Brief Bio

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Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines
I am a runner, pastor, sociologist, teacher, and missionary. After living in Chicago for 6 years, I discerned a call to go to Manila, Philippines to live and work among the urban poor, and combine my passions for ministry, running, and the oppressed. After serving in the Philippines in 2012 and 2013, I returned to the United States for two years to finish my dissertation, get ordained, spend time with my family, and work at a neighborhood center in Kansas City. Since then, I have been working in the Philippines with Companion With the Poor as a missionary. Each day I look forward to how God will direct my steps as I live into His work of restoring a broken world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Warning for the Holidays: "A Society of Consumers"

Not to damper your holiday season, nor your 'Black Friday' joys, but the following thoughts and reflections from T.J. Gorringe in his book A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, and Redemption are difficult words for all of us who participate daily in the consumption of our world's resources. Hopefully after you read the following quotes, you will ask yourself if what you are buying for yourself, a friend, or a family member this Christmas is something they need, or something they can live without.

A Disclaimer: Yes, God has put creation under our stewardship and care, and true, He has given us all things for our enjoyment and pleasure. But, he has also placed limits on how much and how fast we can consume the earth's resources, and when we stop paying regard to the cycles and seasons of the earth, we quickly destroy it. I believe the following thoughts are prophetic for us today; that is, all of us who are part of today's global economy. They are prophetic words that speak to the United States' problem of massive national debt, our global environmental crisis, and the increasingly vast, and incredibly unjust inequalities of the rich and poor in our world and cities today. Please take the following words seriously, and take time to chew on them and digest them. Then look for places in your community, and churches living this out. There are few of us I believe that really take these things seriously. And fewer that act on them. But my prayer this Holiday season, is that all of us, especially those of us who stand on the foundation of the good news of Jesus Christ, who, through his life, death, and resurrection, came to reconcile us back to God, to ourselves, to each other, and to creation.

Following Quotes from "Chapter 9: God, Nature, and the Built Environment" of T.J. Gorringe's book, A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, and Redemption.

“Modern man has mastered every creature above the level of viruses and bacteria - except himself. (Mumford)” (234)

“Nowhere is this critique more true than in the commitment of conventional economics to growth which, in becoming an end in itself, completely obscures what Mumford calls ‘the purpose of the journey’. For all Western thinkers up to the eighteenth century economics was a sub discipline of ethics. Economics followed from understandings of meaning and purpose.” (ibid)

“At the most fundamental level capitalism’s need to grow to live requires that we all become consumers. As Mumford put it: ‘The machine came into our civilization, not to save man from the servitude of ignoble forms of work, but to make more widely possible the servitude of ignobal standards of consumption that had grown up among the military aristocracies.’ That is not only bad news for the environment, but extremely bad news for human self understanding. For Aristotle, and for most philosophers and theologians up until the nineteenth century, the good life, and being a whole human being, essentially involved the acceptance of limits. St. Paul’s ‘Let your moderation be know to all’ was good Aristolelian advice. The doctrine of limits is no obscure piece of ancient scholasticism. On the contrary, any skill requires recognition of limits, and nothing worthwhile is achieved without them. ‘Any activity which fails to recognize a self limiting principle is of the devil,’ as Schumacher put it.” (235)

“Limits are vital because huge numbers mean huge impacts. As Daly and Cobb note, ‘If “needs” include an automobile for each of a billion Chinese, then sustainable development is impossible. The whole issue of sufficiency can no longer be avoided.’” (ibid)

“This issue is ethical and potlical: who decides who can enjoy what, and at what cost? Addressing inequalities in global consumption is essential if ecological damage is to be contained.” (ibid)

“The problem with the call for limits is that the quest for more constitutes the spiritual center of the capitalist world…As David Korten points out this follows because to accept the reality of physical limits is to accept the need to limit greed and acquisition in favor of economic justice and sufficiency…This growth compulsion is linked to what Mumford called the ‘Megamachine’, the organization of power which began in the ancient civilizations of Babylon, Assyria and Egypt, which from the start aimed at the exploitation and manipulation of the bulk of citizenry. Global capital, with its voracious demand for ‘more’, is the heart of the contemporary megamachine.” (235-236)

“Human beings have always been able to destroy their environment, as the ancient Mesopotamian cities, and Easter Island, show. What is new is the scale of the impact, and the level of destruction we can cause. And it is not decisively bit business or the military industrial complex which is responsible for this.
It is ultimately with the Mercedes and washing machine detergents that we do the damage, rather than with bombs, nuclear power stations and dioxins…A private dwelling full of comforts necessarily confirms the whole worldwide infrastructure – including the need for armaments, because in face of monstrous differences in standards it is a threatened luxury.

Thus there is no simple battle between ‘good guys and bad guys’ because the power of the Megamachine exists ‘within, in the nodal points of research and production, management and business, education and politics, dependent on the psychological power-relations in society’. Indeed, it exists within each consuming self. What Mumford and Bahro are drawing attention to here is what Christianity has spoken of as ‘original sin’, the human tendency to destroy self, other creation through idolatry, making created things ultimate.” (236)

“’It should not be a surprise’, write the authors of Greening the Built Environment, ‘that a materialistic society which takes a short term view should create and live in a built environment that is being extended and continually recreated at the expense of the earth’s capital resources.’ Las Vegas, built in a desert, for the purpose of ‘pleasure’, dependent on aquifer resources for its water, needing air conditioning to make life bearable, illustrates this perfectly but so do Greenfield housing developments and out of town shopping centers. One cannot say, tout court, that it is ‘capitalism’ which produces these developments, but on the other hand it both makes them possible and promotes them. The imperatives of capital – short term profit, market forces and the cultivation of needs – are the driving forces behind them. These forces are difficult to counter because they have the weight of multi national corporations, the banks and finance institutes, but even more our own pathetically desiring selves behind them, and because the momentum developed is already so strong.” (237)

“Because that is the case, breaking the cycle of consumption cannot begin simply with a challenge to the institutions. Neither can it be a matter solely of technological fixes, important as these are. It involves, rather, adopting a new understanding on human nature and destiny, and a new understanding of the importance of lifestyle options. In overcoming exterminism, Bahro recognizes, ‘No order can save us which simply limits the excesses of our greed. Only spiritual mastery of the greed itself can help us. It is perhaps only the Prophets and Buddhas, whether or not their answers were perfect, who have at least put the question radically enough.’ Schumacher already recognized this in Small is Beautiful. ‘The cultivation of needs’, he wrote, ‘is the antithesis of wisdom.  It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have turned to Buddhism for guidance. The question for Christians is whether there is anything the gospel can contribute to the problems which are posed us.” (ibid)

“The word ‘liberation’ in the phrase ‘liberation theology’ represents a gloss on an older theology of salvation. Human beings, the Church always said, needed to be saved from ‘sin’. Where for centuries this was understood individually and moralistically liberation theology understood it socially and politically, specifying the structures which constituted ‘sin’. It is these which Wink understands as the ‘Powers’, which are created, fallen, and need redemption. The ‘power’ which underlies the suicidal compulsion to growth is what E.P. Thompson meant by ‘exterminism’. The positive side of growth is the recognition of the need to provide the best possible standard of living for all the earth’s people. It becomes a fallen Power when it becomes an end in itself, a compulsion. This negative spirituality is what causes the gap between rich and poor to increase all over the globe; what drives the poor increasingly into the shanty towns of the great cities. Above all it is our alienation from the planet, the slow choking of the atmosphere, the predatory approach to resources, which make clear how this form of sin is, in the most literal sense, life denying. It is the refusal to recognize limits which, at the very least, threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest people through global warming, if it does not actually threaten the planet. If my analysis of the causes of the reckless commitment to growth at any cost is right then, in the contemporary world, savage capitalism is the concrete form of sin.” (238)

“The fundamental theological opposition to capitalism is theology of grace, the ‘for nothing’ of creation and redemption. Those who see the point of gracious living are called, collectively, ec-clesia, which is to say those not captured by the plausibility structures of capitalism, those who oppose the anti spirituality of profit with the spirituality of thanksgiving, or as the early church said, ‘the sacrifice of praise’. Rather than considering all reality from the perspective of profit, they see it from God’s point of view, as unconditionally gifted, therefore free, and to be shared and celebrated together. Ec-clesians do not accept determinist views about there being no alternatives, but look for ways of subverting the cunning of exterminism. According to the world of Jesus in Mark 10:43 (‘It shall not be so amongst you’) ec-clesians are ec-centrics: they have a different center to others: not the megamachine but what Jesus calls ‘the kingdom’. (ibid)

* Highlights mine

1 comment:

Steven Albanese said...

Paul, this is good stuff. Very challenging and eye opening. Continue to fight the good fight brother. I'm blessed by your humble heart, your hunger and thirst for righteousness, and your "poverty of spirit". I look at your life and see how you embody so many of the Beautitudes that Jesus spoke. I came across this quote in my studies today and thought you'd like it: "It is not possible at once both to do penance and to live in luxury." (Chrysostom) While debatable, it's still something for us to consider and pray about in changing our lifestyles. Praying for you.

Steve Albanese