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Saturday, April 14, 2007
Book Discussion - Colossians Remixed
Before jumping into this month's book discussion on Colossian's Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, I want to recommend that you read a few things. First read Colossians - right now before you go any further in this dialogue. Then if you haven't read Colossians Remixed (or even if you have) I highly recommend reading the summary here. (and if you're interested a chapter by chapter commentary/summary here). This is a dense book that takes more space than I want to use here to summarize, so I will point you to those who are better at that short of thing than I.

I first read this book about a year ago and can say that it has been one of the best rock my world emergingish books that I have read. This is a Biblical commentary (on Colossians if you haven't gathered that yet) that is light years away from traditional commentaries that I am used to. It is, well, remixed. It explores history and cultural themes, it imagines conversations, it explores philosophical assumptions of morality and truth before applying them to the text, it respects the readers' doubts and questions, it rewrites passages for modern readers, and it engages in "dialog" with opposing viewpoints.

As the subtitle proclaims, this book is about subverting the empire. And the words of Paul address life under this empire. The Roman Empire held sway in Paul's world. The empire let you live in "peace" as long as you gave them sufficient respect - paid your taxes, said the right things about Caeser, places images of Caeser and Rome in prominant places in your home and town, didn't question the military or slave system... Walsh and Keesmaat argue that the message of Christianity (as portrayed in Colossians) subverts that empire. Not only does that message challenge the values of Rome, it challenges the empire we live under today - the western empire of globalization, militarism, and consumerism. We are part of these empires but are called to resist them and subvert their power.

For discussion I've selected just a few of the ideas presented in the book as jumping off points. I know I'm ignoring huge sections (like the discussion on truth) but this is really long already (there is just too much good stuff here). So please feel free to bring up any other questions, quotes, or themes that you want. Let's dive in (and please don't feel overwhelmed, comment on what you want!) -

1. The question of interpretation. What is your reaction to this quote? "Reading is always from somewhere. We always read from a particular historical, cultural and geographical place. The question that we must ask is, how do we "place" ourselves, how do we discern the times and spirits that invariably influence our reading of a text like Colossians? What are the questions, crises and opportunities that we necessarily (and legitimatly) bring to this text?" p19

2. Empires are defined here as (1) built on systemic centralizations of power, (2) secured by structures of socioeconomic and military control, (3) religiously legitimated by powerful myths and (4) sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imagination of the population. In comparing how both the Roman and current Western empires maintain the status quo of privledge and oppression the authors give the examples of "most major corporations use the equivalent of slave labor to produce clothing, toys, tools and some foods. Most of this labor is done by people in Asia, Latin America or Africa. While cash-crops farmers include both men and women, the majority of those who work in sweatshops, on coffee plantations and in the sex trade are women and children. ... although our culture does not openly subscribe to an ethos of patriarchy, racism, and classism, the effects of the global economic market create the same kind of societal dynamic that was present in first-century Rome." (p 59-60). I want to ask the same questions the authors then ask - "In the face of an empire that rules through military and economic control, what is the shape of a community that serves a ruler who brings reconciliation and peace by sacrificial death rather than military might? If the empire elevates economic greed and avarice into civic virtues, while Paul dismisses such a way of life as idolatrous, then how does a Christian community shaped by Paul's gospel live life in the empire?" (p61).

3. Poetry of subversion. The authors explore how the hymn presented in Colossians 1:15-20 is a hymn of subversion of Empire. It takes the language of Empire and proclaims the supremacy of Christ over Caesar - radical, subversive, dangerous. They then contribute a "targum" (an extended translation and expansion that reads our world through the eyes of the text) of this passage. You can read it on p.85 or here. (and a short article on the point they are making here). What is your reaction to the poem? Does this imagination of an alternative to empire make sense?

4. But wait a minute you cry! Aren't Christians supposed to subject ourselves to the governing authorities and all that? The authors respond - "Rather than read [Romans 13] as providing carte blanche legitimation for any regime, regardless of how idolatrous and oppressive it might be, we suggest that Paul is actually limiting the authority of the state. The state is a servant of God for our good. it has no legitimacy or authority in and of itself, apart from subjection to the rule of God. and when the state clearly abrogates its responsibility to do good, when it acts against the will of God, then the Christian community has a responsibility to call it back to its rightful duty and even to engage in civil disobedience (see Acts 12:6-23). The state has no authority to do evil". (p185)

5.In Colossians 3:5-17 Paul tells us to put to death the things of our earthly nature (sexual immorality, greed). The authors write, "Why end a list of sexual sins with an economic sin? Because sexual sin is fundamentally a matter of covetousness, an insatiable, self-gratifying greed that has the control and consumption of the other person as its ultimate desire" (p160) and "In our culture, the unrestrained economic greed of global market capitalism pimps sexual promiscuity along with its entertainment products, communications systems, automobiles and running shoes. You see, if the empire is all about economic growth driven by a lifestyle of consumption, then all of life becomes a matter of consumption - including our sexual life. ... There is no point in getting all morally absolute about sexual promiscuity if Christians are screwing around with the same consumeristic way of life as everyone else. This text gives us the language to identify what is going on here for what it is: idolatry." (p162). How do you see sexual immorality as being greed and idolatry? What is the value of the alternatives?

6.What is your reaction to this quote? "Does the child who sits in front of a television set for three to four hours a day, shops at the mall with her parents, goes to school and recites the Pledge of Allegiance, plays computer games, listens to her president encouraging everyone to go out shopping in order to defeat terrorism, wears clothes from the Gap, and plays with the toys created out of the imagination of Disney and Hollywood, ever actually choose the American way of life? ... Was there a moment of conversion in her life when the American dream became her dream? No. She imbibed the monocultural consumerist dream in the fast food she ate, the polluted air she breathed and the visual culture she inhabited. And so she was converted, made into a cult member, before she knew what was happening." (p171).

7. If Christians are not to be at home in an empire characterized by sexual sin, greed, and violence, the authors ask what should the Kingdom look like? They proposed a life lived where the peace of the victim of an empire cross is spread, where community is lived, gratitude is practiced, and worship proclaims that Christ not Caesar is Lord of our lives. Practical suggestions the authors give include - pledging our allegiance to Christ not to the empire; investing as much each year in the hurting's present needs as we do in our future retirement; paying attention to where our food comes from and what's in it; setting up food co-ops where you can get food produced as locally as possible, in environmentally responsible ways, and that seeks to do justice to the producer of the food; be ecologically responsible by reducing our use of cars and start walking, biking, or using (or lobbying for) public transit; be good stewards of the ecosystem and stop dumping diapers (for babies or women) into the landfills (and hence streams and rivers). How do you react to those suggestions? What else could you add?

8. "We can argue until we are blue in the face that Colossians is good news for an oppressed and marginalized community at the heart of the Roman empire, but unless this good news is for those truly at the margins - slaves, children, and women- it is nothing but a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal." (p201). But the household codes in Colossians 3:18 -4:1 have more often been interpreted as justification for oppression of those groups instead of good news. The authors address this issue through a fantastic expanded account of Onesimus (the slave) and Nympha (who had a house church) - this story is worth the price of the book imho. The authors propose that the household codes can be interpreted as (1) Just an affirmation of the imperial view of the household, the Aristotelian hierarchy of man over women and all that (not likely if this letter is about subverting empire and not being captive to the philosophies of men). (2) A loving patriarchy when the wives and slaves choose to submit and husbands (amazingly enough) love and not beat their wives (wow - that seems so full of hope) . or (3) Paul is challenging the status quo by promoting the freedom and full rights of women and slaves. He couldn't of course say so directly because to commit that to writing would lead to serious persecution from the empire for such revolutionary practices. But the language he uses connotes the themes of inheritance and jubilee. Remember that Colossians was delivered and read with Philemon (about treating a slave as an equal) and the subversion is evident. Are we willing to challenge systems that oppress others if it means questioning the philosophies and assumptions of empire (ending global slavery, grant equal rights to women, not treating children as commodities)?


posted by Julie at 4:07 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 4/15/2007 12:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


    In your post "Colossians Remixed" you have written about Globalization, "Military Industrial Complex", Greed, Consumerism, Landfills and Environmental Crisis. In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our Minds and Environment. Please read.

    The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
    Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
    Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.

    Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

    If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

    Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

    When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

    There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

    People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

    Emotion ends.

    Man becomes machine.

    A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

    Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

    Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

    A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

    A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

    To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




  • At 4/16/2007 08:50:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    One thing that particularly struck me was the significance of the community living and breathing the truth of life tranformed Jesus together as the legitimizer of the truth/plausability of the gospel.

  • At 4/16/2007 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Amy

    I really enjoyed the book. It was unlike any other commentary I've read.

    I'll comment more later when I have a bit more time, but the area that has captured my attention over the last few days is the ecological side of our faith. Coming from a background that definitely had the idea that humans should "subdue" the earth (meaning take advantage of it whereever and whenever possible for our own good), this had radical implications.

  • At 4/16/2007 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Lori

    I'll come back to this when I have a bit more time as well. In the meantime, though, I have to say I've particularly enjoyed the insight into "empire" brought out by the authors. I grew up overseas, and so many of the things taken for granted here in the U.S. just don't make sense from an "international" perspective. It's a relief to see others noting the same concerns, but especially motivating: the emphasis on imagination is convicting to me, as I'm far more likely to identify a problem than to come up with solutions.

  • At 4/16/2007 03:26:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Alright. I have a cup of English Raspberry Tea in hand and three children sleeping...perfect time to catch up on this discussion!

    As a precursor, the thoughts that this book has illicited in my mind are numerous and I'm still processing. I'm really interested in hearing from the rest of you your take and opinions.

    1. On page 121 the authors state, "There is no view from Nowhere!" I think that is descriptive of how I respond to the question of interpretation. In chapter 7, "What is Truth", the authors spend a lot of time talking about ojectivity and how the modernist view of the world has placed "objectivity" above all else and basically created an idol out of it (very much the same idea as in "How (Not) to Speak of God").

    2. This question is so much bigger than I'd ever imagined. As I stated previously, I grew up in a church whose overall view of life centered on conquering. As a family, I never felt we ascribed to this view, but neither did we have an alternative. As I was reading the book, I was all about not buying as much and becoming more content with what I have, etc. I was surprised at some of the answers to this question provided toward the end of the book, though. Paying attention to the stocks I'm investing in, buying food locally grown, and a big look at the many Gap clothes that fill my closet. As ignorant as I may appear by making this comment, the truth is that I had never thought about these issues in "kingdom" terms. And, I'd never before understood the options I've taken to this point as being anything other than completely normal for a follower of Christ.

    3. I've always loved this poem, but never understood it in the way Walsh and Keesmaat have painted it. In that way it is dangerously subversive and even more poignantly beautiful.

    4. This different look at the Romans passage was pretty interesting to me. I've often heard sermons attempting to figure out the dichotomy between obedience to a government that appears to be doing wrong and how we as Christians are supposed to act under it. This seems to open up for a much wider understanding.

    5. Greed. Walsh & Keesmaat's understanding of how sexual sin and greed are tied together in this passage is terrific. I'm still thinking about how they tie it together and how I see this. It makes sense, though, that as we consume "things", this incredible gift God has given us gets lumped into this nondescript category and becomes something to purchase, to take in, to conquer rather than something to treasure.

    6. After my initial read of that quote, I put the book down and just thought for several minutes. Primarily I thought of my responsibility as a parent to create room and help my children to imagine apart from the empire. Since I haven't done that great so far, I haven't provided many opportunities for my children. But, now I can do better. I agree with the quote.

    7. Wow. I loved this part, but was also overwhelmed as well. I get it and it makes sense, but for someone new to this process, I've spent the last week almost morose thinking about the decisions I've made up to this point and what it will take to move another direction. I have rounded up a friend to split a cow from a local Colorado ranch with me, though.

    By the way, fellow women, what are options to women's "diapers"?

    8. I loved their take on this area as well. I'm all for option #3.

    It's interesting though, because I had a great conversation with a friend last week about biblical authority. He was concerned about my openness to the creation story not having to be a literal seven days. The question was posed, "Who decides?" (what the Bible says). During the course of the conversation, we also talked about literary & historical criticism as well as the original languages. He also asked, "For the most part, isn't the Bible clear?" We talked about the author's original intention and then our ability to know that. This seems to be a line that I'm having trouble navigating. I really do believe that the Bible has authority in our lives, that it is living and real and transformative for us today. I also think that looking at this incredible text in the way that Walsh and Keesmaat have done is essential to us. Traditionally, though, this is not a "clear" reading to most evangelicals. And as we open up a discussion with the assumption that historical setting, authorial intent, and our own worldviews significantly impact our understanding of the text, a lot of people I know get uneasy that by bringing all this into consideration, we're somehow relegating the text to relativity.

    I disagree with this conclusion, but wonder how some of you have worked with this type of situation.

  • At 4/16/2007 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Great comments all. I'm making myself respond to each of the questions here over at my blog 9if I asked them I need to answer them right? or something like that...). They appear in the links to this post section at the bottom of the comments if anyone wants to read long rambles.

    Jemila - community is huge here. When you think that Colossians (and most of the epistles) were written to a group of people and not individuals one has to interpret the instructions as being for a group as well. It alters my assumptions about how we should act as a church body.

    Lori - the authors are Canadians, so they are able to offer a bit of a different perspective on American christianity.

    Amy - great thoughts. As per your last question about interpretation and relativity. I honestly see an interpretation like this a being less relative than many of the "literal" ones I grew up with. This one takes so many factors (history,philosophy, culture...) into account to help gain a fuller perspective on the text. Interpretations that just take the assumptions of late 19th century Christianity and read those into the text are reading it relative only to their opinion and perspective. So this approach to me respects the Bible more and is more commited to discovering truth (a the while admitting that we can never fully get past our own biases)

  • At 4/16/2007 06:59:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Julie, I like your observation about many lit interps being more relative than a comprehensive, self-aware interp such as Col Remixed presents.

    One question raised for me about the suggestion that the household codes are actually "code" for equality is why would Paul be subtle to avoid further persecution if he just made blatantly subversive comments about the empire that would have been easily recognized in context, as Walsh and Keesmat argue?

  • At 4/16/2007 08:31:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I like the thought about understanding that the epistles were written to a community and therefore must be understood within a community.

    Regarding interpretation, I agree with you, Julie. I think that understanding the text within the historical context, the style of writing, the original language and all the other factors actually makes the text less relative and much more applicable than the literal interpretations I grew up with. Have you had any success in discussing this with those that still have a literalist view of biblical inerrancy? My experience to date is that people become very fearful when the literalist interpretations of scripture are called into question in light of the different methods of interpretation. For instance, I heard someone say recently that if one word in the Bible is proven untrue, we might as well throw the whole thing out.

  • At 4/16/2007 10:25:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    First Amy - options to women's diapers are things like this. I keep telling myself that I need to try them, but then again I still use disposable diapers. But I'm learning from friends that there are way better options than what I remember my mom using on my little brothers...

    Jemila - The authors argue that Paul's comments are only potentially subversive if one is seeped in scripture and can glean all the allusions. Granted, he uses language that was commonly used for Caesar, but never says directly that Caesar isn't lord. It's kinda like how George Lucas could swear that Star Wars Ep. 3 was not a commentary on America's involvement in Iraq when anyone who watched it could easily tell that it was.

    In addition Paul did have to take more care when speaking of the household codes. Using the poetry of empire is one thing, but directly saying things that would undermine the economic system of the Roman paterfamilies would be way more dangerous. Money of course meaning more to people than politics. To quote the imaginary discussion the authors create -

    "You know what happens to these letters. They're read aloud at many gatherings, copied, sent to other cities, such as Laodicea. You know the importance of slaves, wives, even children in the social and economic hierarchy of the empire. You know what would happen if Paul ever committed such advice to paper, ever made such a declaration public. For those who do not have ears to hear, for those who do not know the story, either of Israel or Jesus, this advice seems innocent enough. It appears to uphold the status quo while advising tolerance. But for those who know the story, the clues are there, allusions are made, and the hidden meaning is understood. For those with ears to hear, the message is clear: this is a God who proclaims a different kingdom from the ensnaring oppression of the empire, a God who frees slaves and calls for his followers to do likewise."

  • At 4/16/2007 10:43:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Amy - Success? Not a whole lot. When I bring up the issue of interpretation as a discipline, its hard to even get people to admit that they do it. Many Christians think that they are getting a direct line from God when they read the bible in its english translation. The idea that there isn't just one way to read the bible ever is too much to handle.

    what does seem to work is just to do it. Start exploring the Bible and bringing up the new things you are learning. don't talk about the philosophy behind what you are doing or even that you are doing something new or different at all. Stick to the bible, talk about the culture. Often people have to either then open their eyes to the cultural implications or they have to brush them aside for what the scripture means to us today - either way it reveal bias and interpretation.

    As to the person who talked about throwing out the Bible if even a word could be proved untrue. I would first ask - what type of book is the bible, what is it's purpose, and what do they mean by true? If the Bible to them is only a record of historically factual events (true in that everything in it actually happened) then perhaps I would agree with them. But I don't see the Bible as that type of book. I see it as being much bigger than just a history tome. and I have no problem saying a part of the Bible is true even if it never historically happened. There are truths to be found in Christ's parables even if they didn't happen. There are truths to be found in the creation myth or the book of Job as well regardless of if they happened. I am not a Platonist that rejects the concept of any truth being held in fiction. I find much of value in movies and novels of all genres. I see many genres in the Bible - history, story, poetry, phrophecy, polemic... and they contain many wonderful truths which are even more meaningful because they tell me about my faith and who God is.

  • At 4/17/2007 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Unfortunately, I didn't get to read this book. I hope to eventually. However, I thought I would jump in, in response to Amy. I can't say I have had much "success" either in discussing the Bible to my literal friends and family. I actually haven't even tried too much lately. However, I would say, what I have done, and even what helped me move beyond that is to ask questions, or point to certain "wide" concepts.

    I have said many times to people, "who's version are you reading"? Meaning, we have thousands of branches of "Christianity", the reason...every group differs on how they "translate meaning". That "should" say something to all of us. Literalist thinking people think there is "only" one meaning...however, if you put enough of them in a room, you would realize that there would still be differences!

    I also mention (and my pastor has pointed these out) that many "truths" or ideas have changed over time. Ex: slave issues, women issues, divorce, sexuality, etc. Even the most "conservative", literal reading person has to admit, many changes have occured in the last 2 centuries. If we read it "literally" then we really need to change how we practice. Many churches have made decisions about passages as 'being applicable' to the culture and time; therefore, it doesn't apply to us now. Well, who decides that? Someone had to.

    The biggest thing for me personally was my pastor said one time "Know why you believe what you do". When many of us are raised in church, receiving "our version" we don't even know where our ideas come from. When I began to research "ideas", I realized in many places the Bible didn't quite read (in my mind) the way I had been taught.

    There are a lot of things we don't catch as life time church goer's. I had a non-Christian friend tell me one time..."If the Bible is Literally from God, why does he have to repeat stories?" (meaning stories in the Gospels). It's silly, but I hadn't thought of it from that perspective. Even in those stories there are differences...many don't realize that...I didn't. As an example, I was writing lessons for our kids recently, and was going to use the story of Jesus walking on water. I was searching Bible Gateway for a version I thought the kids could best understand. When I was hunting, I realized that Peter meets Jesus in one of the stories but in the other 2 it is just Jesus. (I honestly don't know how that has been discussed in scholar world-so forgive me, if I am uneducated here!) I was surprised...in all my life, I never knew that. The crazy part was, when I mentioned it to some of my friends at church, almost all of them seemed unaware of the differences.
    As we are taught or do "Bible studies" in small sections, it is really easy to miss little things like this. It made a big difference to me. Even in the current book I am reading, many little points are made about what we are taught, and what is actually in passages. I can't begin to say how many times I have realized what is actually said, versus what I "knew". Usually when reading passages, we don't realize what is missing, unless it has been pointed out.

    Lastly, because I have gone on toooo long! It is amazing how often the phrase "If one thing is wrong in the Bible, we would have to throw out the whole thing!" is said. Even that I think is an indoctrinated concept....and amazingly across denominational boundaries! I find it really sad at this stage of my journey. I have released my "fundamentalist" reading of the Bible. When I did, a whole new world and beauty of the Bible opened up to me.

  • At 4/18/2007 01:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    quick note-- my personal alternative to disposable menstrual stuff is a "keeper" cup (look it up online)-- I've used it for a year now and it's perfect. It's completely comfortable once you get used to it and it's actually a lot tidier and easier than any alternative I've tried. And one will last you for 10 or 20 years so I've completely removed myself from the whole "feminine hygiene" waste-producing industry as well. (I love the theological discussion too but I'm still processing it all, so I'll just listen for now.)

  • At 4/18/2007 04:43:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    We recently had a movie discussion at our church on The Last Temptation of Christ. In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate (played by William Defoe and David Bowie) there are some comments that fit our discussion here. I wanted to share them, so I grabbed them online. I'm not sure the who said what is divided up completely accurately (at all), but it gives the basic idea -

    Jesus - The prophet Daniel had a vision:
    A tall statue that had a gold head and silver shoulders. The stomach was bronze,the legs were iron, the feet were clay. A stone was thrown. The clay feet broke
    and the statue collapsed.

    You see, God threw the stone.
    The stone is me. And Rome...
    And Rome is the statue, yes.

    Pilate: So your kingdom, or your world, will replace Rome.
    Where is it?

    Jesus: My kingdom? It's not here.

    Pilate: Not on earth.

    Jesus:It wouldn't be, would it?

    Pilate: It's one thing to want to change the way that people live...
    ...but you want to change
    how they think, how they feel.

    Jesus: All I'm saying is that change will happen with love, not with killing.

    Pilate: Either way, it's dangerous.
    It's against Rome.
    It's against the way the world is.
    And killing or loving, it's all the same. It simply doesn't matter
    how you want to change things.
    We don't want them changed.

  • At 4/18/2007 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I'm going to have to watch Last Temptation now!

    I also appreciated the author's discussion of the the relationship between sexual sin and greed/idolatry and a culture of economic sin. I'd be curious to hear others' thoughts.

  • At 4/18/2007 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Anonymous, first of all welcome. Feel free to listen and when you're ready, please join us.

    Thanks for the info on feminine products to Anon & Julie. (I have to admit, I'd really not thought twice about this particular area and had no idea there were alternatives)!

    Regarding Biblical authority/inerrancy, I took a great class in college from a Bible professor who had written a book on Biblical Interpretation (Randy Tate for anyone who's interested) and he covered all types of biblical criticism. That was really my first taste of what it takes to understand and apply the Bible. I think I (naively) assumed that most people asscribed to this philosophy. Recently, I've realized that as evangelicals, we understand the importance of historical setting, type of literature, and such, but primarily as that supports our traditional understanding. If it starts to challenge our presuppositions, then people get scared and begin to question the same types of research previously supported.

  • At 4/18/2007 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    As I've been thinking about this book, especially the areas of ecological responsibility, I've been a bit overwhelmed.

    How have some of you started making different decisions in how you spend money, where you spend money in order to support fair trade and ecoligically sustainable practices? Have you changed all at once or made the change more slowly?

    Do you all have some differing thoughts from the authors in this area? If so, what are they?

  • At 4/19/2007 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    One thing that surprised me to learn recently regarding ecological stuff was to learn that the meat industry actually produces more global methane/global warming gas than the automobile industry. So driving a hybrid is good; becoming a vegetarian or cutting down significantly on meat products is better.

    I also think more about putting my computer to sleep when I'm not using it.

    And we don't let the kids watch TV except for special occasions at friends houses. Our older kids can watch decent movies after age two (the age actually recommended by pediatricians.)

    I am also trying to connect my discipline with teaching about helping other people -- when I notice my daughter doing kind, cooperative or helpful things, she gets points and when she gets a certain number of points she gets to pick out a toy from a gift bag and earns the money to sponsor a child from Africa, and we talk about what that means. We just started this, so we'll see how it goes.

    I also am blessed to be able to send my daughter to a Quaker Friends school which supports values of peace, social justice and ecological care, underpinned by the belief in divine spark in each person.

    I am trying to buy more gifts from ten thousand villages or other fair trade sources.

    I am still a diaper polluter, and unfortunately public transportation isn't available where we live. I also have not yet made the shift to socially conscious clothes, also I am looking to move in that direction.

    I am not sure how absolutist and how flexible I should be about this kind of stuff. When is it a commitment and when does it become a different form of legalism? Does it very depending on phase of life and the person? Is this a rationalization?

  • At 4/19/2007 03:53:00 PM, Blogger Lori

    So glad the conversation has taken this turn. I love "where the rubber meets the road", but have some real questions about implementation here. I instinctively agree with the authors and left to my own devices would ditch all traditional food, cleaning supplies, clothing, etc. and jump wholeheartedly into this alternative approach. I am married, however, to a wise & cautious man, who helps me think things through in more practical terms. I know if he were to read this book, he would feel that the authors made some fairly large, unsubstantiated claims about empire life. p. 171, for example "And if there is something deep inside of us that knows that this consumerist dream is a sociocultural nightmare, then we must ground our lives in a narrative that will break through our paralysis." My dramatic self resonates with such language--but what about those who don't know "deep inside" that this is a nightmare? I don't feel like this book does a very convincing job of laying out the reasons for disquiet. If you're already discontented, then it's a great read. And, of course, I am, so I resonate with the challenge to live in a "your will be done" sort of way.

    All that aside, the community in which we find ourselves has stretched us in huge ways over the past 7 or 8 years. We have friends who only eat organic, friends who only buy local, a great community recycling program (not to mention a 10-cent pop can redemption!), and other friends who challenge us to think about so many different ecological concerns. It's been overwhelming at times, and we've tried to find a realistic way to forge a path forward. (This is where "imagination" as described in the book comes in so handy)

    We've found encouragement in the Quaker tradition of a "concern"--the idea that God places a specific issue on our hearts, and holds us personally accountable to faithfulness in that specific area. Then, through that concern, by bringing the body together, a wide array of issues are addressed. So we don't feel like God necessarily wants us to entirely revamp our life tomorrow (we certainly couldn't afford to without some serious divine intervention) but in conversation with our community, make changes as we sense God guiding us.

    About two years ago, for example, we decided to downsize. Our home wasn't huge, but it was more than we could comfortably support, so we decided to move. We chose to buy and renovate an old home, rather than to purchase a new home, so many of which are contributing to urban sprawl & woodland destruction in our area. We did not, however, feel like we could afford to use all natural materials in the process of restoration--something I wish we could do, but I guess we compromised on that count (not to mention, we're painting over layers of lead-based paint and who knows what other manner of nightmares, in a house from the 20's--one way or another, it's still an improvement.) The work on this house has been overwhelming, but we all find a great deal of satisfaction in "redeeming" this building. It's been a great community-building experience, too, as we've needed our friends like never before (kitchen cupboards don't install themselves!), and we've met our very grateful new neighbors as we fix up what had become a rather forlorn old rental.

  • At 4/19/2007 05:42:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Amy - as per the question as to how I've changed my practices. It has been a very gradual process that is still underway. It takes time between the education and the action. I want to change but it is just so hard. Granted in some areas I just have to change immediate (like when I discovered that most of the chocolate out there is made by trafficked child slaves). I try to buy food that comes from sustainable farms, but too often than I would like I give into fast food. I know where I would like to be, but need to push myself more to actually get there.

    Jemila - I liked the ideas you gave. But when you say I am also trying to connect my discipline with teaching about helping other people I have to add that I disagree and actually do the opposite in my subversion of empire. In our culture we have so bought into pop behaviorism of rewards and punishments. Intrinsic motivation is becoming a thing of the past as children learn that there is value in doing things only if they get a reward or as a way to avoid punishment. We are trying to steer away from that paradigm in our house. But this is one of my big soapbox topics, so I'll shut up for now...

    Lori - I hear you about the disquiet. Most people I know don't see any issue with the way the world is (which the authors describe as having bought completely into empire). They see no reason why they should care for starving children, sweatshop workers, trafficked sex slaves, or the environment. Much less why they should have to change their lifestyle to help make life better for others. And honestly I have found to book that has the right formula that could convince selfconsumed people to actually care and see these things as moral issues.

  • At 4/20/2007 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Amy

    Jemila, your question When is it a commitment and when does it become a different form of legalism? has been my question as well.

    Lori, like you, I'm ready to try to make a change overnight. But the practicality of that is pretty much not there! And also like you, I think it's one move at a time as well as an overall conciousness in decisions being made.

    Julie, you mentioned those that don't even see the problem and the dichotomy between how we act and the effects. It's interesting to me that the mentality that the "strong" or "industrially mature" are viewed as somehow having certain rights and perogatives. As I've thought about that, I wonder if that is somehow an internalization of Darwin's natural selection that as a culture, or even as a church, we've internalized and not even realized it. An industrial survival of the fittest...and our ecology is paying the price.

    For me, I can't go all organic, but I can begin including some organic in our diets. I'm also looking forward to farmer's markets this summer. I can't buy everything fair trade, but we're not buying coffee from Pura Vida. So, although I do feel overwhelmed with all the changes I feel should be made, I am thankful that I'm beginning to realize that there are choices.

  • At 4/24/2007 06:59:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Julie (and anyone else) what are your thoughts on organic v. local?

  • At 4/25/2007 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    Jemila, that's a good question. In the case of some fortunate souls, I suppose it's not either/or--imagine being able to buy both local and organic!

    Living in Michigan, unfortunately, local isn't even an option for a good part of the year. I have decided, though, that when it is available, I will buy local, supporting this community in which I've been called to live. I've just recently switched to bgh-free, local milk (which, by the way, tastes a million times better, too!). And in the summer, I walk the mile-and-a-half to our farmers'market at least twice a week, usually coming home with far more than I'd intended. (I do have to drive sometimes--much as I'd like to, I really can't carry home a bushel of apples!)

    As for organic, our budget really does not allow a full switch. Hospitality is one of my greatest joys, and our meal sharing would be severely limited at the prices of organic food. (I do cook almost entirely from scratch, so there aren't many more corners to cut in order to make the switch) Having thought it through, and prayed about it, we feel like our calling at this point is to continue to share food, rather than to buy organic. (I hate that we have to make the choice!)

    One idea, though, which we haven't yet implemented--does anyone know of a good place to invest in organic food (yes, on a large scale, in the stock market sense of investing). This may be totally "buying into the empire"--but might it also be a way of influencing policy from within? I've seen supermarkets in our area increase their shelf space for organic food in dramatic ways in the past two years, and it seems that, as consumers & investors, we can influence the availability (and affordability) of more ecologically friendly food. Any suggestions?