How Shall We Describe the “Great Economy?”

Series Note:  This first post of the New Year reflects two new additions: 
1)  Each week I’ll be posting links to the sites or clips of a different favorite musician and artist, as a way of providing a different modality, and giving love to the folk who sustain me.  Check them out.  Some are friends doing great work; others I’ve included because they are just edifyingly amazing.  (Pointing me to some of the music is the cluey virtual DJ David “Flaming Penguin” Jacobson of Oakland, CA.  Thanks DJ DJ!)
 2)  This week I’m also beginning a series outlining a reconstructive theology and politics of bioregionalism.  I anticipate this series will go for about 3 months.  I want to underscore how important this orientation is to our work at BCM, as reflected in our Ecojustice Bartimaeus Institutes.  The posts in this series are edited and updated excerpts from a “manifesto” I wrote more than 15 years ago now, and which appeared as Chapter 11 in Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians (Orbis, 1994).  The ideas drafted then are, it seems, finally getting attention in the public and ecclesial conversation, so I thought it would be timely to reiterate my perspectives.
Musician of the week: Incredible bassist Victor Wooten.  See him in action at:
 Artist of the week:  Pride of place has to go to my mom, Char Myers, a California painter/printmaker for 50 years.  Check out her digital work at:
Jesus is sitting in a boat, pushed back a few yard off the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:1f).  He is gently rocking, his eyes closed, his face warmed pleasantly by the sun glancing off the water.  He has come out here to get a little distance from the political heat of his Capernaum “campaign.”  The contours and consequences of his mission have become clear.  He has tried arguing Torah with the stewards of the Story, Sabbath economics with the administrators of Debt, social boundaries with the adjudicators of Purity.  But he has concluded that the literate cannot read (2:25), that the authorities cannot lead (3:4) and that the “House” cannot stand (3:25). 
Political polarization has begun—perhaps quicker than Jesus was prepared for.  He needs to think things over, to consolidate his gains and cut his losses, to reflect with his followers upon what this all means.  Jesus has made it clear to all concerned that he is struggling against the dominant system.  But what is he struggling for?  The poor who are attracted to him, the outcasts who flock around him, the skeptical onlookers who carefully measure his words, even his own disciples—they all want to know what alternative Jesus intends to offer. 
He stares out on a glassy sea, blinking back the glare, anguishing over what to say and how to say it.  How can he speak intelligibly to these people about human possibilities so discontinuous with the arrangements of power and privilege they all know so well?  What metaphor, what symbol can he employ to revise the ancient Yahwist vision of a Great Economy?  What discourse can he use that has not already been coopted by the dominant media?  What parable shall we use?  The question burns within him.
Jesus turns back, watching the crowd muster at the water’s edge.  They are setting up a “camp meeting” in a lakeside field offered by a local farmer; most are already seated on the ground, waiting patiently to hear from him, the patience of those who have seen hope come and go too many times.  They are peasants and plain folk, uneducated and “illiterate.”  This is not the place for elaborate scriptural arguments and legal debates.  Popular pedagogy, the villager from Nazareth reminds himself as he studies the crowd, begins where the people are, starts with what they know.  He makes up his mind how to proceed: What we must stand for is what they already stand on.  Reconstruction must build upon the most radical foundation, renewal must take up the oldest story: the land itself. 
“Listen!”  he begins.  “A sower went out to sow…” (4:3).
How can rediscovering love for place help the church overcome the alienation resulting from our geographical and cultural displacement, and restore a sense of identity from which we can struggle for reconstruction?
Those who would call for repentance must do so out of love for the people and the place to which their challenge is directed.  This reminder is necessary because negation so easily deteriorates into nihilism, criticism into calumny, defection into disaffiliation.  To concede that we are part of the problem is a crucial hedge against both self-righteousness and escapism.  But it is not enough: We must also imagine how we can be part of the resolution, the healing and the reconstruction. 
Our churchly “communities of discontinuity” need to promote alternative possibilities for our collective social existence.  Redeeming or preserving the good among one’s people is the task of reclamation, all the more crucial for “theology in the Palace Courtyard” because of our legacy of genocide and empire.  But it is a task notoriously sidestepped by radical Christian critics of the dominant order, since it is so much easier to articulate what we are against than what we are for. 
A theology of reclamation is about redemption—the healing of our individual, but more importantly our collective, humanity.  It is thus, in the North American context, fundamentally concerned with the struggle to become a non-imperial people, niether grandiose nor ashamed.  It is about practicing discernment, honesty, dignity, community, and simplicity–according to Gerald May, the hallmarks of “recovery.”  These characteristics are not entirely absent from our past and present as a people, but they are rapidly disappearing under the repressive onslaught of technocratic centralism.  A theology of reclamation will assert that “empire as a way of life” is not our fate, but a betrayal of the Promise seeded in the social experiment called America.  It will seek the “subversive memory” embedded in our myths and institutions, however flawed.  It will unearth the liberative fragments of our dismembered story, for every stratum of U.S. history and culture contains the footprints of plain folk who believed in the virtues of the American vision and who refused to internalize its darkest illusions. 
A theology of reclamation will listen again for the “minor keys” which have competed dissonantly against the imperial symphony: tunes carried by abolitionists and anarchists, populists and dissidents of all stripes, Quakers and Methodist reformers, communitarians and labor leaders, and countless others, distinguished and indistinguishable—including those to be discovered in our own family histories.  It will celebrate the rich and diverse veins of folk culture which have not been erased, commoditized or controlled–including that of European Americans.  But all of this must be predicated upon the most fundamental reclamation of all: restoring our sense of place on the land.