Sunday, May 05, 2013

Redistribution and The Spiritual Life, part 2: Lecture Notes on John Perkins' 3Rs

What would a "truly Christian economy" look like? Those who live in places where the American economic life have abandoned their regions, as money has followed rooftops during white flight and the loss of living wages and the working class culture where one full time job was enough to care for the financial needs of a family, often live with a different view of "unbridled capitalism" than those with the privileges and access to the system. What about a system that has morphed into ownership of property not in the hands of people who live in the area anymore, but who live farther and farther away from the ones who live here, and so there is little accountability to neighbors from "neighbors"? Was an Acts 2 kind of shared possessions economy, as well as a morally-driven capitalist free economy situation, workable only in cultures where peoples were gathered into small communities unlike our global community today? And what does this have to do with the mission of the church and spiritual life? 
Using the metaphor of giving a person a fish to eat, or teaching the person to fish, these questions get to the heart of that often unseen part of the metaphor: what kind of water and environment do we provide for the fish and the angler? 
And, as Perkins reminds us, this is not just about free enterprise and its effects in the world at large, but how has the "baptism of free enterprise" also affected and effected the church itself in North American context especially? How are our churches following more the American Dream than God's Dream is a constant call to discernment by Perkins. 
What role should the church have to mediate in situations of abandoned places and places of oppression and with cultures who have been oppressed through the years as they seek to engage with the forces of free enterprise in order to make up for years of being kept out of the system? Can those individuals do it all on their own? In my neighborhoods the minority owned businesses are struggling because they have chosen particularly to stay and serve their own community, and yet that makes it harder for them economically, and so they often don't have the growing resources to be able to compete on a wider scale with similar companies owned by whites who will come in to get contracts on big projects or to expand into our neighborhoods. It is harder for them than it is for others located elsewhere to comply with all the rules that governments impose to be eligible for projects that are being built here in their own neighborhoods. The irony is that those who seek to serve the poor often are kept poor themselves in the process, while those who leave the neighborhoods of the poor and make money elsewhere are then better able to come back in and make more money off the poor, be it through franchise restaurants versus the neighborhood resident owned restaurants, or various service companies. As Perkins says, there is little even playing field to begin with for centuries, and still little now in reality. How can the church, besides being witness to injustice, help to correct it?
Church as Co-Op Creator is one of the responses Perkins recommends, but over the years he said experience taught his community that direct coops as businesses didn't work as well as coops such as credit unions which can loan funds to idnividuals in poor areas to enhance their own businesses and empower them. Creating businesses that operate primarily in areas that other businesses have abandoned,but are businesses created to meet needs not greeds has been one of the ways in theory to do Redistribution from within a community, instead of relying on Redistibution to come from good or committment from those outside of a community being served. It gives a more local, empowering, and moderate characteristic about Redistributing goods and The Common Good than people think of when they hear the term redistribution. 
These are grander visions than simply giving out food or clothes, for example. But they also can begin with simple growing of relationships, particularly between people who have experience in the free enterprise system and those who do not. Perkins maintains that the vision of Redistribution will drive the means for how to do it; that there will be multiple ways needed. In this way he links all back to the experience needed of Relocation, because he says we ultimately Redistribute ourselves. And one model for personal living is to live simply so that others may simply live, for by doing so we create more within ourselves to be able to give to others. And this, he says, goes for the church too in how it is able to simplify its life for the life of the community beyond it. Look for ways that people living in close proximity to one another can better share life together, for the purpose of growing in relationship and the Body of Christ but with the byproduct of creating more shared possessions. 
Engaging in the vision of redistribution brought many unexpected lessons to Perkins, and it deepended his understanding of the way oppressive cultures tend to keep people impoverished. He learned to focus on economic opportunities that created a sense of agency within people,and not a sense of dependency, and he sees that the resources for doing this need to come from that three-legged stool of more government help, more free enterprise business help, and more nonprofit and church help. About churches, he makes an interesting but illuminating statement as one of his final sentences in this section. In the vision of what will happen when economic justice becomes the forefront of efforts, he says there will be "nurturing churches" as a part of this community development. Notice that it is the churches who are nurturing the people and the neighborhoods in which they exist; their purpose is not to get the people and the neighborhoods to nurture them, flowing into them as institutions, as was the old way in the churched culture, but now the church is found in how it nurtures what is beyond it. 
Questions for Reflection and Responses:
1. How do you, or would you, teach and preach and relate the scripture of Acts 2: 44&45 to a congregation today?
2. What do you think it will take to stimulate business development in and with poor communities, and how might the church participate?

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