Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Firm Foundations
distributed 11/08/01 - ©2001

Jesus used a memorable image to communicate the need for a "firm foundation" for our lives. A house built on sand, however beautiful or functional for everyday use, will fall when floods beat against the house. A house built on the rock stands a better chance of surviving the storm.

Jesus is using a metaphor, not giving construction advice. The way life goes for us all, we can't avoid building in the flood plain. The metaphorical rains, floods and winds will come to us all.

For many people in the US, September 11 was a flash flood with record high water. Lots of folk felt the walls of their own lives shake as they never had before. The floodwaters came fearfully close to their front door, and their whole emotional and philosophical structure came close to collapse. The lack of a solid foundation became a frightening reality. And, rather than relief at making it through an exceptional 100-year flood, we're all caught with the realization that the trauma of September 11 could come to be seen as relatively normal, as the high-end of the spring run-off, as something we'll have to face again.

Because of September 11, countless people have been moved to reexamine what is most important -- foundational -- for themselves, their families, and their communities.

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The emotional storm of September 11 swept in with a vicious suddenness and a profound devastation. In the following weeks and months, we've seen an economic storm of lesser, but still significant proportions. The economic impacts of terrorism have spread around the world through the complex webs of our financial interconnectedness.

The beautiful structure of the world's most robust economy isn't holding up too well in that storm. There are signs that the damage is not in superficial areas, the equivalents of lost shingles and sodden carpets. The foundations are settling and the walls are cracking. The calls from national leaders in the US, Britain and Canada for a surge of consumer spending sounds like calls for sandbag crews at the levee. The flood, unchecked, might well bring the whole house down. Because the house, we now see, has been built upon shifting sand.

Why is our economic household under such stress? We're not under an ongoing attack (despite anthrax and other fears). We're not supporting an enormous war machine, as in WW II. We're not even shaken by an oil shortage as in 1973.

Our economy is in danger because businesses and consumers have taken a fresh look at what they really need, and have cut back on luxuries and discretionary spending -- travel, fashion, meals out, and equipment upgrades.

Over the last 50 years, as the consumer society has flourished, we've rapidly expanded our economic house. We haven't built those additions on solid rock, or even sand. We've built much of our economy on fluff, on non-essentials, on toys and leisure and luxuries. The threat to our economy has been triggered simply because people decided that they didn't want to buy. The modern world has built an economic palace on shaky foundations, because so much of what keeps the economy going really isn't necessary to anyone.

Our modern, consumer society has depended on the whims of the affluent. Its rapid growth has come at terrible cost to the poor, and to the world's environment. The apparent health of the economy has been made possible by the growing gap between the wealthy and the impoverished. The economy has been labeled "prosperous" while homelessness and hunger have increased. Marketers try to convince us that we "need" the unessential, even as the real needs of many have not been met.

It doesn't have to be that way. An economy built in another direction can have a foundation on solid rock. There can be a strong and vital economy that is more stable and more deeply grounded -- both economically and morally.

The alternative economy is built on a sustainable and just foundation. It is far more gentle in its demands on the earth and all of God's creatures. It works for the basic needs of all people before catering to the luxuries of a few. It looks to the strength and the health of communities, more than the pleasures of the individual. Its goal is sufficiency, rather than excess.

Justice and sustainability provide a bedrock foundation for our lives, ethically, emotionally and economically. An economy built on those principles is not only more moral, it is also far less likely to be shaken by changing moods or outside threats.

We're being told to strengthen the levees to hold back the flood, because our leaders know that the foundation is fragile. But Jesus was right. The house built on sand will fall -- maybe not this time, but soon.

May we learn from the traumas of this fall about the need for firm foundations. May we have the strength and courage to rebuild our lives, our communities, and our economy on solid rock.

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The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year in the US -- and almost all of that spending is "discretionary." For many years, in a creative protest against the consumer society, that Friday at the end of November has been proclaimed "Buy Nothing Day." In light of this fall's appeals from politicians for patriotic consumerism to shore up the shaky foundations of our economy, Buy Nothing Day is being criticized by some of its former advocates. Find our more about the controversy, and this year's plans, at


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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