Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Decemberism Crucifies Christmas (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojourners God's blog on November 18, 2014.

One of the dominant dogmas of the season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to contribute toward economic growth.
This is what happens when Decemberism crucifies Christmas.
One may define “Decemberism” as a state in which the value of human life is determined exclusively by our personal rates of production and consumption. We notice this condition most often, of course, in December. In other words, Decemberism is the predominant religious tradition of the so-called “holiday shopping season”, and the significance of Christmas is consistently crucified as a result. As Victor Lebow states, “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate”. In striking contrast to the Christmas ramifications of God’s incarnation, to be a human of any value in our current context is closely connected with supply and demand, even if it all leads to our personal and public self-destruction.
To appraise human value based solely upon production and consumption, as Decemberism does, is an explicit form of dehumanization. In specifics, “mechanistic dehumanization” is a way in which powerful systemic processes – such as our enormously productive and consumptive economy – strip away the dignity of human life by plugging us into mass mechanisms such as Decemberism. In other words, our culture of obedience to the so-called invisible hand of the market has a direct impact upon our sense of personal value (not to mention our public health), for the desire to belong and be validated in society seems directly related to whether or not we make offerings to the gods of gross domestic product. And so, because the highest rates of selling and spending typically occur during the final months of the calendar year, and due in part to our longing for communal acceptance, the Christmas season is - in many ways - a period of mechanistic dehumanization, for economic participation seems to be the accepted price of our personal justification. To call this all an unintended consequence of Jesus’ birth may be one of the greatest understatements in all of Christian history.
In what can be described as a sad and sheer case of irony in the context of how many tend to experience the Christmas season, the biblical narrative records Jesus of Nazareth as coming into the world as anything but an economic stimulus. As shared in the New Testament, Jesus was born in a barn as a homeless refugee to an unwed teenage mother, which would undoubtedly earn him the label of “economic liability” in our current day and age. Yet as God incarnate, Jesus revealed what it means to be most fully human, as he embodied grace, mercy, and compassion for others, especially the poor and marginalized. And so, the birth of Jesus anticipated in Advent and celebrated on Christmas and beyond reveals a dramatic repeal of how we often determine human value in our contemporary economic culture, for in Jesus we are shown not only that all humans are valuable, but once again we are promised that being human is far more than what one is able to produce and consume. In contrast to our state of Decemberism, the arrival of Jesus on Earth shows that all people - regardless of their economic vitality - are of divine value, contribute to society, and are fully deserving of lifelong worth, care, and respect. As a result, the “joy to the world” we receive this Christmas is not a good or service to be produced or purchased, but a divine gift of radical affirmation and universal human worth.
While economic activity is indeed a significant characteristic of human life, the biblical Christmas narrative reveals that such activity does not define human lives, despite what our Decemberism too often declares. As a result, people of all traditions – both religious and secular – should be concerned with the ways in which such Decemberism is spreading, for not only does it all seek to crucify Christmas (and increasingly so, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and even Veterans Day), but it disregards the dignity of all who participate in its oppressive practices. In other words, Decemberism breeds enslavement - even in a so-called free country, for in our search to produce and consume beyond our natural limits, such a search ultimately owns us, and in the process we are the ones who end up being both produced and consumed. As mourned by Elile Gauvreau, “I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don't want, to buy things they don't need, to impress people they don't like.”
The time is upon us to embrace what it truly means to be human and resist the dehumanizing pressures of Decemberism that often seduce us into economic decisions that are contrary to our personal and public well-being. While it may be tempting to kneel at the altars of acquisition and assembly, in doing so we forget who we truly are, lose track of what matters most in life, and in turn crucify our collective conceptions of human value. As a result, instead of enslaving others and ourselves in the search to make more, and rather than trying to justify ourselves through the quest to consume more, perhaps the time has come to journey toward Christmas not with an outpouring of economic hyperactivity, but with acts of compassion and generosity that affirm the humanity of others in response to the assurance that all people - including ourselves - are of infinite value. Perhaps the time is upon us to recognize the critical difference between human needs and wants, and in doing so, want to embrace the crucial need of life-giving deeds that build up rather than tear down. Perhaps the time is upon us to affirm the life-freeing incarnational reality that we do not need valuable things in order to be valuable beings, nor do we need to produce more goods in order to be more affirmed as good. And ultimately, perhaps the time is finally upon us to have the security, strength, and genuine freedom to refuse the desire to always produce and consume something new, but instead live inspired though the good news of Jesus, and in doing so, always be made new.
In contrast to the common messages often announced during the so-called holiday season, a more provident proclamation of affirmation and restoration can be heard breaking through the noise. Through the birth of Jesus we are set free from the chains of our Decemberism, because the story of God’s incarnation continues, and in such liberated living we are truly being human, this season and beyond. God is with us, for us, and within us, regardless of how others often perceive us. This is the good news. A more valuable and lasting gift does not exist, and thanks be to God, this offering of grace, love, and acceptance is offered to us all, today and always, totally free of charge.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Path of Accompaniment: Presence and Presents (Brian E. Konkol)

The following is a transcript from October 12, 2014, in Christ Chapel of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN). As part of a Service of Holy Communion for Family Weekend, the following sermon considers Matthew 14:13-21.

Let us pray. Help us to live, O God, with the grace of falling leaves, the serenity of old trees, and the excitement of roots that reach deep. Help us to know, O God, that living and dying are one, that life is precious, beautiful, limited, and nothing good is ever lost. Help us to see, O God, in the ways of this season, the sway of your word, and a way for ourselves. Amen.

Welcome. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome, to this day. And what a beautiful autumn day it is, in a beautiful autumn season it is!

A season when we appreciate the creativity of creation to rise above the ordinary categories of life and death. A season when the leaves are falling and the air is cold and crisp, and we feel a clearing from the skies of the heaviness of the hazes of summer. A season when we hear the dry rustle of plants and grasses, and hear a crackling from the earth that tells of the withering of life. A season when we hear a different voice within, and know that life is settling down for a well deserved slumber that foreshadows the resurrection of spring.

It is autumn in Minnesota, and more specifically, an autumn day. And what a day it is!
On the Gregorian calendar this day is October 12, 2014. On the Christian liturgical calendar this day is the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. But of course, on the Gustavus Adolphus College academic calendar, this day is the High Holy Festival Sunday of Family Weekend!

And what a beautiful Family Weekend day it is!

A day that concludes a week-end of days in which families from near and far come to campus to experience a small taste of what it is like to live and learn longer-term on the so-called hill. Which means, this is also a day that concludes a week-of-days in which first year students washed their clothes, threw away unflattering cans and bottles, bathed (with the use of water!), bribed their roommates into silence, and even cleaned their rooms, perhaps for the first time since their families dropped them off during the last weekend in August.

It is a good day!

So to all the parents, grandparents, guardians, and all who self-identify as family in the house this morning, welcome and thank you, for you have inspired the annual autumn clean-up here on the hill! Please do know that you all have been in my prayers, as I have personally asked God to ensure you do not receive too many surprises from your host student this weekend! If you have already, or if you do in the next few hours, please know that we do worship here in Christ Chapel at 10:30am every Sunday, and you are always welcome back at any time. We would love to have you.

To all the students in the house this morning who are being visited by their families, welcome, and good luck! Soon and very soon, students, you will enter in the sacred Sunday afternoon stage in which long goodbyes are the painful Minnesota-nice norm. Kyrie EliesonChriste Elieson. Nevertheless, I am thankful, students, that you and your families are here together, and I am pleased, students, to see you freshly shaved and showered, and based upon what can be heard by the Residence Life staff, it is good to know that your freshly cleaned rooms are looking fantastic! Students, you also have been in my prayers, as I have personally asked our gracious God to ensure you do not give out too many surprises to your families this weekend! And if you have, or if you do, please do know, that we do worship here in Christ Chapel at 10:30am every Sunday, and you are welcome back any time!

In the midst of it all, on this Sunday autumn morning gathered here in Christ Chapel, since spiritual content is indeed informed by our social context, the spiritual content of the next few minutes of this message will indeed be shaped by the social context of Family Weekend here at Gustavus Adolphus College, because this weekend is indeed an exciting time, but it is also a comical and even conflicted time.

It is the way it is.

This is the way it is because this season of life includes a full collection of classic life-transition induced ambivalent awkwardness for both students and families. This weekend, Family Weekend, is a microcosm of a life season in which so many of you are currently within, which includes – among other things – the holy tension of communication and control that plays itself out as students transition from childhood to adulthood and how their families try to best assist in it all.

It is a comical and conflicted time for students and families in this life season. When students move from childhood to adulthood in these college years, on the one hand, families are often trying to hold on to that child that once was, but on the other hand, families are trying to let go to allow the young adult to emerge. On the one hand, students can be heard crying for more freedom from their families, but on the other hand, they want tuition and mobile phone bills paid for by their families! On the one hand, families want to see their student grow-up, and students want to be treated as grown-ups, but on the other hand, both families and students persist in activities and beliefs that, despite the best of intentions, ensure that such growing-up is thoroughly stunted.

And what happens through it all is that, this time, this season known as the college years, is a comical and conflicted time that includes, among other things, a political negotiation process between family and student and a psychological negotiation process within family and student, because as a student grows from 1st year to graduate, there is a pushing and pulling, a hanging on and letting go, a dependency and independency, and in turn, a not-always-so-smooth transition between childhood and adulthood for the student, and a not-always-so-smooth transition away from dependee for the families, and in turn the holy, hectic, and sometimes heated experience of living into a new relationship between students and their families.

This is a season of change. Therefore, this is a season of complexity. As the autumn leaves die and fall to the ground in the hopes that something new will be reborn in the spring, this is often how it goes for families and students during the undergraduate years. Even if we are tempted to try and keep all things as they are, like wanting to tape the autumn leaves back to the trees to try and prevent winter from arriving, whether we like it or not, relationships change, and so do we. And with every change there is loss, and there is gain, there is death, and there is life, and because of it all, there is the joy and pain of always being made new.

But thankfully, our Gospel lesson for this morning helps us to navigate it all. Because, one can argue, that this comical and conflicted season of life transition is exactly what was taking place as Jesus journeyed with his disciples and sought to empower them for the time in which he would no longer be with them. As we examine how Jesus journeyed with those around him, then we – as students and families – can better learn how to live into this season of life and relational transition around us. As Jesus was able to find a middle ground between apathy and dependency, he showed the critical difference between giving a present and simply being present.

Now, in the 14th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 13-21, often known as the “Feeding of the 5,000”, the text identifies one clear physical issue, and one clear spiritual issue, with the physical issue – of course – being the need to feed and the spiritual issue as the need to lead. And as the text reveals, although the physical issue was eventually resolved, the spiritual issue was left severely unsolved.

For example, after the physical needs of the crowd become known, in verse 15 the disciples try to make excuses as to why they should simply send the hungry away, and then after Jesus instructed them to provide food for the crowd in verse 17 the disciples again try to find a reason as to why they should not take responsibility. In other words, like children, the disciples floated between the “I don’t care” of apathy and the “I can’t do it” of dependency. And while it can all be seen as an epic fail on the part of the disciples, Jesus used it as a teaching moment, knowing that failure is often the best breeding ground for instruction.

So in verse 18 Jesus organizes the crowd, he takes the gifts of the crowd, and then in verse 19, Jesus blesses these gifts, and then gives the gifts of the people back to the people, and as verses 20 and 21 reveal, all ate and all were filled, about five thousand men, besides women and children.
It is a profound act. A miracle some would say. But not for the reasons that we often think.

The feeding of the 5,000 is a profound act because Jesus found a middle ground between apathy and dependency, and in doing so, Jesus modeled the practice of accompaniment for the sake of empowerment. In other words, it was a lesson in how being present is the best present one can give.
Now, a common interpretation of Matthew 14 is that the miracle of Jesus is that he somehow ordered extraterrestrial bread from the heavenly menu in order to meet the immediate physical needs of the crowd of five thousand or more, and doing so, cover-up the five-thousand or more inadequacies of the disciples. Many of us have heard the narrative interpreted in such a way, as if Jesus saw a need and met a need. But this simply is not the case, because quite frankly, that would have been a stupid miracle. Jesus providing extra-terrestrial bread from the heavenly menu in order to compensate for the maturity inadequacies of the disciples would be like family members doing homework for their students. It may fix the immediate problem, but over the long term, it is both dangerous and destructive.

Jesus realized that his role was not simply to provide free presents for the disciples, but Jesus sought to freely be present with the disciples in order to prepare the disciples to live more free. Jesus practiced what Latin American liberation theologians call “accompaniment”, from the Latin “ad cum panis”, which literally means “to go with bread”. Which is why, for Jesus, it all was not about giving hand outs, but it was about journeying together with your hands out.

Accompaniment.

To journey with others in solidarity and mutuality, not with dependency and/or superiority, but to experience life together in a way that all may live into the responsibilities they receive through the opportunities they have been given.

Accompaniment.

To let go of the relationship between giver and receiver and take hold of the covenant between communal companions.

To recognize that just because something is different does not neccesarity mean it is deficient.

To know the critical differences between relief, development, and advocacy…

To affirm that other generations are not failed attempts at being like yours…

Accompaniment.

To practice accompaniment as Jesus did is to affirm that all people in all places are unique manifestations of the Holy Spirit, created most appropriate for that particular place and that particular time. And as a result, to embody accompaniment is to resist the temptation of simply giving out presents for others, but to embrace the responsibility of being present with and for others, for the sake of others.

Accompaniment.

There is a common pedagogical proverb which tell us that: “If you give a fish that person eats for a day, but if you teach the person to fish they eat for a lifetime”. This may be the most commonly misused metaphor of all time. Because, even if you teach someone to fish, none of it matters if that person does not know how to find the pond. Jesus knew this, and that is why Jesus did not hand out bread and fish for the 5,000, but he put his hands out for the 5,000, he blessed the crowd, and they accompanied one another, and in doing so, all were fed and led – both physically and spiritually.

Jesus practiced accompaniment, and we are called to do the same. Because accompaniment takes place when we know when to give a fish, when we know when to teach to fish, and when we know we need to ensure that all people in all places have access and direction to the pond. This is what took place in Matthew 14, and this is how we are called to interact with one another, because quite frankly, that is the way of Jesus.

The promise of being present in order to empower.

Not the promise of doing our work for us…

Not the promise of sheltering us from failure…

Not the promise to giving everyone a ribbon for participation.

The promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, in the autumn of our lives, through the winter and in the springtime.

And this is the Good News. The promise that God in Jesus accompanies us, by grace through faith, in solidarity and in mutuality, so that we may be reconciled with God and each other, so that our world may be transformed from a crowd into a community, and so that we may be empowered through the Holy Spirit in order to participate in it all. So that our gifts are animated, so that our gifts and the gifts of others may be facilitated through service, and so that we all may be adequately agitated through prophetic witness for the sake of life in its absolute fullness throughout the world.

This is the Good News.

Whether we are parents, grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, guardians, and/or friends, as God in Jesus accompanies us, we accompany one another to prepare one another to live complete lives. Not to be dependant upon one another. Not to seek independence from one another. But to accompany one another for the sake of one another.

And so, to end where we began.

In this season of autumn we are reminded that life is not merely full of change, but life is change. Because, God is not simply with us in the change, but God is change. So as the leaves fall and the temperatures cool, we are reminded once again that summer is past and there is nothing we can do to bring it back. Because you cannot stop the future, you cannot rewind the past, and the only way to learn the secret of the seasons is to simply press play. And so goes the seasons of our own lives.

The transition from conception to birth.

The transition from birth to life.

The transition from childhood to adulthood.

The transition from simply being needed to simply needing to be.

Life is change because God is change.

And with every change there is both death and life, and there are few better examples than what happens in the undergraduate years between students and their families. Because with each passing day, something new emerges, and with it, something else is let go. But thanks be to God, for those who are afraid of what may emerge on the other side of change, we are reminded not only that with life comes death but that with every death comes life, and with every Good Friday comes Easter, and with every tomorrow comes the possession of new possibilities.

And so, to all the students and to all the families, as you continue to see your relationships change in the years ahead, may God help you to live with the grace of the falling leaves, the serenity of the old trees, and the excitement of roots that reach deep. May God help you to know that living and dying are one, that life is precious, beautiful, and limited, and nothing good is ever lost. And in doing so, may God help you to see in the ways of this season, the sway of the word, and a way for ourselves.

God bless you all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

A recording of this message can be found at the following link, starting at 25:10
https://gustavus.edu/podcasts/chapel/2011/2014-10-12%20Family%20Weekend%20Worship%20Chaplains%20Brian%20Konkol%20and%20Siri%20Erickson.mp3

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thoughts for White People, from a White Person (Brian E. Konkol)

The following reflection was published by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) on September 5, 2014. The online version can be found at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/274024641.html

I am white. Most of the people near my house are white. This is the way it is for most of us white people in the United States, and as we continue to be shown, the consequences are both critical and numerous.

While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits all forms of housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that millions of instances occur each year, thus the phenomenon of residential segregation continues to be a common facet of modern-day life. To put it simply, white people tend to live by other white people, and it is the way it is by no accident. For example, segregated neighborhoods are often reinforced by the practice of racial “steering” by real-estate agents, or when landlords deceive potential tenants about the availability of housing or perhaps require conditions that are not required of white applicants. In addition, lending institutions have been shown to treat mortgage applicants differently when buying homes in nonwhite neighborhoods in comparison to their attempt to purchase in white neighborhoods. As a result of such practices, white people tend to live in a state of residential separateness, for as the most recent U.S. census data confirm, genuine racial integration is — for the most part — alarmingly rare.

In addition to the systematic housing prejudices listed above, there are also a number of personal behaviors that have led to our current state of affairs. More specifically, white people seem to prefer housing located by other white people. As a result, far too many white people are willing (and able) to pay a premium to live in predominantly white neighborhoods. Therefore, equivalent housing in white areas commands a higher rent than in others, and through the process of bidding up the costs of housing, many white neighborhoods effectively shut out people of color, because those without white skin are more often unwilling (or unable) to pay the premium price to buy entry into such white neighborhoods. As a result of such white flight and isolation, not only do we witness a rise in racial ignorance and indifference, but it also leads to increased injustice in the form of disproportionate hostility directed at people of color.

If we affirm the shared value and distribution of basic human rights among all citizens, then an implication is that every member of humankind — regardless of skin color — is supposed to share a common dignity. The result is a connection of collective humanity that is expressed through companionship in community. In other words, not only does white housing isolation lead to increased levels of homicide within all so-called communities, but it leads to the homicide of community itself, as our white cultural conception of kinship is far too constricted. As a result, we should embrace the state of being connected as companions, for in doing so we are more likely to understand than ignore, serve rather than sever, walk alongside rather than push up against, and of course, speak with instead of shoot at.

There are many white people who wish to bring an end to residential segregation. For such people there are no simple solutions, yet one can argue that some of the most important steps are remarkably straightforward. We need to share life together. Black, white, brown and every shade in between, we need to be together. We need to struggle together. We need to celebrate together. We need to learn together. We need to live together. We need to speak boldly to one another. We need to listen humbly with one another. We need to enroll children in the same schools, set appointments with the same doctors, walk in the same parks, shop in the same aisles, serve in the same police forces, reside in the same streets and sit next to each other in the same places of worship. We need to be human beings together, because it is only together that we can truly be human. For in belonging to each other in such ways, we are more likely to expand our narrow notions of community, put aside the labels of “us” and “them” and instead see others — and ourselves — as we all truly are.

If we that are white people are open and honest with ourselves, we would recognize that many of us simply do not know many people with a different color of skin. In addition, we would admit that many of us are afraid, which is why many of us direct violence — directly and indirectly — toward people of color. We need to be real about these realities, and we need to take responsibility for what it means to be white people in the United States. This is not about guilt and shame, but it is about truth and reconciliation. We can move past so-called racial tolerance, go beyond our segregated residential comfort zones, and actively seek out cross-cultural and cross-class interactions, relationships and, most important, communities. As we learn to be accompanied by others across various lines, we will surely lose much of the power and privilege we have come to know over the past hundreds of years, but such loss is necessary for us all to gain what it truly means to be free. We as white people need to allow ourselves to be moved into something new, so our isolation and fear can be transformed, we may have “we” redefined, and we all can be fully restored into what the human community is supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Opening Remarks for Candidate Education Forum on Clean Energy and Clean Jobs (Brian E. Konkol)

The following opening remarks were made while hosting an education forum for candidates running for seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The gathering took place at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) on August 13, 2014, and included representatives from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light.

It is good to be here today to consider matters of economics and ecology, which are matters that, I believe, truly matter.

To begin, we recognize that the context of those setting an agenda determines the content of an agenda. Therefore, the agenda of this gathering begins with an honest and open recognition of our current context in the state of Minnesota, a context in which there continues to be a divide between the so-called “brown agenda” of economic opportunity and the so-called “green agenda” of environmental sustainability. 

On the one hand, a “brown agenda” concerns economic opportunity, or in other words, the alleviation of poverty. In light of ongoing distress surrounding malnutrition, infant mortality, and unemployment, the brown agenda is important, urgent, and quite worthy of our support. 

On the other hand, a “green agenda” relates to environmental sustainability and care for the Earth.  As scientific reports affirm the reality of climate change, and in recognition of decreased access to clean water and biodiversity around the world and in our own back yards, the green agenda is also deeply important, urgent, and worthy of support.

And so, with these thoughts in mind, one recognizes that both brown and green agendas are essential for the promotion of life in the state of Minnesota and beyond. However, the proponents of each agenda seem to be at odds with the adherents of the other, especially in elections seasons such as these.

For example, far too many with a “brown agenda” believe that the best way to reduce poverty is to reduce environmental controls, and to the contrary, those engaged with the “green agenda” too often place the needs of the Earth before the livelihoods of the human poor and marginalized. As a result of this persistent struggle between “brown” and “green”, progress on both agendas is limited, and our path toward economic opportunity and environmental sustainability through clean energy and clean jobs is put severely off course. 

So the question is, “Where do we go from here?”

In recognition of the ongoing tussle between economic opportunity and environmental sustainability in Minnesota and beyond, a growing number of people are embracing an alternative agenda, for as polling numbers indicate, an increasing number of people recognize that the brown agenda (of economics) and green agenda (of ecology) are deeply connected agendas; as both agendas are about the Earth and all that lives on it, and both agendas are about our responsibility to faithfully steward all of life on the planet.

And so, since this gathering is taking place here at a Lutheran college, I propose that we ask a Lutheran question and consider, “So What Does This Mean?”

For what it means, I believe, is that we need to get on board with the ever-increasing and ever-expanding agenda which combines both brown and green, an Olive Agenda, an agenda that holds together that which political and religious discourse too often rends apart, matters that matter, such as: Earth, land, climate, labor, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence.

Among other things, an Olive Agenda is rooted in an understanding that economic production and consumption, as well as human reproduction, are unsustainable when they no longer fall within the borders of nature’s regeneration. In other words, an Olive Agenda recognizes that if we do not recognize that the laws of economics and the laws of ecology are finally the same laws, we are in – what my children like to call – deep doodoo.

In other words, while both brown and green agendas are “fundamentally right”, we also recognize that taken in isolation each is tragically wrong, and we must therefore integrate the brown of economics and the green of ecology into an Olive Agenda that offers sustainable livelihoods for all.

To conclude, as a person of faith, as a citizen of this state, and in response to the responsibility that I believe God has placed upon humankind to serve as faithful stewards of life on Earth, I believe matters of economics and ecology are not only connected, but they are matters of religion, matters of ethics, matters of morality, and yes, even matters of mortality. These matters matter, as they touch upon the core essence of what we as the human community are supposed to be about.

As a result, I hope that what we do today matters, as clean energy and clean jobs are not only smart politics during election season, but even more so, clean energy and clean jobs are part of an Olive Agenda that brings sustainable livlihoods to all on this Earth, now and into the future. Therefore, we must continue to transition to clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power, increase energy efficiency, and make it easier to generate local power. 

These matters are the defining matters of our generation. It is how the history books will judge us. I pray that we will be on the right side of history in such books. And it continues with writing another new page today.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Lenten Commitment to Homeland Insecurity (Brian E. Konkol)

In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed the establishment of an Office of Homeland Security (OHS). In fulfillment of this comprehensive legislative proposition, the Homeland Security Act was signed into law on November 25, 2002, which in turn began the largest U.S. federal government reorganization in over five decades. As stated by the National Strategy for Homeland Security (released in July of 2002), the purpose of the OHS was to “detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from” a wide variety of potential and/or present threats within the confines of the United States.
 
Since the formation of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security we have witnessed a significant rise in security-related efforts in all corners of the country. For example, U.S. citizens are well associated with color-coded risk advisory scales, readiness websites, cyber-security frameworks, heightened immigration and border patrol blueprints, and numerous other strategies that are meant to protect “us” from the so-called “them”. In specifics, The Department of Homeland Security was authorized a budget of $46.9 billion for the fiscal year of 2012, with expenditures ranging from nuclear detection and personnel training to advanced science and technological development (and one can assume that such budgetary priorities will remain). In the midst of it all, the new normal in the U.S. appears to be one of heightened security, for in addition to noticeable increases in federal government expenditures, the private security industry is also growing (and thus flourishing) at a rapid pace, as the number of full-time security guards – not to mention corporate profits – are at all-time highs.

We clearly live in a world that is filled with risks and dangers, and because the increased availability of modern technology allows for harm to occur at unprecedented rates and levels, one can argue that we live in one of the most treacherous eras of human history. However, while the need for protection from harm is both natural and commendable, we are forced to consider whether or not protection itself can eventually become harmful, unnatural, and even condemnable. In other words, with such extensive resources invested in the pursuit of safety and security, one is forced to consider: What are the consequences of such “protection”? More specifically, what happens when so much time and effort is dedicated toward protecting ourselves from our neighbors that we eventually lose sight of who are neighbors actually are? At what point does the heightened priority of protection lead to the increased inevitability of isolation and ignorance? And finally, in our efforts to build impenetrable walls of protection (often in the name of freedom), do we not eventually incarcerate ourselves from the rest of the world and thus limit what it actually means to live free?

While Jesus of Nazareth clearly lived in a social context far different from our own post-September 11th reality, he was fully aware of the risks and dangers that surrounded him, yet he was also cognizant of the vast consequences that an overindulgence in security can have upon a community. More specifically, throughout his Sermon on the Mount and other public teachings Jesus tore down the notion that people needed to fear each other, and in doing so revealed that authentic relationships come not through walls of anxiety, but within the open pathways of vulnerability. In fact, Jesus named as “blessed” the very things that produced an increased susceptibility to harm, and after embodying such commitments by dying on a cross, he affirmed that it is better to embrace others with vulnerability and faith than to exclude with hostility and fear.

As the Season of Lent allows for discernment and self-examination in the context of our ever-changing world, perhaps the time is upon us to fast from the fear of our neighbors – both locally and globally – and thus commit ourselves to the practice of homeland insecurity. Instead of placing our ultimate faith in government programs and private contractors and devices, and rather than looking at the so-called “them” with suspicion because of what might happen to “us”, perhaps we can find real security in God’s abundant grace and thus find more faithful ways to live in our increasingly-connected global community. While times have indeed changed and risks most certainly abound, we make a peaceful future by boldly living intro it, and in doing so affirm that the only real weapon of mass destruction in our world is not to be found in some distant country, but it is the fear of our neighbors that too often sits in misguided hearts. And so, even in a post-September 11th world the wisdom of our spiritual fore-parents continues to remain true: The best security policy is not to hide from our neighbors behind fences and walls, but to love God and love our neighbors, and in doing so embrace our neighbors to the point in which the so-called “them” eventually becomes a grace-filled and all-encompassing “us”. While such open pathways of neighborly vulnerability produces homeland insecurity, they help us to receive God’s radical hospitality, and in turn we receive a larger taste of what it truly means to be free.