Friday, June 15, 2007

Jubilee USA Conference Opening Night

This weekend I am attending the Jubilee USA Grassroots Training and Organizing Conference. One of the members of Reconciler has helped recruit for and organize the conference. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have attended otherwise.

I really am not an activist, and it was a little odd being addressed as one in the midst of a whole crowd of activists. Not that I am against activism, nor even against this particular cause of debt cancellation, in fact I have long supported both this cause and other causes.

The Rev. Dr. Morris gave the opening reflection, and it was good preaching, as well as giving some historical perspective on the root of the debt crisis in the policies of this nation during the Cold War. In all his brief openning words were both inspiring and informative. Yet he opened his reflection having us sing a tune "Everybody has a right to the Tree of Life." and then used that as the refrain for his mini sermon. The bringing together of "right" with the Biblical image of the Tree of Life seemed to me to be odd and conceptually problematic. I need to be clear here: I do not find problematic the sentiment and assertion that it should not matter who you are or your nationality, race, gender, etc, in terms of having access to what is needed to live and to live beyond mere survival. The wealthy (nations or individuals) do not deserve nor have a right to a better life than others. However, the tree of life is not that. The tree of life is not something wealthy people and nations have and are hording, and thus it is not something Humans can keep people from or assert that someone or all of us has a right to. That is if we understand the Tree of Life as that which is planted by God in the Garden of Eden and which then makes its reapearance in Genesis in the city of the New Jerusalem. In this sense it is true that the Tree of life is for everybody, but it is so because it is from God and not human hands. The Tree of Life then represents life as God intended it before the fall and which is restored through the work of the Cross. Now this all has implications now, but in this sense the Tree of Life is not a right but a universal gift to all humanity from God, not a right per se.

Now the point wasn't that, the point was that all should have a right to a good quality of life and policies of our government create situations in other nations that prevent this quality of life being available to the majority of those nations people. However, I wonder at the use the the image of the Tree of Life in this way if it makes it a human possession rather than a gift from God to all. It makes perfect sense in away to a certain democratic rhetoric but it may also show where such rhetoric departs from a Biblical and Christian vission of human equality before God. A vision somewhat different from, though related to, the American Declaration of Independence.

I can accept the valuing of democracy and freedom of the press expressed by the political cartoonist Godo Mwampembwa, in his presentation of some of his recent political cartoons. His sense of the role of a free press to confront power and Government and thus as a tool of democratization. Especially in the purely secularist and realist articulation that Godo used. Godo had no utopia in mind. Governments whether African or European or American would always need to be watched and critiqued and made fun of, because without it they would always seek to take power and money.

In hearing both Neil Watkins and Amy Goodman speak I felt a deep unease that somewhere in both what drove them was not a realism but an ideological utopianism. Neil representing Jubilee USA that utopianism existed in mixing a Biblical vision of human society within the ancient nation of Israel, that has an eschatological dimension with a particular historical cause. On one hand I have no trouble with using the Biblical concept of a sabbath year and of Jubilee to critique and offer an alternative vision of the very destructive and dehumanizing practices of our governments and corporations and other centers of power. However, I feel Jubilee plays at doing something more than this, which in fact reduces the power of the concept of Jubilee as that which is a gift from God, as much as it is a human achievement. With Amy Goodman I heard in her words an ideal vision of the United States, an ideal that has never been real. the main example she gave was a perfect example of how it is difficult to find in history the ideal of the US. as supporter of democracy outside of the limits it decides some form of representative government should exist. Haiti's democratic self rule has always been opposed by the United States. A refrain of her's was "How have we come to this (or to be this, or seen as this.)." "This" meaning all these things that are so undemocratic and/or seeking power and control. Yet there was no coming to "this". The question denies the disjunction between America's ideals and its reality. The problem is in part our mythology, our mythology of democracy and freedom that has never been truly lived out in our history.

I believe in the resistance the vigilance and the effect these things can have to better the world, I find it dubious the expectation of the achievement of the ideals I doubt there will be utopia. Of course in part I believe this because I do not believe that what we long for can be achieved by human effort alone. There will be no utopia only the eschaton. Ultimately we can only receive as gift those things of ultimate value we wish to achieve.

Thus the secularist realist sense of continual struggle Godo spoke of rings truer to me than the worlds of Neil Watkins and Amy Goodman, who seem to hope in a human achievement of these ultimate longings.