The heart of the matter

“It’s the economy, stupid!” is a phrase from one of Bill Clinton’s campaigns, if I remember correctly – an indicator that there should be no question about what the central issue was. And in so many discussions in our society, political and otherwise, “the economy” is indeed assumed to be the heart of the matter. Get the economy going well, and all else will fall into place.

Well, I think that’s wrong. It’s NOT the economy that’s central. It’s spirituality. And while I’m a church guy, and therefore biased, I don’t think it really matters whether one is religious or not. Spirituality is still the heart of the matter.

Okay, I know the economy matters. I’m out of work myself right now, and I understand that jobs, and supply chains — all the stuff of an economy — it really matters! Without it, we don’t get around, we don’t eat, we don’t communicate, and so forth. I get it. But there are many ways to “do” economy. And the way we are doing ours right now is — I think we all agree — unsustainable. We are using up non-renewable resources, we are doing harm to the biosphere on which our lives are dependent, we are causing a mass extinction whose extent and effect none of us know. There is also a social cost to our way of doing economy, that turns human beings and citizens into “consumers.”

Our societal choice to sacrifice both earth and humanity to GDP growth is a spiritual matter. It is about what we hold sacred, and what we don’t. It’s about what we value, and what we don’t. It’s about what we believe about humanity, and the earth, and our relationships. My use of the word “sacrifice” is not accidental. Spirituality is about what we worship as a god.

Every time I look south of the border, to the United States, and engage with political news, my gut clenches (actually, it clenches up with Canadian political news, too, but not quite as uncomfortably. Yet.). I thought the nation was polarized under George Bush Jr., but that was nothing compared to now. I thought there were political issues before, but now I see people nakedly, obviously, sacrificing the common good and the integrity of political institutions and processes to their own personal ambition. And they are getting away with it, for the most part. Sacrificing your integrity to the political game is actually rewarded. Dividing the nation, inciting hatred and fear, misrepresenting your political opponents, is how you win.

That’s a spiritual issue. It’s about our respect for the truth, our willingness to demonize and dehumanize other people, it’s about integrity and about who’s in and who’s out, it’s about whether we value the common good or our own individual privilege. It’s about whether we are called to love our neighbour or to compete and win.

There is a toxic spirit in politics and the economy right now. It is a toxic spirit that makes it easier to divide than to unite, easier to undermine than to build up, easier to destroy the earth than to preserve it, easier to play the game than to govern well. Whether you lean towards the left or the right, this toxic spirit is drawing the integrity out of both the parties we oppose and the parties we support. A healthier spirit would, surely, float all boats – even platforms and ideologies we oppose would surely be improved by integrity! But that isn’t happening. We are following a line of least resistance to a place few want to go.

A line in the Biblical letter to the Ephesians has been on my mind a lot lately. It was flagged by a friend of mine in a sermon some years ago. If you’re a Bible geek, it can be found in Ephesians 3:10. Here’s the line (it starts in the middle of a sentence, so if you want the context, go look it up): …so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Kind of a weird thing. What I get from it, though, is that the purpose of the church is to show the wisdom of God – in all its rich variety – to the spiritual powers of our age. It’s the job of the church to show the wisdom of God – the left-leaning wisdom and the right-leaning wisdom, and the wisdom that goes beyond either – to the toxic spirit in politics today. It’s our job and our calling to BE different, and to be different PUBLICLY, and to be different in a way that directly confronts the spirituality that is at the core of our problems.

I have some pretty definite political ideas, and loyalties, and opinions. But I’m not sure that God shares all my opinions and loyalties. I don’t think God belongs to any particular party, or ascribes to any particular political ideology. The wisdom of God is something that comes with “rich variety.” But there’s a spirit of integrity, public service, and compassion that can be brought to every party, every ideology, and if we lack that spirit, I suspect that nothing – nothing – will work as well as any of us hope.