Friday, May 23, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's 5/20 Post

The story of the classroom podiums at Hebrew Union College is a classic. Certainly, humility requires us to acknowledge those (at least, all those we can identify)who have contributed to the development of our lives. We agree on this point.

I find Aaron's second contribution intriguing as well: that the story we shape and tell about our own lives belongs to us. While I had not thought about the matter in quite that way, I believe I agree.

All of which leads me to a term: "responsibility." All of the commandments assume and/or require acceptance of personal responsiblity. In this case, I am responsible for my behavior with regard to theft, including such positive actions as acknowledging sources and debts. I'm struck by the commandment's starkness, by it's "no excuses accepted" tone.

Taken seriously, the commandment pushes us to develop into a kind of person seldom encountered in "real life." Once again the matter of personal and community formation rears its head. The more I ponder the commandments, the more clearly I see that God envisions fashioning his people into a genuinely alternative community.

Other biblical stories, such as Jonah, stress the potentially redemptive role of such a community in the world at large. The new community does not exist solely for its own sake, but for the sake of the rest of the world.

Think, for example, of the potential impact of a community that consistently strives not to steal from others. Suppose the Christian community (to pick on my own tradition) simply refused to use more than its share of the world's energy, water, land, and food resources. We probably would throw the economy into a tailspin, at least for a time. More to the point, we might free up resources for the poor. In addition, I suspect we would be taken more seriously by the world at large, both as a threat to vested interests and as a kind of good news to the poor.

Of course, following such a path requires us to lay aside our "normal" tendency to defend and protect "our way of life." Such a way of life, though, increasingly threatens the life of the planet and human life. It is becoming the way of death. The ancient wisdom embodied in the commandment turns out to be the kind of wisdom we need now.

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