Sermon: A KAIROS Moment: Turning the Tables on Globalization (Mark 11)
"What do we mean by Turning the Tables? We mean turning over our world-view and looking at things from another perspective-through the eyes of those on the margins, not at the centre. Looking at things from the bottom-up not the top-down-that sense we achieve when we turn that map of the world `upside down' and see Africa and South America at the top." This sermon was delivered in Toronto on May 5, 2002. Do we have the humility to learn from a Canadian woman?
Sermon: A KAIROS Moment:
Turning the Tables On Globalization (Mark 11:15-19)
Turning the Tables G8 Action E-kit
May to June 2002
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This sermon written by Jennifer Henry was delivered at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto, May 5, 2002. Please feel free to use portions of it as you wish or otherwise engage in your own reflection on this biblical text and Turning the Tables theme. Some other material is available in this year's Education for Action guide. We would be interested in receiving copies of your reflections or homilies. You can send them to Jennifer Henry.
KAIROS: a special moment of grace truth and decision, a God given time for conversion and hope, a moment of crisis and possibility, a time when the very meaning of faith is at stake. Many times throughout this century--in Germany, in South Africa, in Central America--churches have sought to name a kairos, a decisive time inviting creative and costly response from communities of faith.
It was precisely that kind of naming that Jesus did when he entered the temple in this story in Mark's gospel. The "temple action" becomes for Jesus a kairos moment of truth and decision. He chooses to name the crisis and in that naming opens new possibilities for the community around him, the opportunity for teaching and learning through his actions. It was an unforgettable moment--"all the multitude was astonished at his teaching"-a dramatic act of civil disobedience, required because the meaning of faith itself was at stake. The community was challenged to live differently after that moment. The end of the story-"the chief priests and scribes sought a way to destroy him"-speaks to how costly that "living differently" might be.
Ched Myers helps to pinpoint precisely what was at stake in this kairos moment in the temple. Contrary to other commentators, he suggests that Jesus would not have been surprised to find commerce in the temple. The presence of commerce in is not the crux of what disturbs him. Myers explains, "... this is to import into the text assumptions about the 'secular' and 'sacred'from our modern, highly differentiated social formation... " (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p.300). Instead he argues that "it is the ruling class interests in control of the commercial enterprises in the temple market that Jesus is attacking" (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p.300). The key targets of Jesus' concern are the money-changers, and the pigeon sellers. The money-changers dealt in currency transactions and were symbols of oppressive financial institutions. The pigeons (or doves) were the commodity relied on by the poor, cultic obligations for the purification of women and the cleansing of lepers. The banking system, and particularly the commercial sacrifices, represent elements of the oppressive political economy of the time that doubly exploited the poor and unclean (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p.301).
Myers argues that the "temple action" is not a rebuke of commercial activity in the temple as much as it is a rebuke of ruling class interests and oppressive practices. Perhaps it is also a rebuke of the way in which commerce had achieved in the lives of the community an idol-like stature, displacing the God of Life. Rather than "a house of prayer for all the nations", an economy, a society with God at the centre (or to say it another way, with notions of human dignity and common good at the centre, commerce oriented around these core values), Jesus recognizes an economy, a society that has been ransomed to a market idol (not unlike the Baal of old). The community has placed a market god at the centre. The oppressive practices against the poor and unclean reflect a displacement of God, the defender of the widow and orphan, champion of the poor--the God of the prophets.
And so Jesus overturns, and with this action of political theatre, invites a "turning" within the community towards practices that liberate the poor and unclean-practices that reflect a restoration of the God of life to the centre of the temple, to the centre of the community. He offers the community an opportunity for conversion and hope. The challenge is decisive one for in this kairos moment the very meaning of faith is at stake.
This year KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, a renewed ecumenical partnership of churches and church organizations dedicated to justice and integrity of creation, chose Turning the Tables as our education and action theme. We were looking to discern a faith-based response to a political moment that we named as "from Quebec to Kananaskis". We recognized that the upcoming G8 summit planned for June 26-28 in Alberta presented the opportunity for us shine the spotlight on our government and other G8 leaders. The summit was an opportunity to protest the way that free market globalization has ransomed our economies, our societies to idols of profit, an opportunity to testify to our faith that "another world is possible". It was also an opportunity for us to take up the challenges put to us in the Jubilee-time by our Southern and Aboriginal partners; they invited us to look at issues in deeper ways, to see root causes and to sustain our solidarity.
What do we mean by Turning the Tables?
We mean turning over our world-view and looking at things from another perspective-- through the eyes of those on the margins, not those at the centre. Looking at things from the bottom-up not the top-down-that sense we achieve when we turn that map of the world "upside down" and see Africa and South America at the top.
We mean turning over the accounting tables, accounting tables that say the countries of the South owe us. Instead we ask "what might we owe to the people of the South, to Aboriginal people?" If we put things in an historical perspective and addressed colonization and slavery, as well as resource extraction by the North, might we find that we ourselves are the debtors?
We mean turning around, or even inside-out, an economic system that counts environmental disasters and war as a "good" because it makes the moneyed economy grow. Turning around a system that puts profits before people, corporate rights before human rights.
If we are to take the challenge of Jesus to turn the tables and reveal oppressive practices towards the poor, if we are to turn-out the market god from the centre of the temple of our world and restore to the centre the God of Life, if we are to respond to the challenge of Jesus in our own time, then we must turn the tables on free market globalization.
This is not because we reject commerce, but because we observe in free market globalization a form of commerce that increasingly makes expendable the poor or the "uncompetitive". Our Southern partners identify the policies and practices of the international financial institutions, institutions at the core of the global economic system in our day, as potentially oppressive as those the writer of Mark strives to reveal in our gospel story. The poor may not have to buy doves to be cleansed in our temple economy. However, poor countries do have to "buy into" a free market approach that ultimately leads to their further undoing. They bear the sacrifice and the foreign investors (and debt-collectors), in whose name their countries are restructured, reap the profit. We do not oppose commerce, but we oppose a system that elevates profit, corporate interests and the "free working of the market" over and above principles of dignity and life. We oppose a system whose ideological frame-"there is no alternative"-elevates the market to an idol, a god that requires not justice, kindness and humility, but sacrifice by the poorest and weakest.
In our time the kairos moment may very well be the challenge presented by globalization-a time in which our churches are faced with a particular moment of grace, truth and decision: Are we going to be part of the global movements of hope that believe another world is possible or are we going to be ransomed to the market idol, to live in its shadow and out of its edicts?
German theologian Ulrich Duchrow explains it this way "... theologians and churches wanting to respond to the liberation and life-creating God have, for theological reasons, to denounce the transnational market that is solely subject to the laws of money accumulation and aspires to total dominance" (Duchrow, Alternatives to Global Capitalism, p.253). He gives the example of the German protestant church that wrote an economic memorandum entitled The Common Good and Self Interest. "This failure to make a choice between Yahweh and Baal or God and Mammon demonstrates not only a failure to understand analytically how the present system functions on a global scale but also what functions as God within this system" (Duchrow, Alternatives to Global Capitalism, p.253).
Through this year we have been exploring the way in which economic globalization is creating multiple debts-moral debts, social debts, historical debts-for which its proponents must ultimately account. We have focused on four examples: A Debt to the South, a Debt to the Earth, a Debt to First Nations and a Debt to Future Generations.
I won't explore them in detail here as you can find your own resonances from your own analysis. We make links to the fiscal debt crisis in the global South, the impact of structural adjustment, Talisman's actions in Sudan, Plan Colombia, unscrupulous resource extraction on vulnerable Southern and Aboriginal communities, the challenge of climate change, and the way in which globalization deepens the debt of colonization on Aboriginal communities, and on and on...
Debt to the South, debt to the Earth, and debt to Aboriginal people are ultimately intertwined in a debt to future generations. What are we leaving to the seventh generation? It is perhaps not a coincidence that opposition to globalization is coming increasingly from young people, often dismissed as naive and stereotyped as violent. An 82 year old minister from Nova Scotia, reflecting on the protest movement of young people said this shortly after the summit in Quebec: "I feel that young people are holding up a mirror to the kind of world we live in. We don't like what we see, so we blame the mirror holder. Maybe we need to wake up to what are young protestors are saying most of whom are non violent before its too late and our Jericho walls crumble before the trumpets of the dispossessed". What is the legacy of globalization on future generations? And what is the legacy of that which those gathered at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre called "globalization's war"? Is not war the greatest debt we can leave to future generations and is not peace the greatest gift?
We are challenged to be table turners. Turning the table on globalization means calling our leaders, and through them ourselves, to account for these outstanding debts. The central action of this year's campaign is the Call to Account. It's an "invoice", a tool that invites people to send a message to the G8, holding them to account for these outstanding debts. You can find one inserted in your bulletin. It has prepared text but also a place for creative messages. We have some incredible messages in our office. People have sent images of children, of pristine ecological havens, of visits to the South-all reasons, personal and collective, for them to stand up against the debts created by globalization (to hold our leaders and ourselves to account). If you feel moved please sign one and take some extra copies home or to share with others in your community.
Beginning in June, we will be joined by six Southern partners who will travel from Ottawa to Calgary - three going east and three going west - to help us collect Calls to Account from across the country. We will bring them to Calgary where we will be involved in a host of actions. For those who will not be traveling to Calgary, I would invite you to consider coming to Ottawa for June 17. We are having a media conference, noon-time event on Parliament Hill and an evening public event. We could use all the support possible.
To be a recognized as a kairos moment, the story in Mark required the line "all the multitude was astonished at his teaching". Jesus turned over the tables in a moment of judgment. But we are led to believe that this moment stimulated in the community another kind of turning, a turning of the tables of their hearts--conversion and hope that startled and disturbed the authorities. KAIROS is crisis but also possibility. Consider this quote from the US KAIROS document: "Discerning the crisis with kairos is risky because it can deteriorate easily into a litany of ills that robs us of hope and blinds us to God's spirit at work among us. Our assessment of the signs of the times is often sobering. Despair tempts us. But it is hope that guides our way. If our discernment of KAIROS fails to awaken and nurture hope, if it leads to cynicism instead of conversion, it will be a powerful symbol of our failure. We will have missed our blessed time of truth and opportunity. Hope is God's gift to us as we envision, seek, work, embody and pray for justice in a broken world. Rooting our hope in God and confessing our temptation to despair we dare to speak boldly because we believe that KAIROS demands it" (From KAIROS to Jubilee).
The World Social Forum, a gathering of over 60,000 in Porto Alegre Brazil, showed that the words "anti-globalization movement" were a misnomer. We are not simply turning over the tables-a rejection of the status quo. Rather, inspired by the belief that "another world is possible", we are turning towards new tables of justice and equity. We will hold our leaders to account in Kananaskis for outstanding debts, but we will also put before them concrete proposals that better reflect our vision of a renewed world, proposals to address these debts: -fiscal debt cancellation and an end to structural adjustment - ratification of the Kyoto protocol - recognition and implementation of land rights (in Canada through an independent tribunal, and around the globe through regulations on corporations encroaching on indigenous land).
These are only some of the ways that our leaders could collaborate in turning the tables and begin to account for the debts they owe. If they reached out to dialogue instead of turning in behind walls and ramparts, if they took actions which symbolized a capacity to listen, they would begin to turn their exclusive table to a place that holds the promise of equity and sharing. We need to put forward proposals confident that the "common sense" of the supremacy of the market is foolishness in face of the wisdom of justice and common good. And we need to generate hope.
I have found that hope in the people I have been privileged to meet in this work and I will leave you with one who I met at the last G8 summit in Genoa. Nora is in her 80's. She is a "Madre of the Plaza de Mayo", the mother of a son "disappeared" in Argentina's dirty war. The loans incurred by the military dictatorship that killed her son are a key source of the debt crisis paralyzing her country today-a crisis of poverty, hunger and violence. Nora believes that a market dictatorship causes the death of the children of her country today as surely as the military dictatorship "disappeared" her child in the 1970's. I cannot read the story of Jesus in the temple without thinking of Nora, who in the image of Jesus, stood up against the G8 in Genoa as a modern day table turner.
After the tragic death on the first day of the protests in Genoa, there was much discussion about whether to walk in the next day's march. Nora and the other Southern representatives never wavered--we have to walk because we must show them we are not afraid. I of course was afraid, but they evoked the strong sense that we would be okay if we were together. The next day in a protest of about 200,000, Nora stood up and walked proudly through tear gas and fear, hand and hand with 20 other table turners from the global South, each with their own story of suffering and resistance; we were together.
In January of this year, Nora sat on the jury of the International Debt Tribunal at the World Social Forum under the banner of "another world as possible", as determined in proposals as she was in protest. This year we will be joined in our Southern partners' tour by one of Nora's colleagues from Argentina. Nora will send her best wishes in solidarity while being involved in actions in her home community. If in kairos, hope guides our way, that hope for me is the Noras of this struggle. It is the globalization of solidarity, side by side, people to people, that is going to turn the tables on free market globalization. When we are sustained and inspired by the hope and visions of one another, we cannot help but find Christ in our midst, turning tables again and again.
When the churches brought together the ten former national ecumenical justice coalitions into one organization in July of 2001, and when they called us KAIROS, they gave us a huge challenge to live up to. The staff, board, program committees, partners and cross country network of this renewed ecumenical partnership need to live up to the legacy of work of the former coalitions-up to 30 years of commitment, expertise and solidarity.
But we also need to live up to this name: KAIROS. Perhaps what the churches were saying by this choice of name was that in our justice work, every moment is a kairos moment, a moment of crisis and possibility, a moment of conversion and hope. Every time we read the signs of the times of our world and see injustice, the very meaning of faith is at stake in our response. The churches' work of justice-making is grace, truth and decision-every moment a kairos moment. Let us pray that we may be true to the task today and everyday. Amen
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