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The Real Economic Bailout!

Written by Jason Winton : October 19, 2008

Introduction

I wrote this missive after having watched the Oscar winning movie Gandhi. As you will read below, this story, documenting the journey of an extraordinary and beloved Indian, had the effect of awakening something passionate and emotional inside of me. With fatherhood approaching quickly (December 13th is the projected due date), I’ve been a bit troubled, wondering if I’ll ever be able to give feet to all those subversive and radical ideas I’ve mainly just dreamed of doing. The story of Gandhi, however, gave me hope and courage to believe my journey was just beginning. The context for writing this is that of an emerging father and a believer in radical things.

An Experiment in Truth

It is hard to grasp the enormity of a “global” economy, much less the nature of its inner workings. And yet it is almost a certainty that those who have been poor in our current economic system will continue on this way in spite of various optimisms I’ve seen. For example, one thing I have come to expect is that very little real or lasting help will come from the government. When Washington and Wall Street join hands (again and again!) for the sake of their own asses, the poorest among us will surely suffer the most unloving punch-in-the-face. Indeed, the God who protects those living in the ghettos of the global industrial dream cannot and should not be likened to a god who fattens (morally) bankrupt CEOs and/or politicians as they attempt to “fix our broken economy.”

As America continues the conversations about how to preserve a luxurious way of life, I know of both friends and family here and abroad who are in need of financial and neighborly assistance. They work just as hard as anyone else given the parameters of their households and responsibilities. Moreover, their hard work and acceptance of me as a brother and neighbor has prompted a little idea recently. This “idea” is actually more of an experiment and is meant to encourage the real economic bailout package. If all goes well, I intend to implement this plan in the company of family, neighbors, and friends. As important as we think the bill passed by congress and senate is, this “economic bail-out” has nothing to do with those fine women and men. In fact, it is in defiance of their logic and done without their permission.

The plan I have in mind is actually very easy for those want to participate. It has within it the kind of imagination that Jesus embodied when he instructed his disciples to “love one another,” as he washed their feet and surrendered himself to their enemies (John 13). The plan is so simple it might be mistaken for foolish. But here it is anyway: I am suggesting we sell our beds! Your comfortable bed (please, no!) is serving, unwittingly, as the barrier between you and your segregated but poor neighbor. Comfort is one our favorite and most expensive USAmerican habits/luxuries. Just the same, many places around the world (including in the US) there are individuals and families who do not have a bed to lie down their head. So, as an act of sacred disobedience: Sell your bed and then sleep on the floor (in solidarity with the “distressing disguise” of Jesus in world)!

Besides being a powerful image of USAmerican comfort, luxury (and perhaps excess), your bed is also worth some money. It can send a message to the hungry capitalist in us all, disturbing our steady diet of apathy, by saying, we won’t stand by and watch the poor merely survive in their circumstance. That is, especially while we, the relatively powerful and rich, justify our economic/political “freedom” with violence and greed. So, join me on Saturday to sell your “comfortably used beds” and then give your money away to those who are in need—whether they be someone or some-one(s) you know close by or very far away. Simply decide who could use a hand and then give it to them.

So, that’s the plan. I realize it isn’t quite as sexy as a politician’s speech or as reassuring as powerful men making promises but it’s the best idea I’ve come up with so far. I’d love to hear what other ideas might spring up from the particular situations we’re in as well? Imagine a 7-and-1/2-month pregnant lady (my wife!) sleeping on the ground in a make-shift bed. What on earth would motivate her to do such a thing? And how will the community respond to the love behind her descent (or dissent)? Will we hide behind the emperor’s shame and point to someone else as the one who should of or could of done something, or will we follow the way of Jesus and wash each other’s feet, offering our own sacrifices of luxury, for the sake of others and their well-being? You decide…

Conclusion

Unfortunately, as my wife clarified for me, we will not be selling our bed. I know what you’re thinking: why the impassioned plea for sacrificial giving if I wasn’t going to do it? Well, because it’s the way my brain thinks. I thought it would be fun (especially after watching the Ghandi movie), but as my wife said, our friend Erik would never stop harassing me if I suggested the pregnant lady sleep on the floor with her big ol’ pregnant belly. Don’t be alarmed, however, by my withdrawal. A different possibility arose in the midst of all this.

Julissa and I have wanted to offer my in-laws (from Lima, Peru) a way to travel and be here for our baby’s birth. Knowing they live month-to-month on a paycheck that won’t ever cover their basic living expenses, we thought it would be nice to pay for them to get to see us and our soon-to-be baby. Admittedly, this is a bit selfish, considering that they are our family. And yet, they are also literally the “poorest people we know” (as sad as that is). It only becomes all the more personal since they are family. So, instead of selling our bed, we decided to put on a yard sale (with pregnant wife and all). Julissa sent out an email to our church friends and beyond about making donations for our endeavor. And, boy, did we get donations! Our little one bedroom cottage was filled, inside and out, with other people’s stuff. It seems like we spent all last week getting the stuff ready.

After all was said and done, we made enough money to cover the expenses for my in-laws to come and probably worked harder as a small community since who knows when. Thank God that our friends came out to help, we needed it. And thank God that our experiment encouraged a di-vestment of at least some of the excess crap in our closets. We cooperated as a community (through giving of our stuff and energy) to make this happen. We certainly didn’t “end poverty,” but we did disturb the indifference and hopelessness of the so-called global economy. I hope our family members in Peru get to sense the courage and peace we felt as our “inalienable American rights” were subverted, as our consumption and greed were replaced with a more just and authentic community.

Author Bio:: Jason leads a small faith community in Chico, California and enjoys the art of writing down his thoughts and sharing them. His day job is as a social worker for late teens in the foster care system. He and his wife are expecting their first child very soon! You can read more from Jason at waysofresistance.com.




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Comments

Viewing 13 Comments

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    I've been on the floor for about a year now for the very same reason.
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    Perhaps other popular luxuries we could do without:
    television and its accompanying entertainment
    music players and music collection
    • ^
    • v
    Even very poor people seem to be able to afford TVs.
    • ^
    • v
    I have a suggestion: walk. Walking, carpooling, these are the things that broke the back of the Jim Crow laws of the South. Walking together was one of the ways Gandhi helped create solidarity. Most of the world doesn't own a car. The poorest can't even afford a bus ride. And WWJD? I only remember one time Jesus did anything but walk. If walking doesn't work for you get a bicycle. There are affordable bikes that work for all kinds of handicaps, even being pregnant.

    Our consumption of oil through transportation is a major source of CO2 that contributes to global warming. If enough people chose to reduce their CO2 footprint then Ethiopia would not have so many droughts and there wouldn't be so much starvation there. Or Bangladesh would not have so many or such severe monsoons which cause massive loss of life and crops. Not to mention those living in the arctic regions, New Orleans, etc.

    By walking or biking you could save a lot more money than you could ever get selling your bed. You could identify with the poor and Jesus. You could be part of the solution to global warming. You could get all the exercise you need without paying a health club. You would start to know the community you live in. You would meet other poor people who walk. Life would take on a slower pace and there would be time for meditation (as you walked).
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    Good suggestions everyone! What about the textile industry? How do we "walk" (thanks Maria!) in solidarity with farmers--whether they be USAmerican or Malaysian or Mexican or Chinese? Gandhi was well-known for spinning his own cotton. If I'm right, I suspect we will need a little more "motivation" before trying that one. What do you think?
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    This is a question I have been thinking about in some depth. Gandhian (which seems to have much in common with Chestertonian distributionist) economics would suggest that we should use the resources we have around us instead of relying on goods from elsewhere, particularly if imports rely on people working for low wages and in bad conditions.

    I conclude that we need to do more to support local production - where wages and conditions are (at least supposed to be) better. In terms of materials, we should be more reliant on things we can grow ourselves, and/or materials we can reuse. This depends on where you are - the US has an enormous (and very heavily sprayed) cotton crop, whereas it does not grow in Europe. However, we do have a huge pile of old clothing which could - if we had the motivation - be remade into new clothing.

    Coupled to that, I think we have to ask questions about why the poor person is involved in the supply chain when they see so little of the money generated by the global fashion industry. The long term solution is not to continue encouraging them to overproduce disposable fashion for our markets - which in the process make a very small number of people very rich - but to find more sustainable things to do that do not involve exporting to us.
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    Wear used clothing.

    I would like to see a machine that could be used in a home to convert plastic bottles into fleece or nylon thread. Polartec is made out of plastic bottles. If it could be done on the scale of a cottage industry, it would give the poor an occupation and keep a lot of plastic bottles out of landfills, etc. (Not to mention the cost savings of not transporting a lot of trash.)
    • ^
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    P.S. Mending and cleaning stains honors the hard work of the poor people who made the clothes in the first place, and changes us from being a disposable society.
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    Maria, as I understand it the only places where the facilities (to make this recycled nylon) are big enough are in China. I don't think it is possible to do it on a cottage scale. I cannot rationalise sending trash to China for them to process and send back again. But I like your thinking.

    You might be interested in the report we are currently writing about recreating a fashion industry as if people matter - see here.
    • ^
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    Well, brother Jason, the pregnant part of me definitely wigged out at the thought of Julissa sleeping on the ground for the remainder of her pregnancy. Although, I, as does she, realize women all over the world do it everyday.

    I think your "solution," in the long run, served a greater purposes of not only funding your in-laws trip, but rallying your friends and nearby family to work together for a common good. Maybe it felt like a compromise, to keep your bed, and I guess you could argue that, but I'll bet you helped more people to hear your message and to join your cause. Not that you should stop preaching the selling of beds. Someone's got to do it and eventually, we'll hear it and be ready to respond by actually selling our beds.
    • ^
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    Great article Jason. Thanks for sharing.... keep on keeping on. Ryann
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    Jason,
    Wow. I'm more than a little disappointed in myself at this moment. As I read your article I became courageous. I really envisioned myself on the floor. I was going to do it! However, when I read your conclusion I immediately lost my impulse to do it. "If Jason doesn't do it, then I won't either". That is what I thought. That is what I'm thinking...

    I'm very disappointed in myself but not enough to cause me to ACT.
    • ^
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    Jason,

    After reading some of the comments I acknowledge that there are many ways you or I can reach out to help the poor and needy. A noble act of sleeping on the floor would serve as a constant reminder of all the comforts we take for granted; my respect to anyone who does sleep on the floor acting in the same sentiment you make mention of.
    Interestingly, your post also highlights a subtle irony. Understandably your wife’s yard sale for your extended family is very justifiable. After all, how could anyone deprive three generations celebrating life’s biggest gift? Objectively speaking, this case of travel is an indulgence which seeks to satisfy desires of intangible pleasure. Similarly greet of Wall Street is the entertainment of same underlying motivator – benefiting self. I believe this is the very fabric that is woven into American society is of capitalism. This is what makes our country great - its basic premise of self propulsion.

    It is very easy for one to point the finger and blame the rich for the gapping economical divide and dream about a socialistic society where everyone has equal. As we live in one of the richest countries in the world, shouldn’t our socialistic ideals reach out on a global perspective? Even the poor in the US have much more than most of the world. Even if we were to start today who would be the first to get such preferential treatment? The ones we love? The ones who we live close to? Even so, is there a hint of selfish desire in benefiting those we are most in contact with? And if this selfish desire is underlining our noble acts how different are we really from the rich or Wall Street?

    Just a thought :P
 

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  • Ways of Resistance | The Real Economic Bailout!

    October 20, 2008 at 12:04 am

    [...] please read this piece I wrote for Jesus Manifesto. I hoped, in it, to express the discontent I have ...

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