The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Christmas Is Subversive
Eco-Justice Ministries has a clearly defined constituency. We work with clergy and lay leaders of Christian congregations; we use "church-speak" as we strive to bring eco-justice awareness and involvement into church life. I'm delighted that this newsletter has many appreciative readers from outside that constituency. I want to be clear, though, that this week's message is decidedly "in-house" for our Christian audience.
Christmas is a profoundly subversive holiday.
Millions of families gathering to open mountains of gifts are not subversive, of course. But the central theological point of this Christian holy-day is a direct challenge to the core assumptions and values of our modern world.
Recognizing and believing the message at the heart of Christmas could actually lead us to change our lives. We could find ourselves called to confront the most powerful ideologies and institutions of our day.
What is Christmas? It is the celebration of God breaking into human history with a saving act of love in and through the person of Jesus. At Easter, we can get tied up in questions of how that saving love works. At Christmas, we simply rejoice in the wonderful fact of Emmanuel, of God-with-us.
The remarkable proclamation of this celebration is that God's saving love is poured out:
What is so subversive about that?
Christmas tells us that (in the eyes and heart of God) all people, all creatures, all parts of creation, have intrinsic worth. We are all worth loving and saving, just because we exist.
God comes to us in a pure act of love and grace. There's no exchange where we need to do something useful for God. We don't need to prove our worth. We don't need to be better or more valuable than any other part of the creation. God loves and cares for each of us, just as we are.
That's not the way our world works.
We like to think that we are living in The Technological Age, defined by wondrous advances in science. But even more significantly, we live in The Economic Age, when our understanding of the world, and all things in it, is shaped by economic perspectives. People, other creatures, and "natural resources" are deemed to be valuable, or not, for what they can provide to others. Much of the time, both individually and institutionally, our relationships with people and the rest of creation are grounded in the exchange value of labor and commodities. The value of others is often defined in dollars.
There is more at stake in the difference between economic worth and intrinsic worth than intellectual categories. How we understand the worth of others shapes our morality and ethics.
The great anti-slavery movements of the 1800s were driven by the moral passion of those who saw the intrinsic worth of enslaved humans. That movement for freedom was driven by the radical notion that all people -- however oppressed or despised -- have moral standing because of their innate value. The abolitionists made clear that people are not things to be bought and sold, used and abused. The labor of people has economic value; the people themselves have intrinsic worth.
The claim of intrinsic value in the lives of the enslaved was clearly an attack on the economic system that brought prosperity to regions and nations. Claims of intrinsic worth were practical and philosophical threats to the status quo.
And the same is true today. If we take seriously the premise of Christmas -- if we truly believe that God cares enough about creation to come among us with saving grace -- then we will be called to a different morality. We will be compelled to denounce systems and ideologies that recognize only the monetary worth of what God so profoundly loves.
This Christmas, I pray that God's loving perspective on the world may break into our lives and our churches. I pray that we may be transformed by the astounding proclamation of Christmas. I pray that we will be compelled -- as a matter of our deepest faith and ethics -- to love, protect and preserve God's valuable creation.
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My comments on Christmas trees a few weeks ago stirred up more responses than usual. A couple of writers (who had done more careful research than I had) advocated for artificial trees instead of fresh.
In the concise words of one: "Live trees for the holidays are no different from any other timbering operation, no matter how many words we use to justify it."
I was also struck by the words of a woman selling trees at my local garden shop. When asked if their supplier used lots of pesticides, she replied with pride, "I don't know what they use, but we don't see any bugs at all on these trees."
I confess that my own emotions feel short-changed by placing metal and plastic in the living room as a symbol of this season, but I do see the truth in the environmental calculus.
There may be attractive sale prices on artificial trees after Christmas.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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