I was a little taken off guard. It had only been about a year since I had discovered that maybe the Christian hope did not end up with bodiless souls floating in an other worldly Heaven, but rather that it was the redemption of creation. When I discovered this I was transformed, my faith became infused with hope and passion. I was telling everyone, and I thought everyone would react like me. Advent took on a whole other meaning. We were waiting for the redemption and re-creation of the whole world, the coming of Heaven to Earth!!
How could anyone react to this news with “it sounds boring”? Why was she not overcome with excitement? Maybe it was the fact that the word “perfect” is loaded with such baggage that it does not adequately describe the redemptive vision. Maybe “perfect” depicts a world with no more mystery or discovery. Maybe “perfect” limits creativity.
All these things are true, perfect is a fully inadequate word to describe the age to come, but at the same time, I think there is something more. Maybe she had thought through the ramifications of what I was saying more then I had myself. Maybe she heard at that time a threatening to a system that she had flourished in.
She was like me, white and middle class, and to be those things in our world has its privileges. We benefit from corporate consumption. Though our very being is sucked out of us, for the most part we feel like the way things are is pretty great. We get cheap clothes, cheap gadgets and cheap food. We don’t have to cook, sew or grow things if we don’t want to, it is all at our disposal. Who cares if it is the middle of winter, we just drive down the road and a red juicy strawberry will be waiting for us to enjoy. And the best part is, we never have to know the real cost, we never have to see, hear or even acknowledge the pain that our lifestyle entails because it is all hidden from us, the corporations do the dirty work, and we just reap the benefits.
Isaiah’s description of the New Heavens and New Earth stands in direct opposition to this way of life. It seems that the hope that triumphantly cries out from this passage is one that acknowledges the nameless people who are oppressed by my lifestyle of eating what I want, when I want. It acknowledges the ones who pay the real price for my cheap new clothes which I will dispose of when I am told they are no longer “in style”. And not only are they acknowledged, but they are granted justice. Isaiah says “They will build houses and inhabit them; They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat”. As I read this I realize that the redemption of the world talked about in Isaiah and in Revelation and in all the scriptures in between are as much a judgement on the life that I lead as it is a freeing of those whom I enslave.
Isaiah is writing to bring hope to those like Estela Ramirez, whose story I came across in Trent University’s Student Newspaper “The Arthur” in an article written by my friend Rosie MacAdam. Rosie met Estela while working in El Salvador with the Maquila Solidarity Network. Estela worked in a factory called “Hermosa” which means “Beautiful” in English, but the conditions were anything but. Typical hours for Estela were 7am to 5pm with a 45 min. lunch break, but extra hours were mandatory so they would often have to work until 9pm.
She told a story of a time when they received a huge order from “Speedo” and for two months they worked 7 days a week 20 hours a day. They worked from 7 am until 5 pm, they had two hours to go home and eat supper, returned and worked from 7 pm until 5 am. They slept for two hours under their machines and woke up to start the day again at 7 am.
This obviously cannot happen without taking a toll on workers health. Exhaustion is compounded with verbal and emotional abuse. As well, because the lines of sewing machines are so tightly packed, the heat from workers machines cause many internal bladder infections and reproductive problems. Many of the workers, including Estela, came out of the factory with uterine cancer. Eventually the factory closed down leaving the workers without jobs and owing $850,000 in back wages.
For Estela, Isaiah is saying, this will not always be, this oppression will end, you will be free. But the message for those of us who wear the clothes that Estela makes is different. We are called to repent, to turn away from our life of mindless consumption. The Kingdom that is coming, and that is already here, is one of relationships. It does not allow me to stay in my self centered world, where I eat what I want, wear what I want, get what I want, and to hell with the consequences. Instead it calls for a connection with the earth from which my food comes. It calls for me to be connected in whatever way I can to the clothes that I where, and to the people who put their life into making them. It seems in this kingdom come, gardening, knitting, sewing, building, and eating, are all spiritual practices.
If I grow the vegetables that I eat I will become more aware of the impact my life has on the world in which I live and will also have a greater recognition of how dependent I am on the grace of the earth. If I raise the animals which I eat, I will have a greater respect for what has been sacrificed for my hamburger. If I make my own clothes, they will mean more to me then just a fashion statement, and will be less disposable.
As I reflect on this, the story of the rich younger ruler comes rushing into my head. It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a white, middle class guy to join a kingdom movement where we grow food and eat it, build houses and live in them, make clothes and wear them. A Kingdom where I am not an independent individual, but rather a part of world in which I am intricately connected and reliant on creatures, human and non human, for my flourishing and survival.
I can see why our culture is resistant to the idea of judgement, resurrection and cosmic redemption. A gospel that preaches these things is one that threatens all our structures right to their roots. Not just our secular structures, but this gospel threatens the very existence of the modern western church. Our churches are just as self centered and disconnected as we are as individuals. What if we were to preach to our churches that they are to give up all their trust funds and give them to the poor?
Is their hope for us in the end? It is so easy to reflect on how intrenched we are in the current culture of death and become overwhelmed by hopelessness. But it is here that Christ meets us, when we realize that we truly are oppressed by our wealth and power. It is when we call out that God hears us and slowly shows us the way to new life. It is a hard and difficult journey, one that ultimately will cost us our lives, for this Kingdom demands nothing less, but the hope which guides us on the journey will bring us life as it is meant to be. It is a hope that is anything but boring.