Friday, January 17, 2014

Reinvesting in Michigan for the Common Good

The Pope has been calling on the nations to consider the needs of the poor among us.  Some have derided his emphasis as being anti-capitalist and naive, but he speaks from within the the prophetic tradition, that includes Jesus.  He also speaks from having lived in the midst of poverty and recognizes that this growing inequality  across the globe that is unsustainable.  That includes here at home, even in Michigan.   

Many of us live with what Walter Brueggemann calls a the "narrative of scarcity."  This makes us "greedy, and exclusive, and selfish, and coercive."  This ideology or belief system is even present in the church, where "even the Eucharist can be made into an occasion of scarcity, as though there were not enough for all.  Such scarcity leads to exclusion at the table,even as scarcity leads to exclusion from economic life" [Journey to the Common Good, (WJK, 2010) p. 34].  But we needn't embrace this ideology.  Instead, we can embrace the "narrative of abundance."  
Those who sign on and depart from the system of anxious scarcity become the historymakers in the neighborhood.  These are the ones not exhausted by Sabbath-less production who have enough energy to dream and hope.  From dreams and hopes come such neighborly miracles as good health care, good schools, good housing, good care for the earth, and disarmament.  (Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Goodp. 35).
It is with the voices of Pope Francis and Walter Brueggemann in mind and in heart that I listened to Rick Snyder, the Governor of Michigan, offer his State of the State Address last night. He celebrated many signs of growth in the state and trumpeted his successes.  But, he also spoke from within the narrative of scarcity.   There are limited dollars to be spent and we spend them wisely.  I'm all for spending wisely, but how do we determine what is wise spending?

Here in Michigan we watch as municipalities large and small struggle to keep within their budgets because the state is parsimonious with its revenue sharing.  Most of our communities must depend on property taxes, and with taxable values down considerably and with restrictions on how fast assessments can rise, many communities, even relatively affluent ones struggle to pay bills and have cut deeply into their services.  This is also true of our schools.  The governor spoke of supporting schools, including enhancing early childhood education, but are the dollars going where they need to go?  Then there's transportation.  We heard again the need to improve roads, but little insight into how we're going to do this, and nothing was said about public transportation.

There was, in the speech, an almost appalling silence about the situation in Detroit.  Early in the speech he did speak of public safety and the decrease in crime in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and Saginaw, but when it came to the issue of Detroit's bankruptcy, he was silent.  Although the state has taken over the financial affairs of the city, nothing was said about how the State might assist the city financially to emerge from bankruptcy as a strong, vibrant city.  In this I was extremely disappointed.

The Governor talks about reinventing Michigan.  Well, that's fine, as far as it goes, but if we're going to reinvent the State, we must also reinvest in it.  In the past few years the tax burden has shifted from businesses to citizens, especially those living at the lower and middle ends of the spectrum.  That's not reinvestment. 

Below is a video that shares the message of a recent statewide event sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Center.  The Metro Coalition of Congregations, which I serve as President of the Board, participated in this effort to draw attention to the needs of our communities.  In calling for reinvestment in our communities, we are speaking from the "narrative of abundance."  There is enough to go around, if we learn not just to spend wisely, but to share wisely and with equity.  If we do this, then we will participate in bringing into existence the common good.   Among those speaking in this video is my friend, colleague, and MCC Vice President, the Apostle John Harvey, Pastor of Serenity Christian Church.  

This need to switch narratives exists not only in Michigan, but across the country, and across the globe.  As a person of faith, and a follower of Jesus, I must ask myself -- which narrative drives my sense of purpose?  How does Jesus' call to love God and love my neighbor get expressed in the way I live in public?  

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