Thursday, June 21, 2007

Further refelctions on Actvism and Jubilee USA

Apparently in my previous posts the main message I conveyed was anti-Utopian. That is not all I took from the Jubilee USA conference. And I do want to be clear: my criticisms should not be read as a rejection of what Jubilee USA is working for, nor as a rejection of activism in general. I do perhaps want to keep the scope limited. I would encourage activists to continue to do what they are doing but (especially if they are Christians) to not hope in their own efforts and the ability to influence Governments and the masses.

I imagine that is a difficult thing to do. How does one work for change, protest, seek to influence the powerful and not hope in those actions and the response to those actions. If things are going to change and yet remain just the same, how does an activist keep going? In some sense a Utopian hopeful outlook appears necessary for the activist to keep going. Yet, I did hear both in the plenary sessions and in a couple of the workshops some of the older activists reluctantly admit that even as working towards debt cancellation has worked, suddenly we find that new avenues and old patterns of exploitation and oppression emerge. Things have changed and yet remain much the same.

Now I do not believe that this means people should throw in the towel, but it may require an adjustment of what activism is about. It may also mean that an activism without utopianism and/or discouragement and burn out requires a particular form of Christian realism oriented towards an eschatological hope. Or to put more succinctly a perpetual resistance based in the reality of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ya, I know that will go over like a lead balloon in the activist community, especially since eschatology and Jesus Christ have been hijacked by Christian forms of escapism.

And Yet with the Jubilee concept to prod the powers to cancel debts is an example of precisely the power of the saving acts of God in history, and thus the powerer of the messianic (ie eschatological) hope in Judaism and Christianity. except that to some degree Jubilee USA robs itself of the non-utopian aspects of the concept of cycles of sabbath rest from the pattern of working six days to resting on the seventh, to having a sabbath year, to the Jubilee which is a sabbath of sabbaths, in away. The sabbath is ultimately not a human instinct or pattern, it is given to Israel and thus all humanity from God, but God's own example. A sabbath year was a year without economy, without production, without human effort and ingenuity. The Jubilee year is for mere human society pure insanity. All debts legitimate or not, all property accumulated over the past 50 years is returned to those who originally owned it, all prisoners (One supposes at least some of them would be imprisoned for good reasons as well as because of an oppressive system) are set free! This is far beyond what is reasonable, this is beyond utopia. This is a radical recognition that all is a gift from God, that in the end what we work for can only always already be received. that true work, true human action is an openness to this gift. The Scriptures are actually more radical, more realistic than Jubilee and the worlds activists of whatever stripe. Our problems, the suffering in the world, and oppression have deeper more entrenched roots than is admitted, and the solution this whole cycle of sabbaths tells us is a radical trust in God that refuses to trust in human economy and ability to organize on whatever scale.

There is no human economy or government that will implement such a radical and from a human POV potentially disastrous set of policies. It is highly likely that the ancient Israelites never practiced Jubilee, and in the Prophets it becomes a symbol of what the Messiah will accomplish. A certain amount of harmony and shalom needs to exist for Jubilee to emerge. We are too well aware this is not the case, we are rarely at ease in ourselves let alone with others, we are not whole our governments are not whole, we do not trust, we have no reason to trust. Yet we long to trust and we ironically continually attempt to put that trust in that which always already has failed us our own efforts whether they be in the form of Governments or "grass-roots" communities of activists or... Jubilee I believe tells us that there is only resistance until that day when all things are finally put under the feet of Christ and all things have returned to the one for whom and through whom all things were made. But the resistance that is required is no ordinary resistance it is resistance that understands that what we work for (end of suffering, relief of poverty, justice etc.) can only come to us as gift, our work whether activist or not is to allow what we do to be always already an act of receiving. This is a radical act of Trust in the God of the Sabbath and of Jesus Christ who is the one who brings to the world Jubilee.