Great and Small

(As I expect we will have some new readers shortly, this is both a new post and a guide to some of my recent thinking. Most of the links connect to earlier posts I’ve made.)

It’s quiet in my apartment this week. My partner Adrian is gone on work business, and it’s the first time we’ve been separated since we moved in together, so the daily rhythm that we’d begun to get accustomed to is suddenly gone. I’m not alone in the place, however; our cat, Hannah, is with me. Hannah is a tiny cat—in fact, her official nickname here is “Small One.”

I decided to take advantage of the quiet, and of Adrian’s library, by doing some reading and then some meditation. I picked up a book on alternatives to capitalism, a topic much in my mind of late. The theme dominated my thoughts as I tried to balance on my exercise ball and enter meditation.

I put the query out to the Spirit: “What would you want the economy to look like?”

And the Spirit answered, quite promptly: “Listen, and I’ll tell you.” So I listened. And the Spirit said:

“The great take care of the small.”

Ah, I thought. That makes sense—those with the greatest resources should take care of those with the least. Very Biblical, really. But how is that to be enforced? After all, there are many mechanisms in today’s society where the powerful and wealthy are supposed to look after the weak and poor, but too often they don’t seem to be doing it, or seem to do it so selectively that it’s not generally helpful for most people.

As I pondered this, a plaintive noise intruded on my thoughts. I looked down and saw the cat, trying to climb up into my lap. But since I was sitting on the exercise ball, I didn’t really have a lap, and Hannah was mewing with dismay. Oh, right, I realized. The great take care of the small. And here was the Small One, asking for some help. So I moved to the couch to generate a lap for her.

At first she decided she didn’t want it, after all, and roamed about the apartment for a bit—but before long she came back over and settled down, purring up a storm as we helped keep each other warm. Then the second piece of the lesson fell into place. “The great take care of the small” isn’t just an instruction—it’s a definition. If you don’t take care of others, you’re not great. Simple as that.

Which reminded me of many things: the idea of asking and giving rather than buying and selling; my thoughts on heaven and hell; how you get into heaven, according to Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46; the laborers in the vineyard; and the story, probably apocryphal but still containing much truth, of Rabbi Hillel, who was once asked to recite the whole of Hebrew Law while standing on one foot. Hillel promptly stood on one foot, recited “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), put his foot down, and said, “The rest is commentary.”

What should the economy look like, according to the Holy Spirit? One where people take care of each other. The rest is less critical.

Options, Part Two

One of my more common failings, friends, is getting something started and then forgetting to finish it. And such was the case with this. My apologies for the delay in posting part two of this essay. Part One can be found here—or, if you’re looking at this on the main screen, just scroll down.

Now to the communal options! I’ll list these in ascending order of audacity. Continue reading

Options, Part One

A Friend came to the Spirit and asked, “Spirit, how may I achieve perfect peace?”

The Spirit said, “Follow the testimonies, follow my leadings, subscribe to Friends Journal, and love your neighbors as yourself.”

The Friend said, “I have done all of that for years.”

Then there is one more thing to do,” the Spirit said.

Tell me.”

Go, sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor.”

The Friend waited expectantly, and, after a few minutes, said, “Please, Spirit. What is the one thing I have to do?”

The Spirit said, “I just told you. Go, sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor.”

The Friend was becoming agitated. “Spirit, why won’t you answer me? I’m listening.”

Sell. Everything. Give. The money. To. The poor. …Is this thing on?”

The Friend was by now distraught, and wandered away wailing, “Spirit, where are you? I feel so lost; I cannot find the Light! I don’t know what to do…”

(Later…)

And that’s how the Quakers died out?”

Of course. They had exactly one thing going for them: listening to Me. Have you seen their business meetings? They never would have survived so long if I hadn’t been helping out. When they stopped hearing Me they were doomed. But money talks louder than I do… and fear talks louder still.”

~~~

Or…

We could do something different. Continue reading

An Open Letter to the Seattle Times

To the editors, the Times:

I will let Mr. Eaton speak for himself:

“We navigate our way uncomfortably among teenagers who occupy Westlake Park, hanging out with their pit bulls, backpacks and skateboards, lately with their babies, freely smoking their now-legal marijuana. With utter dismay we read the stories of random violence…

“Tragically, fear may lead to resentment of the poor and the helpless.”

Did none of you see the dissonance there?

I value the chance to read points of view different from my own in the Seattle Times, which is good, since you run so many of them. (Go on, print a pro-union piece, I dare you.)

But when you run a piece so obviously lacking in thought, it reflects poorly on the quality of the Times. Here’s a man whose heart is plainly in the right place, and yet is, with equal plainness, falling victim to one of the problems he’s deploring. I’ll give Mr. Eaton the benefit of the doubt and assume that no one pointed out the tinge of hypocrisy in his argument. But since you were presumably editing the piece and should have pointed out exactly that, this does mean that I can’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Eaton again:

“I have no expertise in these complicated matters, only a love for this city, a care for the poor and a belief in the power of community… Maybe we start with the trashed flowerpot in front of Macy’s, the gum spots all over our streets or the camped-out teenagers; we begin with the little things.”

When a man can write that he “care[s] for the poor” and then, just a few paragraphs later, puts homeless teens on the level of trashed flowerpots and used chewing gum—when a man can profess love for his fellow humans and then calls them “things” in the next breath—I must be deeply skeptical of his words. And I must be even more skeptical of a newspaper which finds such words worth printing.

Sincerely,

Paul Christiansen

[Addendum: many readers of the editorial will observe other gaping flaws. I elected to stick to a single point in the letter itself, following Lincoln’s policy of giving ground on secondary issues while standing firm and prevailing on the crucial point. I do see Eaton’s lack of compassion, disguised as it is in compassionate language, as the key point. Any number of other issues could be raised with his flawed argument, however:

  • The “broken window” theory has been rather discredited
  • The Seattle Police Force clearly requires greater scrutiny at present, not less
  • Mr. Eaton seems to be demanding action about symptoms, not causes
  • If Seattle is a “broken city” then Detroit must be a war zone, and Mogadishu must be Hell itself
  • The Salvation Army is a great resource for the poor… unless you’re gay

Etc.]