I think it was in San Diego where chance had me cross paths with a colleague. Once, when I was chairing a conference session, I had given him a few extra minutes to respond to his critics. He was a Mennonite theologian, which meant he was most likely arguing one of two theses: either “John Howard Yoder was the greatest thing to happen to Mennonite theology since the Reformation” or “John Howard Yoder was the worst thing to happen to Mennonite theology since the Reformation.” It had to be one of those two because no Mennonite theologian has argued anything else for twenty-five years. Anyway, he had appreciated the extra time and the two of us had been on fairly good terms since. That day in San Diego we chatted a bit and I told him life with three young children was pretty challenging for my wife and I. I told him how the flight was great—because I could catch up on sleep. He told me that he had three children as well, each a dozen or so years older than mine. “Tell me it gets easier,” I sad. Read more
I looked across the group who had gathered at the front of the sanctuary. I had just marked them with the sign of the cross in ash. It was the ash of palm branches and the ash of our prayers. I had said to them, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words are biblical words; they come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. These words are the words of God to creatures who thought themselves to be gods. And yet I looked at those marks, on the heads of my friends, and thought them undeserving of such heaviness. I felt as though we had done something unspeakable. In a way we had. We had spoken aloud our mortality. We had marked our bodies with it. We bore on our foreheads the prospect of our funerals. Read more
“There are more slaves alive today than all the people stolen from Africa in the time of the transatlantic slave trade. Put another way, today’s slave population is greater than the population of Canada.” So says the sociologist Kevin Bales in his important book Disposable People (9). That book was first published in 1999, less than two decades ago. Earlier this month Bales released a new book, Blood and Earth. It describes the connections between modern slavery and environmental degradation. You can find some of his related talks and media appearances here. Bales has done a number of related talks and media appearances available here.
‘Slavery’ is a key word here, and Bales defines it as “the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation” (6). But here’s the thing, in older times exploiting people in this way was quite costly, representing a large financial investment. This gave some incentive to ‘owners’ (it’s hard to even write that word) to care, at some basic self-serving level, for those they enslaved. In our own time, however, enslaved persons have become less valuable. They have become disposable bodies. Surely our world—notwithstanding our handy devices, notwithstanding our theories of universal rights—surely our world remains in the grip of great evil. Bales is right, slavery is an “obscenity.” It isn’t just stealing labour, it is stealing lives. Read more