Sunday, September 26, 2010

Distributive Justice

The politics of distributive justice is the theme of this week's column for your theological reflection. It was the subject of a talk that Marcus Borg gave recently at St Mary in Kerrisdale titled "The Dream of God: A Politics of Compassion". I later discovered it was a chapter from his book "The God We Never Knew" which allowed me to study the concept in more detail, along with his 2006 book "Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary." Provocative titles but I have the impression that Borg is a credible theologian to Anglicans, or at least for the liberal variety.

Distributive justice is concerned with the equitable distribution of the necessities of life, the giving of the daily bread, for the benefit of all. It also challenges domination systems, prototyped by the Pharaoh, which are ruled by elites and marked by an economics of exploitation, a politics of oppression, and a religion of legitimation. After the exodus Israel created a domination-free society, and maintained it for a couple of centuries, prior to reverting back to the pharaonic system railed at by the prophets. In sermons and visioning meetings in this church, within the last year, we have heard the condemnations of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah.

Marcus gives a concrete example of the injustice of the social world of the old testament times: half of the society's annual production was acquired by the top 1 to 2 percent, and the rural peasants making up 90% of the population had to make do with one-third. If current conditions continue the majority of our aging congregation will live to experience these statistics.

A more common version of justice is retributive or punitive, of crime and punishment according to ethical  law. This assumes that injustice is a result of individual sinfulness and doesn't question the inherent evil of the dominance system itself; the oppressed will still be oppressed even if they and the elites are fully moral. Focusing exclusively on the morality of individuals preserves the status quo.

Some of the oldest portions of the Hebrew Bible were about means of keeping a dominance-free society. The year of Jubilee when all debts were cleared and land reverted back to the original owners was intended to preclude an economically dominated class (and restoring this law was one of the objectives proclaimed by Jesus when he read the Isaiah scroll). The laws against usury were for similar purposes. Not harvesting all of the crops but leaving some for the poor, and giving charity, were means of loving our neighbors as ourselves. The laws that stressed purity and separation were written much later, after the prophets and after the fall of the first temple system. The purpose of these laws was to strengthen tribal loyalty and guard against being assimilated into the "other". We need to reclaim the laws that promote equity and retire the laws that endorse elitism.

Distributive justice is incompatible with dominance systems, so it is necessary to either abandon any pretense to justice or to work towards dismantling the dominance systems and replacing them with more equitable alternatives. We either maintain empire or we establish the "Kingdom of God" here on Earth. This is where collective action is required by communities, with the guidance of the body of the church, to engage in politics.

The three main dominance structures today are: Ongoing war that profits weapons manufactures to the tune of $700 billion a year; a private international reserve banking system based on fiat currency; a mass media and culture machine that promotes individualism and self interest. 

I'm suggesting we take the radical approach of going back to our roots, back to the prophets that preceded the priestly codes, and speak truth to power on these issues. To love life more than we fear death, to seek justice and to live.


This article was published on Oct 25th 2009 in the Chronicle, a weekly service bulletin for the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral.  It took great effort on my part to get it to fit onto a single page. I was also under a lot of pressure since this was the first submission by the Justice Group. The Green Group had been publishing articles for some time and I had talked the powers that be in to allowing one week a month for the Justice Group. I received quite a few positive comments.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Divine Design

In the beginning there was a darkness, deep and void,
where there was nothing but the word.
The word was Be
No more no less
Just Be cast adrift
on a sea of total nothingness.

Now was this a noun named Be
Or a verb and quest and destiny
Either way it matters not
For whichever way you choose
Be was all alone and in the dark
without a single clue.

But with the faith to believe
That there was a methodology
To find the ideal strategy
And that somewhere down along the line
Through permutations and transformation
Achieves self creation
And applies it back to the start of time
Be declared this to be law
Law by design.

As events started to unfold
Be saw there was more to it than that
For Nothing turned out to be
The ultimate primordial vat
From which nothing could escape
And before all would be done
All the parts in their diversity
would have to act as one
And communicate and cooperate
And see the whole plan through
Be declared this to be Design Law number two.

Now it had to general
Because you couldn't know all that was involved
The plot would be oral so that it could evolve
And it had to be dynamic so it could engage in exchange
So this order of General Oral and Dynamic
Became the trinity
That Be declared to be Design Law number three.

The focus is on knowledge and what it all means
Philosophers would later write
Of how its more than what it seems
Of what is it made that gives it physical form
And from what is it begot that caused it to be born
What is its function and how does it perform
And what is its purpose and its future hold in store
To all things these questions
Combine with deductive lore
Be declared this to be Design Law number four.

The future is the possibility
Of what we want and what we need
So imagine the seduction of induction
Where options multiply rather than divide
And for those choices that affect the future

honor the child while mother father elder the evolution
of the persistence to survive
Be declared this to be Design Law number five.

Through synthesis all things combine
The past and future intertwine
In common cause that transcends time.
As for effect there is free will
And it all depends on what you pick
There lie the cunning in the cosmic trick
That Be declared to be Design Law number six.

In this chaos of complexity
And you think you're in too deep
Enjoy the easy parts while you're awake
And do the hard parts in your sleep
It shall be on Earth as in this subconscious heaven
Be declared this to be Design Law number seven.

With this Be realized
And came alive as concept materialized
Be became I Am
Then cycled the essence of its being
Through the process once again

I love going back to the start of time
With Be revealing the divine design
And watching it unwind and branch and flow
Until it feels the pulse
And is prompted to trace back to the core
And each and every time
It's more beautiful than it was before

In the end there was darkness
It was black and it was void
There was nothing but words
But two were I Am
And another one was Be
It's all you'll ever want
And all you'll ever need
This meaning passed through verse
Is to be and become one with the entire universe

Just be.

Such is the Logos within its limitations.


I wrote this about 18 years ago.  This came out of the summer of '89 experience and I knew what it was about but it took a few years to come up with the words, and I'm still making little changes in it here and there. Tonight I changed an opening line from "it was black and it was void" to "a darkness deep and void" because I preferred the Genesis reference. A few years back I changed design law five to include honoring the child, and the role of elders, because I thought it set the fifth commandment straight. A couple of years ago I added the engage in exchange, rather than withstand change, as an inspiration picked up in a retreat by Cynthia Borgeault. I still haven't decided if I should add punctuation, it is an oral piece after all where that isn't a direct consideration, though it does come through in the power of the presentation.

At one time I was really proud of this piece. Now not as much. That happened when I added the last line about the Logos having limitations. A friend remarked that though it was a powerful work there was no mention of Love.  It took me awhile to realize that this was all left brain, and Love has no place within the left brain domain. I have a few essays to write on this topic but they are for another post. 

Maybe I'll unpack the theology in here, and maybe I should just let it be.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Introductory Post

This site is intended as an introduction of myself to the people that I meet face to face out in the real world. A lot of the articles that I write are based on where I am in my spiritual journey.  This is different than the standard what kind of job and how long have I been married type story that most people are able to use to introduce themselves. I don't know where to start or how much to say. I do know that the other articles that I have to post are waiting for this one.

Career and employment are pretty straightforward, or at least to start. I got a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Calgary in 1981.  Financed by a few student loans but mainly from working on the drilling rigs in the summer. My family was in the "oil patch" and these connections got me my first job, and I wouldn't have been able to keep it if it wasn't for these connections since I was woefully inadequate in the physical department to start but perseverance  eventually made me strong enough. After I had my degree I got a job as a Drilling Engineer for BP. I was working in the heavy oil section and later transferred to conventional drilling. There are some details here that I will save for a separate post. After six years I was called into the office and given the "technically you're the best engineer I've ever had work for me, but, you have an attitude problem and we can't trust you to always do what is in the best interests of BP." They didn't cheat me out of severance pay so I was happy.

I didn't even look for another job but immediately signed up at university in the computer science department. Experiences with the system service department on the last job were so frustrating that I never wanted to have to depend on them again. I was also taking a minor in communications, as in speeches, rhetoric, etc. Between second and third year I took the summer off to learn C and wrote a prototype for a distributed hypertext system. I saw the potential and I was going to use it to bankroll the counter-culture. This was in the summer of 1989, the same time that Tim Berners-Lee was laying down the foundation for HTML, which I didn't find out about until months later. One thing led to another, add some psychic inflation with rupture into the collective unconscious as Jung would say, three weeks without sleep and I was pretty much screwed for the rest of my life -- (but if I could go back and do things different I wouldn't change a thing.) With great difficulty I managed to finish my degree over the next two years, but I had timetable conflicts that prevented the communication minor.

Worked for TransCanada Pipelines for a couple of years. Very frustrating. They had contempt for software design, that was overcompensated for by a lot, an awful lot, of time spent on screen appearance and cosmetics. I was told it didn't matter much what was on the inside since they would be rewriting the programs next year anyway. We had the largest in-house computer department in town. I found out that they were a regulated company, being a monopoly and all, and the price they could charge was set as a percentage above expenses. The higher the expenses, the higher the profit. It all made sense.

I thought I had enough money to last until the global economic meltdown, the one which still hasn't happened, though it looms ever closer. Plus I had this book to write, and a mission, etc.  So I took a vow that I would starve to death in the freezing rain besides some dumpster before I would ever let a corporation benefit from my talents again. You would think this would motivate me to get the book written. You'd think. The crash and burn was a long drawn out affair.

Father gave me enough money to move to Vancouver in 1996 so I could crash and burn again out of sight. Which I did, until I was rescued by social services. Turns out that one of the reasons I had no energy was that my thyroid had quit working somewhere along the line. Got that fixed up with daily pills, and now I'm on mental disability with a part time job at Windsor Meats making sausages. It supplies my daily bread and I live a monastic lifestyle. I'm a contemplative, a monk without an order. I do lots of charity work. I have an active religious life. I still haven't written the book.

That is a pretty quick and dirty summary of the outer life. The inner life of O.V. is more complicated and I'll get back to it in posts here and there over the next few months/years.