The Sacred and the Marketplace: A Political Story by Elisabeth Schilling

BeachJohn Henrik Clarke has said, “The most dangerous of all dependencies is to depend on your powerful oppressor to free you and share power with you, because powerful people never train powerless people to take their power away from them. So, we’re dealing with a contradiction in terms.” Likewise, Lucy Parsons has said, “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.” It strikes me every election season that we discuss which person of considerable privilege we would like to save us and our earth.

I have watched some of the political debates this time, and I strain to hear any statement that makes sense or means much at all. There is too much ego and desperation that keeps a person that close to increased power from completely letting go of attachments and approaching a public moment mindfully. Sometimes political runners try to persuade us by telling us how they do know economic despair, but memories of poverty can be quite fleeting in the midst of currently comfortable lifestyles.

Audre Lorde has said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I hear no presidential candidate discuss dismantling what is oppressive and destructive economically in our country, no account for the harm and violence we have caused in the world, especially impoverished and politically in-crisis nations, due to our excessive consumerism, waste, and greed for unnecessary profit. I hear no explicit reference to the emotional and spiritual well-being of human beings and no great pursuit of pointing out the fallacy and fantasy of separation among the constituents of the world. Perhaps I hear ideas of modification, but the Master’s house (mindless capitalism, the earth as marketplace) is subtly endorsed and maintained in my opinion. There are millions of us who are displeased with how human beings are treated and treat others. Why do we all not rise up and open the window in the smoking room that is suffocating us? Why do we need to elect one person to try? In fact, why don’t we use our collective human body power and break down the walls themselves?

In addition to any kind of government election, we also vote with our money. It is the vote not often spoken of. Every purchase is a vote for more products like it. The places where we consume are the places we vote to exist, and this is a very important vote because it determines what gets to take up space on the earth. When Jesus is said to have gone to the temple in Jerusalem, he wept and said, “If you had only recognized the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:41-42). According to the OED, peace means freedom from emotional (3.a) and external disturbances (4.a), a cessation of war or hostilities (6.a).  How peaceful are we as a human race? How peaceful can we be when our relationships and lives are based on the marketplace?

We know from the story that Jesus “entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying,” and “when the chief priests and the scribes heard it [his message], they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him” (see Mk 11:15-19; see also Mt 21:12-17; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-17 for the section). Why might peace be the cause for so much fear in those who have power and wealth? We could say that Jesus was just making a statement about the temple, that it was supposed to be a “house of prayer,” a refuge, a place where no one should take advantage of others in charging an entrance fee, where there would not be monetary conditions of sacrifice or changers for correct currency. The temple economy was the issue.

But perhaps it also goes beyond to the economy in general. Why didn’t Jesus just tell the sellers to move? Go somewhere else, he could have said, somewhere less sacred, somewhere more appropriate. But where would that be? What part of the earth is less sacred? Instead of asking the sellers to move shop, he overturned the tables and chairs and poured out coins onto the ground. I argue it is not just designated spaces that are sacred and should be preserved from the marketplace. I see the entire earth as sacred, and we need to reverse the reality of the earth as marketplace as well as our bodies as marketplaces.

A great deal of the anger that surges within us and that we encounter daily (just take a turn on any highway) has something to do with how relationships have been compromised by consumerism. How can I see another person when I also want something from them to secure a more comfortable survival? How can I honor my true dance when I’m willing to brand myself as a monolithic entity that is consistent in personality, restricting any aberrant moods or emotions lest I confound my followers? How can I see the body of the Earth when she is entombed beneath endless tons of concrete, when I see car exhaust continually blown in her face, oil and toxic chemicals injected into her sea-veins, and shards of plastic stuck in her skin?

I feel ripped from her womb and cast far away into a dirty, urban landscape where I cannot get past all of the signs and people and buildings trying to sell me something so that I can get close to her. Jesus put a halt on temple economy because the temple was supposed to be a place of refuge for all the nations. I argue that is also what the Earth is supposed to be. If we can somehow participate less and more responsibly in the marketplace, therein, I believe, is a great source of power because we can move toward not having the marketplace be the crux of what it means to be human. Regardless of which candidate wins the election this year, do not despair; we will continue to have this power.


LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

8 thoughts on “The Sacred and the Marketplace: A Political Story by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. Thanks for reminding us of the questions that are not being asked. I just translated a friend’s essay on the refugee crisis. At the end he asked why those who speak about peace are being dismissed as naive in Brussels. His answer, the European Community is too connected to the European military industrial complex for the question of peace on earth good will to all to be able to be asked at all.


    1. Thank you. Yes, I don’t understand that if we are “willing to die for our country” then why can’t we die sans the weapons? Sometimes in relationships, when appropriate, someone must be “the bigger person.” I feel that as a country that is able, we can begin to be a leader in pacifism, showing others we will not use violence or weapons to force anyone or even to defend ourselves. Fear only generates fear, and if we/the U.S. are/is willing to risk billions of dollars and many lives in war, and it has hardly worked, may we perhaps try kindness and compassion, the risk being such might take.


  2. Thank you, LaChelle, for this important essay. I just finished reading a short book (146 pages) titled GOD OF EARTH DISCOVERING A RADICALLY ECOLOGICAL CHRISTIANITY by Kristin Swenson. Kristin uses a creative, imaginative approach as she discusses our relationship with the Earth utilizing Christian mythology (Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection). I do not identify as Christian today and initially approached the text with some skepticism, given my experience(s) within Christianity. However, found Kiristin’s work to be a breath of fresh air.


    1. Thank you. That title sounds very compelling. Radical re-direction is what we need. If religion can be used for such a purpose, then good. I do not identify as a Christian either and have to continually work to break through the damaging voices that were so long associated with Christianity in order to attempt some conversation with these scriptures. I think my relationship with any religion will always be complex in varying ways. Thank you so much for sharing the small synopsis. It sounds like something that might benefit me to read one of these days. Many blessings.


  3. Thanks LaChelle, very interesting. A comment as regards where you say: “I hear no presidential candidate discuss dismantling what is oppressive and destructive economically in our country,”

    On the other hand, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is gearing up for a major tax battle with American corporations, who duck the tax system, that is, by stashing their income offshore to begin with. Warren noted that “before companies managed to start gaming the system, three of every 10 dollars of federal revenue came from corporate taxes. Today it’s only 1 in 10.” ( 10/23/16)


    1. Thank you. I will put the Senator’s ideas on my list to look into. After watching The Big Short (2015), I do understand a bit about how, despite rules that economic institutions might be assumed to follow, many of them can be side-swept by more money.


  4. Thank you, LaChelle. I’m still thinking about your post and two things are in focus just now. First, it took me 50 years or so to appreciate this relationship to creation. I think you are much younger, and that to me, is a sign of hope.
    Second, so often in the Gospels, Jesus turns things upside-down. I hadn’t noticed before the power of that action of overturning the tables in the Temple Court. As well as commercializing a sacred place, it seems to me to be a reminder of the message of the Prophets. Offering sacrifices, “doing religion” is not as important to G-d as “doing justice”, not oppressing those who are vulnerable, etc.


  5. It is always so nice to hear from you, Barbara. I am 36 as of yesterday, I always feel as if I am discovering things I should have learned earlier. I like the articulation of “turning things upside-down” and the metaphorical and literal meanings of them I hadn’t thought of. I am warmed by your kindness and perspective. Thank you. I also like to read Jesus as doing justice in the texts.


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