While riding in a taxi several years ago in the oil-producing Venezuelan city Maracaibo, I struck up a conversation with the driver. "Right now I'm OK," the man commented, "but I don't know how long I'll be able to have my job because of globalization."
I was struck by this and felt it summarized many of the fears around the world of the inevitable globalization of our economies.
As multinational corporations, financial institutions, and the Internet spill over sovereign national boundaries, anti-globalization forces often enlist fears of economic downturn and loss of cultural identity, along with objections to perceived labor inequities, as reasons to oppose this.
Of course, pundits can show statistically that in economies that embrace globalization, poverty is lessened as more and more people climb into the middle class. But the fears, particularly of "Americanization," remain.
Since that time I have asked myself, does God fit in here? How can our individual recourse to the Divine transform a global economy? What can be done about those who are left behind without retraining or direction in this 21st century? And how can we preserve a vibrant diversity of culture in the face of international marketing?
These are huge questions, but I have to start somewhere, and I thought of Jesus, who was born in an undeveloped region (Galilee) in a backwater province during an earlier period of globalization - the Roman Empire.
In spite of his location and its economic development, his teaching and influence affected not only that empire but the entire world. We know Jesus was aware of the world outside Judea. He responded to an appeal for healing from a centurion (lieutenant) of the occupying army, counseled that taxes should be paid in the coin of the realm, and commanded his disciples to spread the Gospel worldwide.
But when pressed on the economic and political challenges of his day, he consistently directed his followers' thoughts to what he must have considered a greater issue, that of turning to God in prayer in the face of every need.
It then occurred to me that I needed to spiritualize my view of globalization. Jesus' parable of the tares and wheat has been useful to me.
Like all human activities, globalization presents a spectrum of effects, some good, some bad, and some unclear. In Jesus' words, "Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matt. 13:30).
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, commented on this passage in her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "The inharmonious and self-destructive never touch the harmonious and self-existent. These opposite qualities are the tares and wheat, which never really mingle, though (to mortal sight) they grow side by side until the harvest; then, Science separates the wheat from the tares, through the realization of God as ever present and of man as reflecting the divine likeness" (page 300).
It seems to me that down on my individual, micro-economic level, as I turn to God in prayer in the face of every need, I should, in fact, see more of God as ever present and of man, all humanity, as reflecting the divine likeness. I find that I am wanting to be better informed about current events at home and abroad. My prayers addressing world problems are more focused, and I have a greater feeling of the brotherhood of humanity.
These great and noble thoughts have actually had an effect on my daily life as well. I am less accepting of advertising, chain stores, fast food, etc., and I am using my purchasing power to support the diversity of the divine likeness.
I have found I can balance my shopping by going to stores that bring the products of small businesses worldwide to me. I can invest modestly to support the growth of small businesses abroad. I can order things I need on the Internet from a supplier half a world away without much trouble. And I have received requests from all over the world from people asking me to pray for them.
I'm learning how to support and applaud the wheat of globalization and to reject the tares.