Jubilee

There are a variety of statistics that many people point to as deeply disturbing within the American economy. These include the terrifying level of consumer debt, the widening gap between the rich and poor (the disolution of the middle class), and the generational nature of poverty, the gap between property owners and renters and of course, the subprime mortgage crisis.
I understand that some of these might be disputed. A few might appear to be getting better when viewed in the short term. But I think most reasonable people would agree that most of the above are significant problems.

I’ve always been of the opinion that God agrees. What occured to me recently was that he had plans to fight these issues.
In Leviticus 25 (and a few other places, including Jesus description of what he’s doing on Earth) we get a description of the Jubilee Year.
The background to the idea of the Jubilee Year is that every seven years the land in Israel gets a Sabbath, a year of rest. After seven of these sabbath years (in other words, every fifty years) the people of Israel were told to celebrate a Jubilee.
Furthermore, God sets up this relationship between His people and the land itself at the very beginning of the time in the promised land. Land is not an object that can be bought and sold forever. The people of Israel are reminded that they are temporary residents. They can lease thier heriditary lands for durations of time, but they don’t have the right to sell them forever. (Interestingly, this seems to only apply to farm land; most of them do seem to have the right to permanently transfer property within the walled cities.)
Here’s the remarkable thing: every fifty years, all debts are cancelled. Every fifty years, property owners return to their inherited lands. Every fifty years, those Hebrews who sold themselves into slavery are freed.
God calls out those who are succesful to take care of the others between years of jubilee. A profit is not to be made on food sold to the starving. People should buy relatives out of slavery even between years of jubilee.
These facts have all sorts of fascinating implication on Jesus’ life and mission. Maybe I’ll consider these in some other post.
The thing I’m thinking about today is the wisdom of this economic system; how many problems it would avoid. Consider the problems listed above:
#1) The terrifying level of consumer debt… The most surface result of jubilee years would be that consumer debt would be cancelled. Perhaps more importantly, though, the credit industries, aware of the existence of jubilee years, would lose the incentive to set up systems where people pay the interest on fairly small purchases for nearly endless periods of time.
#2) The widening gap between the rich and poor… Several important aspects of this gap would be flattened twice a century.

#3) the generational nature of poverty… With the knowledge that the jubilee approaches, people would not feel trapped by their lives. With the periodic chances to start over, people would feel that they had a real shot.
#4) the gap between owners and renters: In some sense, everybody owns… in a different sense, nobody does.
#5) The subprime mortgage crisis would not be an issue for fairly self-explanatary reasons. Basically, a combination of reasons #1 and #4 listed above.

I am not saying that it’s feasible to simply tack the biblical practice of jubilee years onto our economic system. (Though it’s been suggested that we apply this to debt in the developing world and this is an intruiging idea.) I am saying that God had it figured out.
One of the critical debates between extremes in today’s political divide is around the issue of accountabality and freedom. Conservatives say that we need to hold individuals accountable and free them up to make their own decisions. Progressives (liberals, whatever you want to call them) observe that corporate accountabality (in both senses of the word “corporate”) is a bigger concern and freedom includes freedom of opportunity, freedom from hunger, etc..

God’s solution honors both aspects of this important dynamic.
Individuals are freed to risk and rewarded by risking in such a system. They reap the rewards or consequences of hard work, efficiency, creativity, etc.
Safety nets, though, are created. One person’s sloth, foolishness, etc, does not impact the next several generations to come. The least among us are protected.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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