This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.
Repent and Burn: The Baptism of John the Baptiser
In apocalyptic style, John the Baptist introduces us to three components of Christ’s kingdom of peace: repentance, the Holy Spirit, and fire (Matthew 3:7-12). What comes after is often referred to as “Christ’s Baptism,” but if we consider the examples below and the exegesis that follows, it’s clear that John experiences a kind of baptism as well.
Regrettably, my wife Jenica did the vast majority of our wedding planning on her own. It’s no surprise that my failure to offer help was a source of conflict on several occasions. For example, one evening, while Jenica was making wedding invitations, I looked up from my computer to realize that she was gone. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed her leave the room. Often when Jen’s upset she wisely disappears to cool-off before evaluating the situation. So when I realized that I was alone with a mountain of unfinished invitations, I knew something was amiss.
The feeling I had at that moment is something I think we’ve all experienced. It’s the moment we realize that we’ve let down those we depend on. Jen expected my help. It was our wedding after all and weddings take at least two people, not counting all the support contributed by family and friends. Repentance, I want to argue, is the realization that we don’t do life on our own. We depend on a power greater than ourselves — friends, family, neighbors, government, water, soil, oxygen and in these God.
Part 1: Purchasing Labour
With two little boys at home, I don’t get out much, so a visit to a new craft brewery in Niagara was an exciting event. Playing it safe, I opted to start with the IPA. It had a nice grapefruit and tangerine aroma that lead into hints of tropical fruit notes followed by a slightly over the top bitterness. There was more than enough potential in this first beer to convince me to purchase a variety of tall cans. In the process of the exchange, I got chatting with the owner who was excited about the growing craft beer movement in Ontario but was worried that the ambition of a few breweries had elevated their production levels beyond the “craft” status. Relaying this story to a friend, I was told that any beer was craft so long as it wasn’t owned by InBev — the corporation responsible for almost 50% of the beer produced in North America that had generated revenue of about 47.06 billion U.S. dollars worldwide in 2014. Bubbling under the surface of the Niagara craft brewer’s concern was, well, beer. He was concerned that the larger the operation, the more likely it was that the passion for beer is eclipsed by the motivation to make money.
In the last post, we learned that according to Marx the only way to generate original value is through labour, the trick that we have yet to discover is how a capitalist generates value using capital alone. This mystery, as we will discover, isn’t all that complicated: to generate value without imputing one’s own labour, the capitalist must exploit someone else’s labour-power. The trick is to find a way of accomplishing this feat without violating the rules of economic exchange.
Part 2: Exploiting Labour
Asking “why read Karl Marx” is a legitimate question. It seems strange to believe that Marx, who wrote 150 years ago, could address current economic and political challenges. Certainly, things have changed in the last 150 years. Marx’s Capital, however, remains relevant in part because it’s an attempt to analyze the experience of capital, an experience that shows no signs of abating. Further, in examining capital, Marx inevitably touches on other integral parts of contemporary life such as money, labour, commodities, markets, value, technology, class relations, etc. Capital is connected to all of these things and in reading Marx we come to understand the consequences of our participation in the economic system. He reminds us that using a cell phone or tapping a credit card aren’t inconsequential actions. The rhythm of daily life has a storied history. Our participation in “the way things are,” has consequences for our lives and the lives of those around us. Even if you ultimately disagree with Marx, grappling with his arguments is an illuminating journey.
This summer was my first substantial introduction to Marx, and I wanted to use a series of posts to highlight a few aspects of his thought that have helped me evaluate my participation in the market. The first two posts are guided by one seemingly simple notion: that money can produce more money. How, for example, does an index fund grow in a capitalist economy. In this first post I explore Marx’s basic definition of capital, while the second one looks at capitalism as a social relation between labour and capital — better known as surplus labour. In the third and final part, I aim to evaluate Hannah Arendt’s critique of Marx found in her book, The Human Condition.
This post originally appeared on Groundmotive.net.
There are countless ways of understanding God’s nature. New atheists such as Daniel Dennett, for example, reject a variety of theisms that defines God as a supernatural agent who desires humanity’s worship. Peter Rollins, a self-identified emergent Christian defines God as “that which we cannot speak of [and] the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”* Rollins finds inspiration in Christian mystics such as Meister Eckert, tending away from anthropocentric understandings of God like the one Dennett rejects. Like Dennett, Rollins aims to disturb conventional theism while, unlike Dennett, maintaining a semblance of orthodoxy. Jack Caputo, taking these ideas a step further, conceives of God as an “insistence” with little agency in the world other than the ability to disturb and haunt our actions.
Conceptions of God play a critical role in shaping our moral lives; some theists practise an escapism because their God shuns the world, while others become champions of social causes because that is what they believe God desires of them. This post will work backwards, so to speak, considering how our daily attempts to act ethically can shed light on God’s nature. To this end, I will employ virtue ethics’ approach to moral life, a school of ethics that emphasizes virtues, opposed to an emphasis on the need to follow rules (deontological) or an emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions (consequentialism).
In a nutshell, virtue ethics claims that we should always make decisions that encourage health. On a personal level, this means being concerned with one’s character, believing that if one engages in the daily practice of care, for example, one will be prepared to act caringly when a weighty ethical situation demands such action. Similarly, on a societal level, a subscription to virtue ethics would aim to develop life together in ways that encourage healthy relationships — for example, by building neighbourhood landscape that create opportunities to practice hospitality.
But what does this ethical school have to do with our conceptions of God?
This post was originally given as a prayer at Westview Christian Fellowship.
Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
- 1 By the rivers of Babylon—
- there we sat down and there we wept
- when we remembered Zion.
- 2 On the willows[a] there
- we hung up our harps.
- 3 For there our captors
- asked us for songs,
- and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
- “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
- 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
- in a foreign land?
- 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
- let my right hand wither!
- 6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
- if I do not remember you,
- if I do not set Jerusalem
- above my highest joy.
- 7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
- the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
- how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
- Down to its foundations!”
- 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
- Happy shall they be who pay you back
- what you have done to us!
- 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
- and dash them against the rock!
It’s difficult to accept the fact that the Bible describes revenge in such brutal detail as found in Psalm 137. There are other Psalms that ask us to direct our anger in ways that promote peace rather than perpetuate violence but not Psalms 137. Psalm 137 doesn’t temper an author’s fierce anger towards injustice and desire for revenge. It’s important to hear and remember the extent of the anger expressed here because it was apocalyptic verses like these that inspire Christ. He too is angry at the injustice he sees around him and condemns Israel in a similar way as Jeremiah (the prophet we think authored Psalm 137) condemns Babylon.
Psalm 137 is remembered for its violence but also because of the haunting tune set to its lyrics by Don McLean titled “Babylon” linked at the beginning of this post. If we let them, the song and its lyrics can haunt us in three healthy ways.
It’s important to make two preambles before I begin. First, all the most interesting insights found below are taken from Amy-Jill Levine’s fantastic book Short Stories by Jesus. Second, this post is an attempt to deal with the parables as we think they were given by Jesus. In doing so, I avoid dealing with Luke’s interpretation, the way he relates them, in the voice of Christ, to repentance (more on this at the end). I want to be clear that this doesn’t imply that Luke’s interpretation and repentance are unimportant, but rather to do justice to both would require more space than a normal blog post allows.
Parables have a way of surprising us by inverting our expectations, forcing us in some cases to reconsider commonly held beliefs or to ask difficult ethical questions. Consider the parable of the “Three Little Pigs.” After two failed attempts, the wolf, in desperation, jumps down the third little pig’s chimney only to land in a cauldron of stew. Pig’s enjoying wolf stew is a surprising result (and in some ways disturbing). Similarly, when Christ told parables his aim was to provoke and disturb and it’s no coincidence that he uses parables to do so.
Luke presents a series of three parables: “The Lost Sheep”, “The Lost Coin”, and “The Lost Son”. All three parables follow a similar pattern: (1) a wealthy individual loses part of his or her wealth, (2) he or she finds the thing that was lost, and (3) its recovery is celebrated with a meal. These three parables follow the “rule of three” whereby the first two in the series set up the third. Again consider the parable of “The Three Little Pigs;” the first two pigs with their homes of straw and sticks set up the story of the third pig with his home of brick. Although the three parables in Luke are similar, the first two help explain the events of the third. To understand how Christ provokes his audience, than, it’s helpful not only to understand how the stories are similar but to also notice the details that make the third story unique. Below is each parable, with a consideration of the way in which Christ uses the story of “The Lost Son” to challenge expectations and ask difficult ethical questions. Continue reading