Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 24:1-3) transports me to the golden age of the city of Eden, NC, formerly known as the three small towns of Leaksville, Spray, and Draper. The booming textile industry, which brought secure jobs and a middle class lifestyle to thousands of families, got its jump start when DuPont (pronounced by the locals as Dew Point) started manufacturing nylon fiber in nearby Martinsville after WWII. Sweatshirts, underwear, towels, sheets, rugs, and all manner of other material goods were shipped to the world from this Piedmont paradise. Good work created a commonweal, with the warp and woof of manufacturing binding neighbors together with a wider world. As my dad used to say from his days in the textile mill, the community was cardin’ and spinnin’. Of course, this golden age didn’t last. Pierre Dew Point and the other barons of industry, never content with middle class lives themselves, were neither content with the level of riches that this arrangement brought them. And so, the unregulated race to the bottom of the wage pool began, and the threads of the Edenic fabric began to unravel. Today the t-shirts and towels bought at Eden’s new Wal-Mart are likely to come from China, the ultimate tea party country now lecturing us on the fiscal prudence and austerity measures necessary to laissez-faire economics. What a tangled web we have woven.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, said that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As our world has gotten progressively smaller, we see those networks and that single garment more and more clearly. Like a cartoon trope, you can pull a thread and pretty soon see the whole garment begin to unravel. This seems to be the kind of consequential prophecy Isaiah is making in today’s Passage. All people of the earth have a shared fate, a common destiny. The moral fiber of that single garment has worn thin from violence, greed, rebellion, wickedness, and none escape the consequences. God pulls that single thread, and the unraveling affects all alike: priest and people, master and servant, seller and buyer, borrower and lender, creditor and debtor. Sounds like a page out of the Wall Street Journal. We are all entangled in this mess of a world, all reaping the same harvest. The prophet seems to have been reading some of the wisdom literature of his day, as the wise sage of Ecclesiastes wrote that All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them (Ecclesiastes 9:2), and later, The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Our current experience of the single garment of destiny unraveling reminds me of the Weezer song I’ve heard on my ITunes 90s alt rock station: If you want to destroy my sweater, Hold this thread as I walk away, Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked, lying on the floor, I’ve come undone. Lest we get too fatalistic and feel like one of those Scooby Doo mummies spinning wildly as the thread is pulled, let’s remember that Jesus put the threads of this ancient wisdom in the loom and re-wove it in a different direction. His parable of the vineyard tells us that all the workers shared a common fate, but it was not a destiny of destruction. It was a fate of having their daily needs met. It was a commonweal of living wages, mercifully meted out to the deserving and undeserving alike. At the end of the day, when the unraveled sweater leaves us naked and vulnerable, we recognize that we’re all here, living and breathing, by the same sustaining grace of God. If we’re going to make it, it’s not going to be because of some genius economic policy. It’s going to be because we decide, out of our hunger and our need, that the only way to survive is to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we are all subject to the dire consequences of being entangled in the world’s web of wanton greed, we are also subject to the gracious consequences of being woven in God’s loom of love. Through this grace gift, paradise plundered just might become paradise rediscovered.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.