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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bourgeois or Biblical?

The Mamanwa tribe of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, my former home, haunt me from time to time. The Mamanwa are a traditional hunter-gatherer people struggling to make a living off of land that is deforested or denuded by logging and mining.  The land that once yielded a bountiful living no longer does so, and the Mamanwa are reduced to the modern, urban equivalent of hunting and gathering: begging and scavenging.

In the years I lived and worked on Mindanao with Mennonite Central Committee, my Filipino colleagues sought to help the Mamanwa adapt to an agricultural lifestyle, trying to shepherd them from hunting and gathering to planting and harvesting.  In one Mamanwa community, these efforts went quite well, and they reaped a bountiful harvest.  But things did not go as expected.  Soon after this plentiful harvest, the community was hungry again.  After the harvest, all their hunter-gatherer friends and family would come for food.  They were hungry.  It was inconceivable that the prosperous Mamanwa community would not share their food.  Soon it was gone.

Most readers of this blog (and certainly the writer) were raised with values of frugality and saving.  Most of us are, or aspire to be, part of a system of preparing for retirement and insurance, or in some way "storing in barns."  This is couched in the language of responsibility, stewardship of resources, and has become part of our practice of faith.  But is it biblical?  Is it more likely that our values around money are just conventional bourgeois values born out of affluence and participation in an economic system that requires capital (savings) to function effectively?

The behavior exemplified by the Mamanwa is fiscally irresponsible.  But I can't help but wondering if is a whole lot more biblical than my own fiscal responsibility.  "The earth is the Lord's in the fullness thereof."  "The land is mine, you are but tenants on it."  "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth."  "Consider the lilies..."  The Mamanwa have much to teach me about my practicing my faith.