Saturday, February 26, 2011

The American Myth

Here's another weighty post for us to chew on.

I was given a book to read by one of the members of EBM's congregation. It's entitled "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne.
[My disclaimer is that I don't fully agree with everything he says, but he is truly a prophet for today. Prophet derives from Greek to 'speak out' or 'speak forth' and is synonymous with 'visionary.']

Shane's style of reflecting on Christianity (primarily American Christianity) is not by providing answers, but rather through raising questions. He asks many questions about redemptive violence, but particularly: can violence really be a force for good?
This is a topic that has come up many times during my year here, both in regards to Northern Ireland and the U.S.
Can one really achieve peace by sending in soldiers carrying guns? (My observation: didn't seem to work in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and doesn't really seem to work in today's world either.)
On our trip to Londonderry over the recent YAV retreat, our guide - who was one of the survivors of Bloody Sunday - reflected on the confusion at the time: "If the army is here to protect us, then why are the rifles pointed towards us.?"

Another part of Claiborne's writing resonated with me today as I read it:
"What is crazier: spending billions of dollars on a defense shield, or suggesting that we share our billions of dollars so we don't need a defense shield? What is crazier: maintaining arms contracts with 154 countries while asking the world to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, or suggesting that we lead the world in disarmament by refusing to deal weapons with over half of the world and by emptying the world's largest stockpile here at home?
What's crazy is that the US, less than 6 percent of the world's population, consumes nearly half of the world's resources, and that the average American consumes as much as 520 Ethiopians do, while obesity is declared a 'national health crisis'."

Maybe those are oversimplified symptoms of rampant injustices in today's world, but when one steps back and looks at the 'bigger picture,' it doesn't really make much sense.

Some of you might have seen the article by Jim Wallis (who actually wrote the forward for Claiborne's book) that I posted on Facebook. For those of you who didn't, here it is again:

Do not be blinded by false patriotism about the greatness that is America.
[Good word that I learned today from a Walter Brueggemann essay: "jingoism." Defined as "extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy."]
I heard a comment the other day that, "America's economy is great. The rest of the world depends on it."
Yes, it is true that the rest of the world depends on it... because we have ensured it.
In lifting ourselves up, we have pushed so many nations of the world down. Jingoism.
(Suggested reading: "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins.)

Personal reflections:
Let's explore for a moment the basic ethical implications of the American wardrobe.
Several generations ago, most of our ancestors (likely being from the working class) would have worn the same outfit for every day of the week, save Sunday when the better outfit would have been worn. (I went to the Ulster folk museum this past weekend and saw an exhibit on Victorian-era clothes.)
But today, most Americans can likely wear an entirely different outfit for every day of the week, if not month. One of the main ways this is possible is through cheap human labor.
Simple economics: by driving the costs of production down through slave-like labor in developing countries, companies ensured that their products would be affordable to the American consumer (cough, cough, Nike).
I'm not an economics expert, but it's basic business unethical policy.
People complain about losing jobs overseas, but then we demand cheaper goods and services.

We have raised ourselves up and glorified ourselves on our cleanliness, our 'success', and being the 'best nation' in the world.
But we have not stopped to look around at the carnage, the cost, and the unethical nature of our success.
This is just the topic of clothes.
Let's not even get started on other topics of oil (cough, cough, allying with politically corrupt regimes) and food (cough, cough, relying on migrant laborers while denying their children citizenship).

I am not a military expert or professor of economics but rather a concerned American citizen. I don't think these issues need a degree or a pair of binoculars to see the many unethical aspects of the American society. One simply has to have the courage to face the truth.

The American myth rests on its laurels of oxymorons. ('Peacekeeping missiles.')
Put jingoism aside; step back and examine the picture.
What American politicians and military generals choose to spend American tax dollars on impacts the world. If we choose to continue to strengthen our military, the rest of the world will take note and respond accordingly.
I would wager good money that percentage-wise, more non-Americans are aware of our foreign policies as Americans are. Why? Because our foreign policy impacts them.

Why just God bless America? Instead, why shouldn't God bless everyone in this broken and hurting world?
(Why America is not, and should not be in my opinion, considered a Christian nation is a topic for another day. But in the meantime, pray for the Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan who are struggling to cope with the loss of a family member due to an American missile.)

Redemptive violence does not work. So why does the U.S. government think armed troops around the world will ensure peace?
When will it be time to beat our swords into ploughshares?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr cried out in response to the Vietnam war, "Every time our government chooses to use military force to bring about change in the world, it once again teaches our children the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that violence can be an instrument for good."

Blessed are the peacemakers.
The first step in loving your neighbor is being able to trust them. This is something that many Northern Irish struggle to do. It's hardest when one doesn't have a relationship with your neighbor; your neighbor is simply a name with a label such as "Protestant" or "Catholic," "Prods" or "Fenians."
For trust to be built, we must begin to get to know our neighbor. And that can be scary.
If we were to cut our defense budget, that means we would have to trust our neighbors.
But what if one of our neighbors turns on us? (Well, on September 11th, terrorists attacked a financial building, not a church. I have a feeling they weren't actually attacking Christianity, rather American/ Western economic policy which some people then linked together.)
So before we ask the question 'what if,' shouldn't we be asking the question, 'have we already turned on them?'
Question the ethics of the American system... What is more patriotic than questioning government, right? John Adams and T.J. would appove.

Question the American myth. Question why the American flag is flown above the Christian flag. (Does our loyalty really lie first to our country then to God?)
Question why your clothes are so cheap. Question why your food is so cheap.
Question why we consume half of the world's resources.

There aren't any simple answers, and I don't claim to know any solutions to the world's problems.
Maybe in your examinations you will find that you like living in America and living the privileged life.
But then I would urge you to reflect on the warnings of James 5 (NRSV): Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

As we question, even when we don't have the answers, our eyes can be opened to see the larger picture, and we can begin to change our actions.
Buy fair trade, consume less fuel (buy a more fuel efficient car! carpool! walk! take a bus! public transportation sucks: start a revolution!), get to know your neighbors, travel outside of your neighborhood and get to know more people!, and most of all - let's support one another through it all.

Part of Christianity is the community that we can form with one another through our faith. We gather together not in violence but in peace. And we are all invited to the table, for it has been prepared and is simply waiting for us.
Let us lay down our ploughshares, call for all nations to lay down their swords, and then dine together.
Through the peace and grace of God.

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