Our friend and colleague Rev. Jim Wallis and the Sojourners movement are engaged in a fast. This is not an uncommon practice for religious people. They fast and pray not only at special times of religious significance (like Lent or Ramadan), but when the obstacles that are before us, and threatening our lives and livelihoods seem insurmountable.
Although the fast is scheduled to end on April 24th (Easter Sunday), Wallis, Hall and other religious leaders say that they are in it for the long haul, until we can change the tide that tries to balance the budget on the backs of those who are poor.
On the matter of balancing the budget, I breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama spoke last Wednesday, sounding more like the President I was hoping for. It was a great speech and the text is well worth reading. In it he forthrightly spelled out his priorities based on basic American values.
As Jim Wallis points out in his interview with Democracy Now the most important sentence in his speech was, “‘They’re going to cut Head Start for kids, health care for seniors, and afford tax breaks for the wealthiest even more. That’s wrong, and it won’t happen when I’m president.’ That line, ‘That’s wrong, and it won’t happen while I’m the president,’ is the most important line of his speech.” Wallis continues: “He’s going to have to get used to saying that, over and over and over again.”
Yet, despite the President’s soaring rhetoric, his plan is inadequate. It certainly sounds like he has bought the conservative narrative so forcefully articulated by President Reagan that government is the problem and that therefore spending needs to be cut, and that tax breaks for the wealthy will trickle down in opportunity for those who are poor — a promise that never materialized for those who are poor.
The fact is, our nation is not in a financial crisis. We are far and away the richest country in the world and has enormous resources. US military spending, for example, is 47% of the all military spending in the world, and 8 times larger than China, who comes in a very distant second. No, we have the money, the problem is with priorities. And our national priorities are driven by those whose anxiety and fear compel them to hoard it for themselves. The crisis our nation is in is a spiritual crisis: its a crisis of trust and confidence that is generated by fear.
At SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry, Walter Brueggemann addressed this question. (His speech and other presentations of the Congress are now available for download.) He reminded us that God’s economy is one of abundance and not scarcity. When we understand abundance, we feel less anxious about tomorrow, and are willing and eager to share. Market economy, he reminded us, runs on the illusion of scarcity. That there will not be enough — which in turn, prompts people to hoard. And let me add, give tax breaks to those who are already wealthy! President Obama seems not to understand this narrative. So in his speech, his attempts to address the real issues seems half-hearted.
Although the Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded has now been signed, the budget battles are not over. The questions that are fundamentally about giving tax breaks to those who don’t need them and to corporations, will continue to haunt us into the budget cycle.Budgets are not only moral documents, they fundamentally describe the spiritual health of the nation.
For this reason, Jim Wallis’ hunger fast at least through Holy Week is an important discipline for us.Fasting helps to focus the mind towards things that are of ultimate value. It helps those of us who do get three meals a day to experience some of what our neighbors who get only one meal a day or less live through every day. During this week, it will help us to get some perspective on the sufferings of Jesus on that final week leading up to his crucifixion.
So, I joined Jim Wallis to fast during this week in a way that is meaningful to me. By joining I made the following commitments:
By joining this month-long campaign to Pray, Fast, and Take Action, I hereby commit to:
Reflect on scripture, commit to praying for Congress, and humbly search my own heart for areas of repentance.
In a way meaningful to me, I will discipline myself through a fast during the month-long campaign.
Every week I will take one action to communicate my concern about the moral priorities being reflected in the federal budget proposals.
Also on the question of taxes: our Congress speaker Shane Claiborne recently wrote that he had paid his taxes as a good citizen. But because he is a Christian who is committed to peace, he held back 30% of his check, the amount that will go to fund wars. He then wrote a letter to the IRS about his decision. Read his article: “Give to Uncle Sam what Is Uncle Sam’s: Tax Season War Resistance.”