Something happened this Christmas. A Christmas miracle. An event worthy of those made for T.V. Christmas specials. It happened during the race to find the #1 song in the UK for the week before Christmas. This might not sound very important, but in the UK, as you see in the film Love Actually, this is a place of great prestige. For the past 4 years the Christmas #1 has been dominated by that years winner of X Factor, a sort of British American Idol Show that is run by Simon Cowell. This year Jon Morter, a part time rock DJ, wanted to change this. He started a Facebook group calling people to buy the 1992 single from Rage Against the Machine “Killing in the Name”. A long shot to be sure, but it turns out that 500,000 people joined the campaign and downloaded the song in one week. “Killing in the Name” with its message “F*%$ you, I won’t do what you tell me!” became the number one song in the UK for that week.
Now why would I call this a Christmas miracle? Why did this story give me shivers of excitement? Well, on a small scale it was that Rage Against the Machine took the proceeds to fund homeless shelters in London. But the biggest reason is that this was a group of people who told the big corporations who decide what music will be big, what “art” we will consume, that they do not have total control. They stood up to the entertainment industry and said that we will not just bow to their wishes but will revolt and say “We won’t do what you tell us!”
Was this a perfect act of corporate resistance? No, Sony owns the rights to both the X Factor song and the Rage Against the Machine song, so financially this was a win/win for them. But this was a shot to their confidence, for their industry is built on taking trends, repackaging them, and selling them back to the masses, dictating what will be popular. This action said, you can’t predict us, dictate to us, spoon feed us, we can resist you.
We as Christian’s are called to live out lives of active resistance in this world. We know this, and give this lip service, but we don’t very often do it. We take passages that call us to resistance, and sentimentalize them so their call is much less radical.
For instance when we read a passage such as James 3:14-16, at first glance it seems like nothing to radical. It seems pretty straight forward. James says “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Our first reaction is to say “Yeah, jealousy and selfish ambition are bad things. I’ll avoid them.” But if we really think about it we realize that this is a radical statement, especially in our society.
Our economy, our education system, our social structures require selfish ambition and jealousy in order to survive. Capitalism is built on the assumption that if everyone pursues their own desires then this will work out for the benefit of all. A rising tide lifts all boats. Selfishness is offered as the savior of the world. Jealousy has an important role as well. You see if I am jealous of what my neighbor has, logic of the market tells me not to fight this feeling but to actually buy something better. Then, I not only get the thing that I wanted, but I also am working towards the betterment of society. America was told, post 9/11, that it is through shopping that our way of life is defended. Me buying something gives you a job. Look everyone is happy. In a world built on these assumptions to live any other way seems inconceivable.
Yet James tells us this is not wisdom from above, this is not how things truly are, this is a deception leading to evil things. Deep down we know this is true. Our selfish ambition does not lead to the benefit of all. As one columnist wrote after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans “What was that about a rising tide lifting all boats? What if you don’t have a boat?”. We don’t have to look to New Orleans to see this truth. People are falling through the cracks in our own cities, in our own neighborhoods.
Selfishness does not lead to a better society for all, just like war doesn’t lead to peace. James tells us we are surrounded by two types of wisdom, the wisdom of God and the wisdom of earth, and they both can’t be right. Jesus often contrasted the Kingdoms of Death with the Kingdom of God. In the book of Revelation the author talks about Bablyon versus New Jerusalem. There are two ways to go, and Christ in calling us out of one and into the other.
How do we do this? How do we live without selfish ambition and jealousy when our whole way of life depends on it? Author William Stringfellow says “engagement in specific and incessant struggle against death’s rule renders us human. Resistance to death is the only way to live humanly in the midst of the fall.” We need to live in constant resistance to the wisdom that surrounds us. We can never cave in and say this is just the way it is. We need to take risks, experiment, be prepared to fail. We as Christians are called to a completely new way of life, one that does not lead towards death. As a body we need to figure out what that looks like. So what do we do?
What if we take the lead from Geez magazine whose tagline is “holy mischief in an age of fast faith”. They have something called “Experiments in Truth” borrowed from Gandhi’s autobiography. These are little experiments in resistance to the empire of consumerism. Some of them fail miserably and some of them change the participant immeasurably. Some experiments are simple. One man decided to give up complaining for a month. One women decided she wouldn’t buy anything new for a whole year. One family converted their vehicle to run on used veggie oil, and a man decided to be nice for a month no matter what. A family tried to give up using any plastic whatsoever for a month, while a man decided he would never walk past a street person without a greeting or starting a conversation.
All of these things seem somewhat small and meaningless, but what if it is through these small acts of resistance that we begin to learn what it means to follow Jesus? What if these experiments become more then experiments and actually become normal practices in our lives? What if we are slowly able to free ourselves from the grasp of consumption, selfishness and greed which leads to death and begin to live the life giving way of Christ and his Kingdom? Take on an experiment in your home, take a risk and see how it works, then take on another experiment, then another. Resist death, practice life. I’d like to finish with a poem that sums up all of what I am saying much more eloquently then I have here. It is Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front.”
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.