Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fear of Dust

rain on leaf , matt kumm 2008
    Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
      and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
   I love the water of wells and springs
      and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
   I am a dry man whose thirst 
      is praise of clouds, 
      and whose mind is something of a cup.
   My sweetness is to wake in the night
      after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.
                          (from Water, Wendell Berry)

I’ve been dragging hoses around to water the dozen berry plants and nine dwarf fruit trees I’ve planted in the past few years.  The neighborhood robins gather in the wet ground hoping for worms, and our resident wrens scold energetically each time I move the sprinklers.

It’s all an undeserved luxury I give thanks for even as I pray for those without: the water, the trees, the still somewhat green half acre, the birds, the knowledge that I don't depend on these trees or bushes, that I have always had more food than I need..

I’m conscious of the exceptional drought taking place in Texas, Oklahoma, and neighboring states. The worst drought on record has set wildfires scorching across two millions acres while famers watch their wheat and corn crops wither and ranchers slaughter herds they can’t afford to feed.

I’m conscious, too, of the drought playing out in the horn of Africa, where eleven million people are in danger of starvation as temperatures continue to rise, the earth cracks, and even the idea of rain seems like a long-forgotten hope.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
As the droughts worsen, food prices rise. They’ve been rising for years now, but have spiked in the past year – far more in poor countries, poor markets, than here. And far more dangerously for people whose entire incomes are spent on food than for those of us whose food budgets are a small percentage of our income. When you live on a dollar a day, there’s no margin when food prices doubles.

I find myself reading the book of Jeremiah:

      “Judah mourns, her cities languish;
            they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem.
      The nobles send their servants for water;
          they go to the cisterns but find no water.
     They return with their jars unfilled;
          dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads.
     The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land;
         the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.
     Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn
         because there is no grass.
     Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals;
        their eyes fail for lack of food.” (Jeremiah 14)

Hungry and afraid, God’s people cry out for help. But the answer is not rain, food, or other immediate relief. Instead, God, speaking through Jeremiah, says “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.”

Chapters of lament later, God says “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there:

‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. …  

Jeremiah Lamenting Jerusalem's Destruction
Heath Matyjewicz 2002
“Woe to him who builds his palace 
   by unrighteousness,
   his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
   not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
   with spacious upper rooms.’ …
  “Does it make you a king
   to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
   He did what was right and just,
   so all went well with him.
He defended the cause 

   of the poor and needy,
   and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
   declares the LORD. 
“But your eyes and your heart
   are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
   and on oppression and extortion.”
         (Jeremiah 22)

Israel’s early forays into consumer capitalism, “more and more cedar,” "dishonest gain," met with exceptional ruin.

Walter Brugguemann, in Journey to the Common Good, talks about Pharoah’s kingdom, a complex system of power structured around economic exploitation and the suffering of the weak. Pharoah’s kingdom, like Babylon, like every empire since, was dependent on three things:

       ○ Fear of scarcity
       ○ Anxiety about the future
       ○ Oppression of the weak

The kingdom of God proclaims a different reality, an alternative “grounded in generosity,” in which we’re called to trust God, to experience his peace and rest, rather than our own aggressive anxiety, and to treat our neighbors as ourselves, rather than exploit them in our constant desire for more. In the kingdom of God, there is always enough, even in the desert, where manna “is a show of YHWH’s inestimable generosity that stands in contrast to Pharaoh’s nightmare of anxiety about scarcity.”

Brueggemann insists that God’s people are called to live as “a minority voice of subversion and alternative,” standing firm for these kingdom values:
  • hesed (“steadfast covenantal solidarity”)
  • mispat (“justice that gives access and viability to the weak”) and
  • sedaqah (“righteousness as intervention for social well-being”)
As God tells the thirsty people of Israel: "Do what is just and right." "Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed." "Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." "Defend the cause of the poor and needy."

As temperatures rise, as hunger spreads, as debate in Washington continues about money, resources, what we can and cannot share, I find myself wondering what it would mean to live in greater solidarity with the poor and oppressed, how to advocate for justice, how to intervene not just for myself and those like me, but for those I don’t know, whose grief and despair I can hardly imagine.

I’m thankful for ministries like WaterMissions, working hard to bring clean water to people without. And to faithful advocates like Dave Beckman, of Bread for the World, insisting in the ongoing budget circus on a Circle of Protection for the poor and hungry. I’m thankful for Walter Brugguemann, who challenges my thinking and spurs me to deeper prayer.

I pray for repentence, justice, and rain, here, in Texas, and in dry places around the globe.

 “But blessed is the one
    who trusts in the Lord,    
    whose confidence 
    is in him.
 They will be like a tree

     planted by the water
    that sends out its roots 

    by the stream.
It does not fear 

   when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
It has no worries 

   in a year of drought
   and never fails 

   to bear fruit.”   
         (Jeremiah 17)

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.