Proper 28 (33) C
By Brynn Craffey
This week’s first Lectionary reading from Isaiah features a vision of the Almighty who promises to create, “new heavens and a new earth,” in which, “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Restoration is a theme running through Isaiah, and today’s passage conjures up visions of utopia in my soul. I imagine old paradigms collapsing, social justice replacing unfairness throughout the land, and communally supported programs, such as Medicare for All and robustly-funded public health care systems, ensuring that, “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.”
Reading further, we encounter a conceivable end to the scourge of homelessness, endemic to most major cities of our world’s capitalist countries, including the Downtown Eastside of my own adopted home of Vancouver. Harvests—through sustainable, organic agriculture perhaps?—will be bountiful, no pollinators need die, and no people will go hungry. Even those gruesome, industrial-era assembly-lines that render living, breathing, thinking, and feeling beings into chlorinated, cellophane-wrapped supermarket commodities will finally grind to a halt, as everyone adopts a vegan lifestyle, including, “the wolf and the lamb [who] shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
And there’s more! “They shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Could this prophecy an end to capitalism? Dare we imagine the demise of this inhumane system, that forces workers to labor longer and longer hours for fewer and fewer dollars to create luxury goods and services that deplete precious natural resources, and which few of us can even afford? Could the day be near when the surplus wealth created by our labor actually goes to support our own wellbeing, rather than funneling upwards into the over-full bank accounts of the one-percent?
I want to imagine a future in which we reduce the workweek, halting labor when we have produced what we need, content to turn our attention to other pursuits, like raising our children, caring for elderly loved ones, making beautiful artwork, singing wonderful songs, worshiping the Creator, and—I don’t know—maybe just playing boardgames, napping, or hanging out!
I have prayed for a peaceful, socially-just, environmentally sustainable, and kind world since I first joined the fulltime workforce in California, during the presidency of the reprehensible Ronald Reagan, only to watch instead as my entire adult lifetime, one US president after another moved the nation—and, in collusion with other world leaders, the world—ever rightward. Over the past fifty years, using coded language to appeal to voters’ racism, American politicians of what writer Gore Vidal describes as the, “two right wings” of the American “Property Party,” steadily dismantled FDR’s New Deal. This collection of socialist-lite, redistributive programs made a huge difference for working-class white families, like mine, but never uplifted the descendants of America’s slaves nor Turtle Island’s first peoples from poverty. They never redressed America’s original sins of slavery, white supremacy, and genocide. Most of America’s social safety net has been shredded now, and the bits that remain are being systematically under-funded.
Everyone is expendable under the logic of capitalism, regardless of race, if the price is right. Driven relentlessly to commodify everything, from land, through property-rights; to water, through privatization; to our minds, through Facebook and Google algorithms; to the very building blocks of life itself, through gene-patenting, capitalism is driving what we call “civilization,” and all life, to the brink of eternal death. Biologists warn that we are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction—this one human-caused—with up to a million species at imminent risk of permanent disappearance. Likewise, and I doubt this is news to this blog’s readers, last year’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) insists that we have only eleven years to make unprecedented changes to the ways in which we live in order to limit global temperature rises to between 1.5C and 2C.
I hear this as, “Eleven years to end capitalism.”
I wonder: are these existential threats the reason that nihilistic and dystopian visions are so prevalent in our popular culture? On TV, we have, “The Walking Dead,” “Black Mirror,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld.” In print, “The Hunger Games,” “Parable of the Sower,” “The American War,” “Moon of the Crusted Snow,” “The Water Knife,” and, “Radicalized.” And these are but a few of the many! Utopian visions, on the other hand, seem far less fashionable. What does this mean that we continually distract and entertain ourselves with the bleakest visions of a shared future? Where are our Isaiahs?
I am writing this one week after youth-led Climate Strikes brought millions of people to the streets of cities and towns across the globe. In Vancouver, as many as 200,000 people assembled near City Hall, then shut down the Cambie Street Bridge to all car traffic, as well as many of the city’s downtown streets, as we peacefully marched, sang, chanted, and carried creatively-worded signs and banners, to send a powerful message to British Columbia, Canada, and the world’s politicians that it is way past time for creating “new heavens and a new earth!”
I was at City Hall on December 7th of last year, at Vancouver’s first student-led Climate Strike. That one was attended by around 50 tentative, inexperienced, but determined teenagers. In less than one year, those brave young people inspired roughly 4,000 times their number to join them in the streets! Another world IS possible. I wonder if even Isaiah may have hesitated to prophesy such a seemingly impossible outcome. But then, really, is it any more improbable than that “the lion shall eat straw like the ox”?
Brynn was born in Oakland, California, on the traditional, unceded territory of the Chochenyo Ohlone, now confederated as the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, who for decades have been fighting for federal recognition. In late 2016, Brynn moved from Solana Beach, California, the unceded territory of the Kumeyaay, to his current home on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations, to study theology. He prays daily for a future in which settlers, like him, will return land and make restitution for the ongoing thefts and crimes of colonization, so that all peoples can go forward together in true reconciliation.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.