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Scripture provides insights into modern day globalization, economics, says CRS officer
by Scott Cooper, for the Inland Register
(From the April 8, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Joe Hastings of Catholic Relief Services gave spiritual reflections on the impact of globalization last month in Spokane. (IR photo by Scott Cooper)
Presenting to students of Gonzaga University, local Catholic Schools, and parishioners, Joe Hastings, Education Officer for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), invited audiences on March 15 and 16 to consider how the economic and cultural phenomenon of globalization has changed the world, and what parallels can be draw between the world of Biblical times and the world in developing countries today.
CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas development and emergency relief agency.
Globalization means a “shrinking” world because of instantaneous communication, increased interconnectedness among people, and a risk of the loss of distinct cultures as dominant media drive people around the world to adopt similar styles.
With years of experience traveling with CRS to Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, Hastings offered seven parallels between life as read in the Biblical world, and contemporary life in the developing world.
• A “champagne glass” image of world income distribution, with the bottom two-fifths barely surviving on $1 or $2 per day, with the top fifth earning $120 per day. While most Americans may not feel rich, compared to many other countries, the U.S. is mostly in that top fifth, a distribution has not changed much since Scriptural times: a wealthy elite, but the vast majority living in poverty. According to Hastings, Gospel stories such as Lazarus, or the or the workers in the vineyard, can help the developed world recognize itself as affluent, with a challenge to identify with the poor.
• A theme of struggling to survive. Those living in the bottom two-fifths of world income distribution – whether today or in Biblical times – were not just struggling to “get by,” Hastings said, but struggling to survive. The starving poor today can be compared to the slaves in Exodus, or those who risked their livelihoods by leaving behind day labor in order to follow Jesus.
• The importance of family and community. In the developing world, Hastings said, these ideas are the key to surviving one week to the next. He mentioned examples of remittances to family left behind in the developing world, sent by people working in the developed world, as the one thing standing between eating or not. Single people in the developing world never live alone, but always with their families until they marry, he said. Throughout his travels, Hastings has been impressed by the faith experiences of small Christian communities, who break open Scripture to reveal what it “says to us,” rather than what it “says to me.” Scriptures of the prodigal son, the early house churches in Acts of the Apostles, and St. Paul’s use of family terms when writing to the early faith communities, all speak to the importance of family and community in the Biblical world.
• The importance of hospitality. Hastings shared stories of staying in Bedouin tents in the Middle East, where the culture obligates hosts to provide shelter to guests for a minimum of three days, or couples living in palm-frond huts in the Philippines giving up their only bedroom for Hastings to stay in. Likewise, in the world of the Scriptures, hospitality is always a sign of God’s presence and of faithfulness, Hastings said.
• A theme of closeness to Earth and nature. Most of those living in the developing world are farmers. They are automatically tied to seasons, weather and the land, just to have enough to eat. Their homes offer less insulation and separation from the natural world than most homes in the developed world. Scripture is filled with images of nature, such as the desert, the vineyard, the mustard seed, and the birds of the field.
• A strong theme of migration. Almost all of the main characters throughout the Bible are migrants or refugees, beginning with Abraham; Joseph, who is trafficked into Egypt by his family; the Hebrews who migrate through the desert to the Promised Land of Israel; the forced migration of the Israelites to Babylon; and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to escape Herod. Even St. Paul’s letters to early Christian communities are often written to groups who have been forcibly relocated by the Roman Empire as a way of keeping different ethnic communities under control. CRS says that the number of people worldwide who are displaced, either within their own country, or outside of their nation’s borders, currently doubles every seven-eight years.
• A theme of center and margins. In Biblical times, Rome was the center of the world, where power was exercised and decisions made. Jerusalem sat at the outer edges of Rome’s sphere of influence. Galilee was similarly far from the center of the Hebrew community in Jerusalem. Hastings said that God came into this picture from the margins.
In terms of power and cultural influence, audiences at Hastings’s presentations posited Washington, D.C., New York, or Los Angeles as the centers of today’s world. The margins included places such as sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the former Soviet republics, Southeast Asia, and the Gaza Strip.
Hastings asked what it means for the developed world to say that God enters from the margins, particularly for those who may be more identified with the center. What can be learned about God’s Word from those currently on the margins? Are we challenged by Scriptural interpretations that come from the margins? In which direction (away from or toward the center) are we moving? While God is certainly present everywhere, are those on the margins experiencing a different kind of blessing?
Hastings asserted that the margins are a privileged place of encounter with God, and proposed that perhaps everyone might meet in the middle.
(Scott Cooper is Parish Social Ministries director for Catholic Charities Spokane.)