Thesis 34: Trump's Economy of Scarcity

This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.
34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
Martin Luther was acutely concerned that the habit of selling and purchasing pardon through indulgences placed the church in a position that God was alone was meant to occupy. When he speaks of the "penalties" of satisfying the sacrament of reconciliation, I imagine a justice system that demands punishment from the guilty party in order to complete and close a transaction in order to make it whole, to complete it, to satisfy the incomplete nature of injustice.

It is not news to point to our not-so-United States of America at the moment. I have spoken with no one over the past couple of months, and indeed in these last two weeks, who would claim that this campaign season and election were not the most contentious they have ever witnessed. Promises were made to poor, white, rural Americans running low on hope who felt they had no other option but to imagine that the America they thought they knew would be made great again. They have nothing. And they were promised something. I cannot imagine what that kind of darkness feels like, holding onto a thread of hope so thinly that you are willing to forgive the abhorrent behavior of a candidate in order to dwell in the dim warmth of the barely possible return of yesteryear's economy.

But isn't hope all we have sometimes? Don't we stand in our kitchens and decide whether to pay our utility bill on time or buy groceries? Aren't we asked to make major medical decisions about our parents when they can no longer make those decisions? Don't we lie in our beds all morning wondering if getting up that day will even make a difference at all to anyone?

God assures us, though, that there is enough. Somehow.

There is no magic that happens in the two well-known Gospel stories of Jesus and the disciples feeding crowds of thousands. Jesus didn't wave his special hands and make fish and bread appear out of nowhere. He did not multiply the food out of thin air. The magic of those stories of people eating and having abundance unexpectedly lies in their trust of God and their willingness to trust each other. The magic inherent in those stories is the good will that is built into human nature.

I work as a teacher of sorts, a diversity educator and consultant who supports organizations as they create more inclusive spaces. One thing that has struck me over the couple of years I've been doing this work is that diversity and inclusion are only ever a threat to those who tend to have the most privilege, who have the most normalized identities, who have rarely had to worry about being included. Their perspectives tend to hold to the belief that there is only so much to go around, that if we create more space for different kinds of folks than before, then there will be less room for those who were already there. Laying aside the fact that the data simply does not bear this out, this is a real emotion for many white Americans, particularly straight male ones. I would argue that it is the key emotion that pulled the lever for the Republican candidate on November 8th. Overwhelmingly, this demographic also identifies as Christian, which is why I believe we must make a theological claim if we are ever going to shift our country's current tendencies.

I have gone for almost two years repeating the mantra that changing people's hearts is a fruitless task when doing justice work, and that we should be focusing on behaviors, actions, and real numbers for which folks can be held accountable. At the end of a very long week doing many more trainings that I normally do, I was challenged by a young woman of color that that premise is absolute hogwash. I intend to honor that challenge by rethinking our approach.

Here, I would like to speak directly to my urban, white, able-bodied, educated progressives: Inclusion, progressive policies, and a more kind United States will never be sustainable if we continue to dismiss those who disagree with us. As we rightfully demand more just systems and spaces, we also must engage with the hearts and emotions of those who have laid claim to those spaces for so long, not in order to beg their privileged permission, not in order to soothe their frustration, but in order to remain human. As we create more inclusion, we can help new allies see ways that they will also prosper in this new creation.

The loaves and fishes, we must remind them, are not being eaten by new people instead of them. The arrival of more and different people means new ways of creating previously unimaginable resources. This is the economy of the Kin(g)dom of God, where there is always more than enough for everyone.


Original image by flickr user, Leo Reynolds. Used under Creative Commons license.


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