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The dilemmas of interconnectedness

22 April 2009

We are living in a world that is increasingly entangled, says Bill Countryman

I SUPPOSE one could say that the process of globalisation received some of its early impetus from the risen Jesus, who commanded his disciples to go into all the world and make further disciples. The vision of an inter­connected world community was adumbrated as a hope by some of the prophets. And empires have long tried to realise it on their own terms. But, after the resurrection, Jesus shifts it into another gear: it is something to be created neither by miracle nor by force, but by peaceful interaction among human beings.

The practical reality of globalisation in recent decades has been driven by other forces, especially ease of communication, commercial interests, and the need to transcend nationalisms in order to encourage peace. It has produced a world where we are increasingly entangled with everyone else through personal relationships, the sharing of ideas, and economic interdependencies — not to mention war, terrorism, and environ­mental degradation.

The results are often bewildering. I am fortunate to live in a region that is very productive in agricultural terms. California ships vast quantities of food to other parts of the United States and the world. It makes it easy for someone like me to “eat locally” as one response to global warming. I am content to do without blueberries and grapes in the middle of the winter — it makes their return later in the year all the more welcome.

When I go to the market in January, then, and find blueberries shipped in by air from Chile, my first reaction is: “No! Think about global warming.” Then I think: “Yes, but what about Chileans who are making their living in this way?” Then I wonder: “But who is really profiting — the local people, or some international conglomerate?” I do not know of any calculus that can help resolve these uncertainties.

For the most part, I leave the berries where they are, but at the same time hope that others are not so severe in their choice of produce.

It gives me a window on the complexity of our present economic woes, in which the contradictory interests of nations, classes, and the environment are so difficult to disentangle. I do not expect that we shall be seeing much retributive justice for the faults that brought us here. What I do hope is that the global web of trade, finance, and ideas will not just recover, but be made more transparent and more life-giving.

The making of disciples can be a means of promoting a humane world, because it involves person-to-person connections. But it will not be enough simply to bring people into church: Churches are not always better than governments at fostering human well-being. The discipleship that Jesus calls for must be one that transforms all of us into lovers of our neighbours.

Bill Countryman is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

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