Thursday, November 27, 2008

Disaster Capitalism

I read an excerpt from a book called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein here. In it, she describes the actions of people like Milton Friedman in the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Essentially, "within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools."

Another excerpt reads:

"For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock."

With this as an example, it seems there's been an evolution within capitalism so that absoultely everything is submitted to a corporation by any means necessary. With this mindset, a natural evolution takes place, and seems to be completely realistic. Here is what I mean:

Waiting for disasters to happen and planning to swoop in with corporate takeovers > Preventing measures to make these disasters impact less (like strengthening the dykes around New Orleans, etc.) > Actually weakening the dykes so that when disaster hits the effect is multiplied > Timing wreckage with disaster to avoid any "miracles" > The creation of "disasters" (terrorist events, wars, the boogie man in Afghanistan, the threat of disaster in the form of a pending epidemic, shootings, and so on... the media loves to help this cause).

My thought is that if there are large groups of people whose "optimism" in the face of "disaster" is actually veiled opportunism, then there are factions within those groups whose greed has been accelerated to the point where the truest form of "survival of the fittest" is evident. This leaves little to no regard for the well-being of the "lower class", or those who haven't been "fit" enough to amass large amounts of wealth. The mindset evolves to "it's their own fault", and they prey on the belief of many in the goodness of people.

This was also seen shortly after the United states "won" the war in Iraq, which was not a declaration of victory, but the sound of a starting gun for the bidding war on contracts in this newly acquired, oil-drenched land. This idea is quite familiar. In fact, it seems to be a trait of some prophetic character, given in Daniel 11:39...

He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price.

This is disgusting, but sadly relevant to anyone who lives anywhere.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prophetic Joseph

I have had the actions of Joseph as Governor of Egypt as described in Genesis on my mind as I've watched the unfolding of this whole-world financial crisis. If you're not familiar with the story, here's a quick recap:

Joseph was in prison, accused of attempted rape on the Captain of the Guard's wife, when he was brought before Pharaoh as a last resort to interpret dreams that had been plaguing him for several nights; Joseph deciphers with precision that seven years of abundance would come, followed by seven years of drought, and recommended he appoint someone to oversee the stockpiling of food resources over the years of abundance to avoid the ruin that would face Egypt if they didn't; Pharoah appoints Joseph, who taxes the farming nation a fifth of their production and oversees its safekeeping; when the seven years of drought hit, he sells the food (yes, sells) to the people whom he taxed as well as people from other nations who didn't have the foresight to prepare, and keeps selling until they are deprived of all their money (47:14), all their working animals, their privately-owned land, and then to top it all off, if they wanted food they had to give themselves as slaves to the service of the throne.

So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh's, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. Gen 47:20-21

Up until the last few months, I had glossed over this, presuming that because the implication was that Joseph did a good thing, that he did a good thing. But it seems to me now that this was actually quite a violation of the values that we hold these days as far as politics and laws go. Essentially, the natural occurrence of a famine was used to bring an entire nation of free, land-owning people into ownership by their unelected king. The text is clear that he "reduced the people", and it is suddenly shocking!

Now, I understand certain things about Genesis, whereby there are very many prophetic stories that may cause us to raise an eyebrow at their happening as historical events, but may do more to tell us about what's going to happen in the future. The sacrifice of Isaac is another such story, which is graphic and unthinkable, but which also prophesies the actions of the Son (so that we can recognize him and understand the redemption plan), and tells the story of the Father's love. This story of Joseph prophesies the work of Christ at the end, possibly enabling the servitude of all mankind to one head so that he could most easily swoop in and assume the throne created.

It seems the whole mortgage and banking collapse is much the same as this story of Joseph. It makes me uneasy that governments are providing bailout packages to the big banks and are actually purchasing billions of dollars worth of shares in them. They are purchasing large sections of the banks, which have put the vast majority of people into meaningless jobs, doing nothing more than a servant's tasks in order to keep living. To make it make even less sense, the government is using the money they've collected from the indebted people as a percentage of the wage they earn at their job - jobs these people keep in order to pay their debt - to give to and invest in the companies that have indebted them. And to take it one more step, these bailed-out banks have created the money they lent to "debt consumers" virtually out of thin air (ie. there is not enough currency printed to even come close to the amount of debt is payable out there), by legislation that allows them to use and lend out 90% of bank deposits. They charge usury on absolutely nothing, no paper linked to a piece of gold. The government is bailing them out?

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of Westerners have been sold the idea of slavery to debt as, very probably, the only way to survive. So we buy homes, and it is just so convenient that they are only affordable for the average worker if the amortization period is round about the length of time it takes us to reach retirement age. I saw somebody's Facebook status today, which read: "I owe, I owe, it's off to work I go", and it saddened me to think that this is reality for a great majority of people who work not because they enjoy it, but because they either owe enormous sums of money to the banks, or because they've bought into the "dream" that success is owing that much, or even less forunately, they work because they just can't keep up or get ahead.

Why this obsession with productivity? Why must life be centered around work? For the life of me, I've never been able to understand this. If we are the animals they say we are, why aren't we playing as much as animals are, socializing as much, getting as much rest as we need, and for heaven's sake, working just enough to meet our needs? Unfortunately, as "animals", the survival instinct kicks in and dictates the gathering of wealth to weather nature's storms and provide longevity for ourselves and our offspring.

Not much makes sense in this godless system of servitude when you really think about it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ears to Hear

“How much?” I asked her with my window rolled down.

“What would you like?” She replied, sauntering over to my car – a subtle imitation of playing hard-to-get, which I guess is a turn-on for men who like the thrill of the chase.

“I’d like for you to spend the evening at home, out of the cold. How much will it take?” I replied.

“What?” came back with a gasp. She was a fish out of water.

“How much would you make working tonight?”

“About forty bucks I guess,” her expression asking a million more questions than her lips. She zipped her coat up to her chin and huddled inwardly because of the cold. I got out of the car.

“Here’s eighty,” I said, holding out the cash. “This’ll buy your time for two nights. Promise me you’ll stay home?”

“Thank you so much! Yes!” She looked at the money in disbelief. Speechless moments passed as she let her eyes pop back and forth between the cash in her hand and my eyes, which told her I really wanted nothing from her. “Why are you doing this?”

“I don’t want to see you out in the cold like this,” was all I could think of to say. I didn’t plan so far ahead that I had a good answer to any question she might possibly ask. I hoped that was all she would wonder.

“Thank you so much!” she wrapped her arms around me in a hug. Now I was the fish out of water – embarrassed, out of my realm of comfort, shaking. I had never spoken to a prostitute before, let alone hugged one! Unsure of what I should do next, I wrapped up the exchange with some typical courtesy and we were both on our way – she continued to thank me as she staggered off in a state of shock.

“God bless you!” she remembered to say, turning back to face me, and I replied with the same.

I hopped into my car, shaking, and not because of the bite of the January wind. I was exhilarated and afraid, but so happy I had finally built up the courage to do this.

I don’t have any knowledge of this being some life-changing event for her – that wasn’t what I was after. I wanted to listen to the Voice within, and if that was all I was after, I had succeeded. Success is simple when it is simple obedience.

The next week, I returned to that area of town – the area where people lock their car doors as they drive through and try to make it without stopping – looking for someone else to send home. I wasn’t looking for her. But there she was.

She spotted me from the sidewalk and flagged me down; I parked at the curb. She scurried over from across the street without the saunter I had seen before. I rolled down my window. She was leaning over while I sat inside; I realized what this looked like, and I politely got out of the car to speak to her face to face. I was after obedience, not a night in jail.

With a gigantic grin she gushed, “You’ll be happy to know I went home that day,” she explained. I returned a big smile. “I spent the evening with my kids, and the next day I went shopping and I was able to buy tons of groceries and even a few toys and things for the kids.”

“Oh I’m so happy,” I said in my returned flush of awkwardness. I reached in my pocket and produced a few more nights off the streets. “Here,” I said. And that beloved prostitute, no further from God than I was, hugged me again. This time, I tried to return a more passionate tap on her back as she embraced me.


It must have been quite an offense to the ancient religious chiefs of Jesus’ day for him to be spending time with people like this – prostitutes. These were breakers of the law with the worst of offenses, the scourge of the people, the lowest of the low. Yet with prostitutes, and with the rest of the riff raff, he spent most of his time. I imagine he laughed with them, played whatever pebble games they played, had dinner, danced. When the time was right, he may have become serious and reached inside with those eternal eyes to bring their hearts to light, but I also imagine he didn’t do that a lot of the time. They were his home – family, whom he loved.

There’s something about the people who know that they’ve got it all wrong, but can’t help it. Compassion wells up in the depths of him; the exuding humility given by their identity in that culture drew him in. The way they lived, the way they earned their money, the activities that filled their days didn’t mean anything to him when it came to that affinity he felt with them, that heart-state born of an embattled life. He didn’t always have to teach them and try to heal them; he just wanted to be with them. Humility – it draws the humble. And the others – those who knew they had it right – were most often left out, and would stand scratching their heads when he spoke to them. In fact, the only hellfire and brimstone Jesus ever spoke of while he was here was theirs – the chief priests and teachers of the law.

At one point during his time with us, he condemned those who were right and knew it: "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you (Matthew 21:31-32).

I wonder what is more offensive to a Holy God: one who turns tricks all night and has no admission of innocence by their very identity, or one who insists on their innocence by their very identity but is fully aware of their guilt in the minutest of offenses? At face value, which would we consider to be ‘holier’? Something tells me God doesn’t see people the same way we do. In fact, the danger is to create an expectation of God to have the same perspective we do, to create God in our own image, as Rosseau said, making a different point.

Expectation produces the worst danger when we speak of God. Even if Christianity isn’t your persuasion, we have built in to us by experience and context a vision of what or who God is. We read, we hear stories, we philosophize our days away and we expect the arrival of a dove. Instead, a pigeon lands on our shoulder and we tell it to flap away so the dove will have a spot to perch. So the pigeon flies away, and we spend the rest of the day watching the sky for a little white bird.

The imagination is wild and we sometimes ascribe it the ability to give us insight into the future. These images of coming events are at best a guess, and are never perfectly correct. Never. And through this ‘foresight’ we build up a matrix of things that God is and isn’t, and how he would respond to this situation, and who he would associate with, what he loves, what he hates, where he lives, why he made us, why we suffer, why we wander around in endless circles. We create a grid for understanding him, and we miss him. It’s the saddest reality – that he is so close, yet so far away; that he comes to us and we, with all our ideas, miss him by their blinders; that the pigeon sits on our shoulder, and we tell it to fly away.

The chief priests and teachers of the law did this – told him to fly away. He sat on their shoulder: the one they pray to; the one they make sacrifices to; their creator. But they had all these ideas about who he was and certainly who he wasn’t, about where he would go and who he would talk to, about what he loved and hated, and on and on their list went. And when he attended dinner parties with prostitutes, they missed him. It couldn’t be him; he is supposed to hate prostitutes.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:10

Jesus? It can’t be him. He’s not supposed to come and then leave again, he’s not supposed to die, he’s not supposed to be Jewish, he’s not supposed to become a human, he’s not supposed to be anything more than the collective consciousness. He’s supposed to bring world peace, not war. He’s supposed to be love, not hatred and judgment. He’s supposed to have good people following him, not hypocrites. He’s supposed to be dead, he’s supposed to be science, he’s supposed to be me.


It takes a clean slate to begin the search for God, and with him truth and a purposeful life. It takes a blank canvas, which you are. Where I call ‘expectation’ the most dangerous thing, many religious leaders have called an open mind the most dangerous thing. Expectation shuts our eyes and closes our ears to any potential for finding what we are looking for. And an open mind is the first step of the journey home. It gives us eyes to see and ears to hear – the ability to accept the pigeon.

A few weeks had gone by, and I was driving through that area of town again with my doors locked and a prayer for a string of green lights, and I saw her, the prostitute. She looked the same – long, stringy hair bleached blonde months ago, bumpy skin, tight pants – and she was still giving herself away. In fact, she was giving herself away right then, hopping into a big white van with a shaggy looking man. The prostitute – a mother, a friend, a future, a spirit – someone loved.

He who has ears, let him ear.