We all have our passions. Thank God for that. The embers of social change smolder, kindled by such passion. Periodically the embers explode, spreading like wildfire, fueled by that same passion.
What is our passion, our most important task? How would you answer that question?
Bringing economics home
I would say that task is to once again nestle our economic system within Earth’s cycles, Earth’s economy, recognizing that everything we have, everything that feeds our economy, comes from God’s creation. In a way “nestle” is too gentle a word – “wrestle” comes to mind.
Now, at the first mention of “economy” or “economics,” some of us freeze as if caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Economics, at its most basic, simply concerns itself with who gets what and how we manage and share the gifts of Earth.
As it is, our economy sees itself as separate from, rather than fully dependent upon, Earth’s generosity. Though our Earth-home is resilient, fertile and productive beyond our imaginings, it is also finite, cannot survive, and will not truck, any economy’s infinite expansion.
As the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, said in his 2005 “Ecology and Economy” speech: “… this separation or opposition [between economics and ecology] has come to look like a massive mistake. It has been said that ‘the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.’ The earth itself is what ultimately controls economic activity …”
No surprise, really
We should not be surprised at the intimate connections between economics and ecology. Both share the same Greek root word of oikos. An oikos is a dwelling place, a home. Ecology is the science, the “logic,” of a household — the way the house operates and is held together. Economy can be understood as active housekeeping, or, as the archbishop said, the “law that regulates behavior in an environment.”
If we as a society do not recognize and embody the fact that “the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment,” we can only expect to stay on our current trajectory, characterized by increased inequity; environmental degradation impacting minorities and the poor, particularly their health; increased loss of species; and climate change, which exacerbates all of these outcomes.
What can we do?
I would suggest that the place to start is to do nothing. Marinate in the truth that your identity is rooted in being a child of God. Consciously resist the fiction our society proclaims: you are merely a consumer, your identity and worth defined by what you do and have.
Second, reclaim our faith’s contention that God’s creation is sacred, very good. As Paul said (Acts 17), it is in God that we “live and move and have our being,” as if we are swimming in God’s presence.
The necessity of these first two steps ought to stamp into our very being the necessity of the Church taking a leadership role in what I have called our most important task. The changes required of us are technical, scientific and economic — and they are fundamentally informed by deep changes in the way we see ourselves and the way we see God’s creation.
Let us live in grace. We are children of God and the places we call home, and the Earth home we all share, are “very good.”
By Michael Schut
Michael Schut currently works at Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. Prior to that he served as the Economic and Environmental Affairs Officer of the national Episcopal Church, following 11 years on the staff of Earth Ministry. He has edited and partially authored three books/study guides: Money and Faith: The Search for Enough; Food and Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread; and Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective. He speaks and leads retreats connecting faith, justice, economics and ecology. Michael has worked with homeless men, served as a park ranger, and led wilderness trips. He received his M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon and his B.S. in Biology from Wheaton College in Illinois. He likes to backpack, garden, sing, read, and spend time with his nephew, Carter. He lives in Seattle.