course. Alongside a live webinar in each module, the course offers a great range of audio visual and written materials for you to engage with, and activities to help you reflect on your own leadership experience and develop your practice.

I think this course is a really exceptional offering in the Quaker world and am very excited to get to participate in it with Zélie and John. 

More on the course:

The cost of the course is £38.00/$53

This course can be completed in your own time, although we recommend setting aside 2-3 hours a week.

All three modules will go live a week before the start date, so you can plan your own approach and work with the course materials in any order you choose.

This course is intended for Quakers and others who have an interest in Quaker leadership, across our programmed and unprogrammed traditions. You may or may not be in an appointed or employed leadership role.

For more information and the online booking form visit the course webpage.

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Blog Entries

Interview with A People’s Theology

Find my latest interview on A People’s Theology

I recently had an interview with the @peoplestheology (https://twitter.com/peoplestheology) podcast on my new book and what the book of Revelation can teach us about how to resist empire and what it means to build the multitude. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Here is a link to stream online https://overcast.fm/+LZTq_-P90 but you can find it on iTunes and any place podcasts are available.

Categories
Blog Entries The Biblical

Revelation as Resistance: Moral Imagination in an Age of Empire

How would you answer if I were to ask you, “What one book of the Bible are you least interested in studying, reading, discussing, or teaching others about?”

When I considered this question in the spring of 2013, as the pastor of a Quaker meeting in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the answer before I got to the end of the question: Revelation.

As far as I was concerned, this was a text of terror that even this bible scholar and hopeful liberation-theologian and Quaker preacher could not resuscitate. If there ever was a text that baffled me, and even more, repulsed me, especially in the way that “Christianity” had used it – it was Revelation.

Let me back up. I came to this question in a roundabout way. I grew up Catholic and then non-denominational, Evangelical Christian. I went to an Evangelical college, took a whole class on Revelation for Heaven’s sake. Even while I could debate pre and post-millenarian viewpoints with the best of them, I was critical of the concept of the rapture, turned off by the Scofield Bible, and scorned Dispensationalism. To top it off, the Left Behind Series happened, and September 11th happened, and countless predictions and judgments spewed forth often with the help of national press. When it came to Revelation, I negotiated release of the whole at the expense of surrendering this one small letter. In my view, it was too far gone. And not worth the fight.

Jump ahead a few years. As a pastor in a Quaker community in the Pacific Northwest, I became more and more influenced by liberation theology through the help of some friends, the work of the Poor People’s Campaign, the work of the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary. I began learning how to read the Bible from the margins, alongside people who were on the margins. 

Then, by good fortune, I was invited to participate in one of Parker Palmer’s retreats for younger leaders. I jumped at the chance. I knew who he was and knew that many Friends looked up to him, but had not yet personally connected with his work. During that weekend retreat, which was one of the most impactful retreats I’ve ever been on, Parker Palmer said something that stuck with me. When talking about how he arrives at topics for writing and research, he said, “I only write books about things that truly baffle me, things that keep me awake late at night.” He was saying that it is the unfamiliar, the puzzling, perhaps even the things he’s resistant to that motivates his curiosity, and animates his work. I loved that. I felt both challenged and freed to see preaching as a way to “lean in” to my bafflement. 

So back in my study, during the spring of ’13, I thought I’d try out this new practice of Holy Bafflement. In prayer and reflection, I asked the question stated above: what in the book of the Bible that I’d least want to preach? What is the book that most baffles me?

I knew instantly. At that moment, I wanted to take it back. It was almost as though God had been waiting for me to ask the question. I reflected in the silence about what was coming up. I felt God’s prompting, “Don’t you think there are others who have looked at this text in different ways? Aren’t you curious about what is possible here?”

That began my journey to understand not just what Revelation was about, but more importantly, how to read Revelation, and what the text was trying to do some 2000 years ago? Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance is the result of this long journey. It is grappling with my own identities as a white, straight, educated male living in the American Empire, learning how to read texts written by and for the poor as a person with plenty of privilege that led to a much deeper conversion. One that helped me see this text, and many others like it, not as some paranoid dream or bad trip, but a liberatory manifesto of God’s people living under oppression. 

“Something very strange happens when happens when this text is appropriated by readers in a comfortable, powerful, majority community: it becomes a gold mine for paranoid fantasies and for those who want to preach revenge and destruction.”

-Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (Revelation: Visions of a Just World)

In the time since, I researched and studied many other scholars who have already traversed Revelation from new perspectives, primarily liberation theologians, and feminists biblical scholars, and worked on translating this into sermons and reflections for people who are wrestling with what it means to be both victims and agents of empire. Following this, I’ve been invited to preach and teach Revelation in meetings and congregations as diverse as Liberal Unprogrammed, Programmed meetings, and Baptist congregations. Apparently, there are baffled people hungry for new interpretations of Revelation everywhere! The most fun I’ve had recently was working with a group of Quaker college students where I now work to read and study the book together and wrestle with its overall meaning. 

What has captivated me and others about this “unsalvageable” book of the Bible? I can assure you it is not because we think it offers the key to unlock the secret code of the Trump administration, or what we can finally do with Hilary’s emails. Nor do I believe it predicts that the 1000 year reign of Christ’s judgment is now upon us (though it does sometimes feel like there could be more judgment pointed at a few!). Nor is it meant to help us determine who the real infidels are. (I know this is how this text has been used and abused against so many people I and you love, and probably against some of you reading this right now.)

I am sorry that a text of this magnitude has been co-opted to do so much harm. I hope that in some small way, this work can help repair the breach. I also hope that this approach can help Christians everywhere become far more critical of empires everywhere.

Therefore, instead of Revelation being a book about “evacuation theology,” to use Rob Bell’s phrase, I argue that the book of Revelation has nothing to do with predicting when the end times will happen, and everything to do with how small, marginalized faith communities survive and resist empire.


How might Revelation help us in thinking about moral imaginations in our own day and age?

The author of Revelation identifies as John, a pastor and prisoner of the Roman Empire on the Island of Patmos, an Alcatraz like prison where Rome kept its prisoners. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, Pastor John scrawls his letter and has it smuggled out of the prison cell to his seven churches in Asia Minor. The letter – we now know as Revelation – called the early Christians to be more faithful in their resistance and to not give in to the ideology of the Roman empire, even if it meant death. It is urgent. It is apocalyptic. Its position is that the followers of the Lamb will not comprise with empire. Full stop. In John’s case, these seven small Judeo-Christian congregations lived under the oppressive Roman imperial regime; in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, it is Southern clergy tempted by white supremacy and middle-class safety. Feminist Scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza was the one who suggested reading John and King side by side, to note their parallels, to note their shared contexts, and challenges. It was reading John and King together that I realized to make it about end times is to gut Revelation of its real power.

I’m convinced that this 1st-century letter is a challenging and fierce plead for these marginalized faith communities to not assimilate into what Wes Howard Brook calls “the Religion of Empire,” but to remain rooted in and have one’s moral imagination shaped by “the religion of the Lamb that was Slain:” an image that is meant to spark non-violent resistance – “the War of the Lamb,” not some end-times paranoia. 

To put this simply: we are not the intended audience of Revelation.

Revelation is a pastoral letter read allowed in the early church’s gatherings and is addressed to specific communities under specific concerns; I believe when we start from this place it can become useful for us in a new way. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to read out loud all together, a long sermon for us, but one that was meant to provide shape to the early Christian moral imagination, counter-imagery to the imagery of the religion of empire. I see Revelation offering four counter practices and outline them in Resisting Empire if you are interested in digging in deeper.

According to the author of Revelation, the church is to not just offer a counter-narrative and counter-practices to the religion of empire, it is to create a community that can exist within that counter-narrative: to resist and refuse assimilation into empire demonstrates faithfulness.

This leaves me, and I hope you, with lots of questions about how we resist empire in our world today?

  • What does it mean to be faithful to “the Lamb that was slain?”
  • Where have we already assimilated, and what does it mean to come out of empire?
  • How do I grapple with the reality that I am both agent and victim of empire?
  • Do I treat and think of others in ways that creat mob mentalities and scapegoats, or do I see all human beings in all their complexities as children of God?

I want to draw on one simple example from Revelation as a means of opening up these questions further: the importance of liturgy in shaping social order. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” and is about the kinds of things we do together that shape us in ways that mirror the empire or the Lamb. In other words, the book of Revelation reveals that there is a contrast between the “liturgy of empire” and the “liturgy of the Lamb.”

On the one hand, the Roman Empire has its own ceremonies, rituals, symbols, language, mantras, and sacrifices or “scapegoats.” These helped it to maintain its boundaries over and against other nations and wicked others. This is a liturgy of extraction, one that pulls people away from the suffering of their neighbors and the world around it. It distracts and displaces.  

On the other hand, Revelation reveals the Lamb that was Slain has its own liturgy as well. This liturgy is one that is shaped and formed by non-violent resistance – the image of the Lamb slain, rooted in silence, and pulls the worshippers into the presence and awareness of the suffering other. In Revelation, worship centers the victims of empire [7:9-17]. This liturgy has no need for boundaries of us vs. them in order to create social cohesion; it is described as a multitude. It has no need for scapegoats because the Lamb was the last scapegoat who reveals the lie of the “scapegoat mechanism,” demonstrating that the scapegoat is innocent. And because it centers the victims of empire it is a radically inclusive and diverse multitude made up of people of every nation, tribe, and language.  

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Revelation 7:9

I believe, with a potent enough liturgy, an entirely different kind of social order can be created, one that has no need for scapegoats, and one that lifts up and centers those slaughtered and disinherited by empire: the prisoner, sex worker, homeless, unemployed, refugee, profiled, displaced, abused, lynched, disabled, bombed, bulldozed, walled-in, walled-out, rejected and refused. To consider that all these things happen to human beings in the name of empire should devestate us.


I know there are plenty who have many different feelings about the Bible; many have written it off and surrendered it to other interpretations just like I did with Revelation. However, in the process of doing this work first in my community and second for the book, I’ve become convinced that Revelation is not about what we’ve been taught, and we lose something very powerful, putting ourselves at risk of not only having nothing to say in the face of empire, but we are made vulnerable to assimilating into empire without these kinds of counterstories and practices.

Early Quaker loved the book of Revelation, and I think it was in large part because its imagery and language helped them to identify the religion of empire in their time. How might our imaginations and practices be reshaped by this text, in ways that we have lost due to our dismissal of the text? I have grown and learned a lot and have so far still to go to understand more fully. But for now and if nothing else, I am helped to know that for 2000 years, there have been followers of Jesus existing within and resisting empire leading the way for the rest of us.


Get “Resising Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance” Below


Ways to Connect with Wess: If you like this post and/or have feedback you think I should know about feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Telegram @cwdaniels or subscribe via email by clicking here.

*Photo credit Christopher Dombres

Categories
Blog Entries Poverty Sermons

Beastly Economics & King’s Vision for the Poor People’s Campaign

“…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing‐oriented” society to a “person‐oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam” (April 1967)

This is a sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro on 2020-01-19.

Today, I want to talk to you about two things that may at first seem unrelated – Martin Luther King and the Mark of the Beast from the book of Revelation.

I know the concept of the Mark of the Beast has been greatly misused, misinterpreted, and misaligned by Christians over the years, but before you crawl out of your skin or run out give me a few seconds to try and show you why it has been misinterpret it so badly.

As you’ve already heard this morning, I’ve been researching and writing on the book of Revelation for sometime and have just published a book on the subject called, “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation.”

My argument is that we need to reject the “evacuation theology,” (ht Rob Bell) version of Revelation. You know the one where people in the church says, “Who cares, it’s all going to burn anyway, and we – the people who are on the right side of this theology – are going to escape.”

Revelation interpreted this way is a text used to predict not only some future trauma, violence, and scapegoating of those the elect deem wicked.

If you follow the path of an “evacuation theology” interpretation then you can displace the Mark of the Beast into some future person or technology, a chip, a credit card, a country’s leader (usually some other country’s leader), etc. All we need to do is identify whoever has the mark and then we’ll know they’re a bad guy or are doing bad things. But this makes it way to easy to dismiss what it is actually saying.

I see Revelation being about how a marginalized group of faithful people were being guided to resist the Roman Empire at the end of the first century. It had nothing to do with evacuation theology and everything to do with resisting, surviving, and not assimilating into empire. Here you the early church made up predominately of Jewish and Gentile Christians living under Roman occupation. As Jews, as Christians, as the poor, they were themselves the marginalized. And Revelation tells them that God is with them, God is on their side, and that their work was to resist empire and follow God no matter the cost.

This is a very different reading of Revelation that what we’re used to isn’t it?

If we look back at it then, the Mark of the Beast is not about a little birthmark or an implanted chip, it is a critique of an entire economic system that is set to exploit the many for the benefit of a few. Revelation is unveiling and critiquing the economics of empire, arguing that it is out of alignment with what God intends for the world. In fact, Revelation 13 mostly uses the language of “image of the beast,” rather than “mark” to say that these kinds of imperial systems try to make people into its own image. To be make in the image of the beast is something extremely different than to be made in the image of God.

As it says in Chapter 13:

15 those who would not worship the image of the beast [would] be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark…

Rev. 13 is an ancient critique of an economic system that is based on exploitation, one that is far-reaching and impacts everyone, and one that is opposed to how God intended the world to work.

Unless you go along with the “beastly economics of empire” you will not have the right to buy and sell, and are liable to be killed.

Credit http://kairoscenter.org/

Beastly Economics in our Day and Age

Let’s turn now to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you’ll go back with me to March 18, 1968. On that day, King visited Marks, Mississippi. There he witnessed devastating poverty. Marks was at that time located in the poorest county in the country and what King witnessed there moved him to tears. While touring Marks, he witnessed school children who had nothing more than one slice of an apple and a couple crackers to eat all day and other children without basic needs like shoes. It is well-chronicled that King wept as he walked through the streets of Marks.

You know it is beastly economics when Children living in the richest country in the world go without basic necessities.

A couple days later he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign saying:

“We’re coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. I was in Marks, Miss., the other day, which is in Quitman County, the poorest county in the United States. And I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear.”

How A Mule Train From Marks, Miss., Kicked Off MLK’s Poor People Campaign

The Poor People’s Campaign was to be a fusion of the poor in this country across race lines; people caravanning across the country to setup camp on the Mall in DC and create a city they called “Resurrection City.” There they would form a committee of 100 people to lobby for an economic Bill of Rights with five planks, including:

  • “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  • “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  • “Access to land” for economic uses
  • “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  • Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

King knew that beastly economics needed to be challenged, resisted, and corrected. He understood that underlying the creation America’s economic system was slave labor that has persisted and disadvantaged those without previous access to wealth and power (Via Wikipedia).

Signified in that visit to Marks, Mississippi, King realized that Civil Rights could not be fully secured until they were able to take on a Human Rights lens.

In one place he said:

“What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger.”

And In another he remarked:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”

King understood something very deep about our own country: we can pay lip-service to “rights” for some while blocking equality in other spheres of our society.

In other words, one of the ways our underlying philosophy and commitment to beastly economics as a country shows up in who and how we prioritize our spending.

In his sermon at Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam” he critiques war just not on grounds of non-violence, he critiques war based on the underlying racism and economics that fund wars.

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

It was this turn towards a critique of beastly economics, and the threat of uplifting the voices of the poor that ultimately got King assassinated.

To resist empire out of faithfulness to something bigger, something more generous and loving, something more universal will always be dangerous.

My Friend, and bible scholar from the Kairos Center at Union Theological Center, Colleen Wessell-McCoy once pointed out that there are many ways to think about poverty (see an interview I did with Colleen on this subject here):

Poverty comes by way of an accident (it is no one’s fault, the system is basically fair); it comes through bad behaviors and bad choices (remember those unjustly labelled “welfare queens”); it is destiny, spiritual, even to be desired (Why take away someone’s destiny?).

But Rev. Dr. King, a pastor in the black church stood in the biblical prophetic tradition alongside the book of Revelation, understanding that there is another way to understand the origins of poverty and that is that poverty is systemic.

Poverty is the result not of a broken system, but of a system that is working. Poverty is the result of beastly economics (see Taking the Widow’s Mite: Economics from A Christian Perspective).

Building the Multitude

King knew that one had to resist this reality of beastly economics as though it were the only one possible, and instead bring people together across racial and class lines, empowering the poor to bring about the changes necessary.

King stood in a long line of actors and agents challenging “the religion of empire” and worked towards building what he called the beloved community and what Revelation calls “The Multitude,” one rooted in a vision of abundance for all people and all creation.

For our part today – what does it mean to be of this multitude, to be a people of love, goodness, goodwill and faith, willing to follow God in the face of empire no matter the cost?

King, in the Poor People’s campaign, reignited this prophetic thread and that work is not done yet.

How might we honor King’s challenge to us to have a revolution of values that touches all aspects of our lives?

How might we honor King, in this long thread of prophetic witness against systems that creates economic conditions that are so harmful to human flourishing, and instead work to build the multitude.