Friday, February 1, 2013

Herod works for me

(Republished, with permission, from my Epiphany column in Purpose magazine.)

It's easy to make a monster of Herod. In fact, there are those who accuse Matthew of character assassination. None of his contemporary historians mention anything about the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Historians do tell us that Herod was a highly effective politician. He was a builder of cities, a striker of deals, a cutter of ribbons. He was, as we say, a man who could get things done. If that meant switching sides in a fight, so be it. If that meant beheading rivals, so be it. They do not mention the killing of babies, but historians make it clear that Herod was bloodily efficient in nipping takeovers "in the bud."

Sometimes I wonder if all that has changed in politics since Herod is that we have managed to add a few more degrees of separation between the halls of the powerful and the howls of their victims. Or should I say, our victims.

I learned a new word this week: "tertiary economics." As distinct from primary economics, where I grow a garden, or kill an animal, to put food on my family's table. Or secondary, where I do so for your family, or you for mine. This could be through an agreeable relationship, or it could be through slavery. Either way, we know one another, at least somewhat, and we can reflect on whether this relationship is just.

But what happens when I pay somebody to buy something from somebody else who shipped it in from someplace else where some corporation (legally a person, but morally and spiritually definitely not one) employed (real) persons and used land to make whatever it is that I need way down the line? This is tertiary economics. It is anonymous, it is prolific, it is inescapable today. It makes "right relationship" nearly impossible to think about, never mind live in.

Behind almost anything I pick up off the shelf, there is a line of little Herods and big Herods doing whatever they have to do to protect their part of the supply chain, whether it's gasoline, or grapefruit, or guitar necks. If innocents must suffer, so be it. They are just the eggs they have to break to make my omelette.

Lord, I want to go home by another way.

I quit my job and started growing food for family and neighbours. It's a foolish little renunciation, but I had to start somewhere.