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Volf @ Yale, Part 3

February 17, 2006

On Tuesday afternoon at the Emergent Theological Conversation, there were several breakout sessions. I attended the one on bringing justice to the world.

It was, for the most part, wonderful, and great to hear from so many voices and perspectives. But it was also one of those environments where a few too many intelligent, inspired, and verbally gifted people squeeze into a room and let fly. To put it a little differently, we did more talking than listening.

For myself, it was one of those days when you can’t express yourself clearly, get defensive at being misunderstood (which you are bound to be, since you can’t talk right), and spend the rest of the day thinking of smart things you should have said.

So here goes:

I’m a virtue ethicist, not only a social ethicist. And personal piety ain’t egoism– it’s anything but selfish– but it is unavoidable if we’re engaged in bringing any kind of justice in the world. And Bono deserves to be Man of The Year– I love Bono more than my coffee grinder, and he’s doing as much as anyone with regard to world poverty– but he (intentionally?) underestimates the scale and complexity of the issue(s). I think we need to read Volf again, and be more like my friend Matt.

But seriously, it was a great chance to feed off of the passion of people, borrow some of their great ideas, and to do some careful thinking about the interrelationship between politics/power and poverty. How do we go about eliminating some of the simple and basic needs in the world (like 90-cent doses of drugs to save HIV babies, etc.) when there are some powerful people with an obvious disinterest in seeing those needs met? How do we move forward when US farm subsidies simultaneously deprive the world of food and drive the prices so low that it isn’t productive for Third-World farmers to grow crops? How can we engage in enough personal transformation that we can work these things through, without getting waylaid in caring more about our self than our neighbor? How can we cooperate with one another (small church, house church, city-sized church, post-church, no church) to avoid making multiple iterations of the same wheel? And why is it so hard for us to bless other churches and traditions, and so easy to be so freaking critical?

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5 Responses to “Volf @ Yale, Part 3”

  1. sonja says:

    Preach it, brother … I’d only suggest one difference. Bono doesn’t underestimate the problem. I think (and this is just my thesis) that he’s trying to overestimate what the little people can do when they gather together. He’s trying to give us our dreams back. That’s why I love him.

  2. T.A. says:

    i want to be more like your friend too! btw the sun room looks amazing!!

  3. Mike Croghan says:

    Wow, this converstation resonates one I was having yesterday evening, as we were trying to inaugurate a Peace and Justice Minsitry at Holy Comforter. We were discussing the Millennium Development Goals and various efforts to meet them. A friend of mine (Marco), who has dedicated much of his life to working on solutions to poverty-related problems in his home country of Honduras, said that his issue with Bono (whom he thinks is great, in general) is almost the opposite of what LightLady said. Marco thinks Bono overestimates (or overemphasizes) the role to be played by governments and their budgets. He thinks the real transformation is going to be accomplished by NGO’s (both faith-based and otherwise) which have the capacity and motivation to get in there on the ground, *listen* to folks, and work *with* those in need of help to come up with ways to use existing money smarter/better. (Another way to say this, I think, is “to care”.) Not that governmental money isn’t necessary – it totally is! – but it needs to be regarded as a tool in the toolkit of those who can really make a difference, nothing more. Marco thinks Bono sometimes seems to make it more than that, though I suspect this is just pragmatism: in order to generate enough of that vital tool, you need to make the governments, which *don’t* particularly have the motivation or capacity to care, feel like it’s of utmost importance that they cough up the dough.

    Anyway, interesting coincidence of conversations.

  4. timthewelsh says:

    I agree about NGOs needing to lead the way – but surely there has to be a fair (eh? what’s that word?) polical climate for them to do so. I can’t imagine many stakeholders being agreeable to an increase in philanthropy (or whatever) towards foreign countries that will ultimately result in cash down the drain due to a grossly biased international playing field. But that, of course, would require a western government that looked a little further than its own interests. Now we’re either in Lah Lah Land, or somewhere a little closer to The Kingdom.

    As for Mike’s questions about how we change these things, I think the key comes down to changing ignorance on a national (US/European) scale. Even during the weeks leading up to the Big Boys Summit last summer, I found it utterly frustrating that I simply couldn’t find a good document, or white paper, that outlined a clear proposal for righting the wrongs of the international economy (you’re probably reading this thinking ‘surely everyone knows about xxxxx’, in which case, please send me a link). I honestly believe that if the majority of folks could be given a clear explanation of how comes they get to live to well, so affluently – why their produce is so cheap – why they can have such a wide choice of Nike shoes – or (on a domestic level) why they can have such a great choice of restaurants at such ‘reasonable’ prices (ie. the entire kitchen staff have to work two jobs, so usually from 7am till 12pm – which, when I think about that, always makes me wonder what Abraham Lincoln would have to say about it) – then the people would make a strong stand for justice. At least, I’d hope the body of Christ would.

    Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. But there’s still an ounce or two of faith in humanity running through my veins.

  5. timthewelsh says:

    editorial note from my last comment: i did of course mean 7am till 12am when refering to resturant workers’ hours).

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