I thank God that I am working. I grew up in a working class family that struggled, as my dad was not able to get into the shop. The economy was changing after 1973, and when it took a dive in '77 or '78, my parents were part of that undereducated population that suffered. Lost a house, moved around, and there was a lot of family turmoil. After being a drunken activist for much of my young adult life, I nevertheless made many choices about asserting myself in saying no to what I perceived as injustice. Sometimes I acted unjustly myself, with respect to my opponents. Whatever my condition then, I was prepared to sacrifice on behalf of what I felt was right.
Of course, I was not much of an employee during those years. I drank myself out of jobs, refused to work at others, and basically had a skewed vision of justice as far as my own life was concerned. I had an American activist chip on my shoulder, and had a sense of entitlement. I tended to use the plight of the “other” to justify my own shortcomings. What I later found out was, everybody should work. I still firmly believed that those who can't work for whatever reason, should receive assistance. I am not, not have I generally been, supportive of existing safety nets in our nation. However, we work with what we have, and my family has taken advantage of Bridge Cards and health care.
I sobered up, and now I take part in what I deem to be productive and satisfying labor. I engage in therapeutic relationship with other addicts, I attempt to work with young learners so they may discover how to be effective social workers, and I attempt to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. I get paid a pretty good salary for this work, earning about 32 grand a year, which is more than I have ever dreamed of making. It's pretty good scratch for an old crackhead.
It is Jesus, as experienced through a Spirit Baptism and a Quaker lens, that I have been able to properly contextualize work, ministry, and voluntary sacrifice. I believe that the life of Jesus is salvific, and that after receiving such a gift of grace, I am obligated, if I have integrity, to respond to grace. That means that I am called to reflect my experience of salvation and the meaning of Jesus' work onto those the messiah send before me. I often fail to do this, though I am committed to the attempt.
My experience of Jesus, and my commitment to understanding the gospels and allowing my life to receive meaning from this understanding of Jesus has provided a new context to my concern for justice, and how I perceive justice occurs when Jesus is properly reflected. As the gospels indicate, the early church believed that Jesus taught loving one's enemy and praying for those who persecute us is the proper response to aggression and marginalization. This reflects God's will.
The Hebrew midwives first reflected God's will, as did the prophets, Jesus, and the early church. What we learn from these characters in the narrative of YHWH and God's elect, is that when we are faced with injustice, we speak out, and do so despite the mandates of government, and despite the consequences of our ministry. Jesus' reflected the desire of God, not by relying upon twelve legions of angles or the Son's of Thunder, but by relying on saying no with dignity, and in the context of community. By being baptized in the Jordan and preparing for ministry in the wilderness, Jesus said no through prophetic symbolism instead of violence. When faced with crowds of potential militants, Jesus used the resources of community to resolve the issues of hunger. When Jesus admitted that coins wit Caesar's image in fact belonged to Caesar, he did not present a coin that he considered idolatrous, as did the temple elites. He suggested that the economy of God was one that eschewed the benefits of empire, and found ways to live on the margins of economic oppression by creating community. Acts 2 represents this understanding.
After stating many times that I believe voting is an act of coercion, I maintain that now is the time to say no to the realities of a failing empire. It is now time, not only to refuse participation in the politics of regimes, but to refuse to participate in the economy of the empire until some basic understandings of justice are met. We should not claim that nation states defend or guarantee our rights, we demand to be heard and will do so regardless of the rights that are “gifted” or, as we are seeing now, taken away. It seems as though we have finally reached that point in American politics where the hands of many are being forced, and leftist political parties and anti-war shrillness are not enough.
If Quakers are to be a witness to equality and integrity, it is time that we find a means of saying no in a corporate manner – in an identifiable manner. It is time for us to be leaders in asserting the love that God has for creation, for humanity, and begin to assert that God's love is not being reflected. This love is clearly known in the person, the life, of Jesus, and in the Acts of the Disciples. We must begin to live the gospel, which is good new for the poor and marginalized. James tells us that we must confront greed. Paul dictates our ethic in Romans 12. It is time to say no, with dignity, and welcome those who are marginalized into our communities and share our resources. Government cannot provide the love and acceptance that a community of Christ is intended to provide.
This does not alleviate government from obligations to citizens. It does mean, however, that government and taxation does not alleviate Quakers from sacrificing privilege, time, and money to serve those in need by ourselves, according to our own ethic. We should openly invite the oppressed into our midst, and not think so highly of ourselves.
Paul writes that we should obey our government. This unmistakable teaching does not mean that we participate in ungodly institutions. It means very simply, that there are consequences for saying no. It might be job loss or reducing house size. It might be sacrificing leisure to grow food and sew clothes and create community economies of scale. It may mean sacrificing our freedom in order to maintain with dignity that our social structures are failing us, and we will shut them down if necessary until the will of marginalized persons are included in the economic decision-making process of our communities and regional economies. WE may demand markets that are truly free, which includes the potential for laborers to collectively demand a living wage and security after work. Quakers can provide for this by taking care of one another as a community, and inviting others in.
In the mean time, we must still say no to oppression and economic aggression against the majority of our neighbors. It is hard for the oppressor to make a buck, if no one is spending a buck. It is time we take care of one another, and live a life of faithfulness that indicates to the oppressed what salvation looks like. The time has come for another apocalyptic Quakerism, and I hope we can identify the appropriate means of meeting that divine command.