Jig-Saw Theology or Poker Theology? Wait! Is there a Poker Theology?

A Teach-In and Training on Economic Justice

The church plays by jigsaw puzzle theology but the world plays by poker theology, remarked a participant at the NATO/G8 teach-in event at the Chicago Temple, last Sunday night. The event “Resetting the Table: Economic Justice for All” was co-sponsored by SCUPE, the First UMC/Chicago Temple, IIRON (regional organizing network), the Northern Illinois Conference, Church and Society, and the Outreach, Extension office of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

A jigsaw puzzle is a problem that many people will come together to solve and gain satisfaction in the result, while poker is about winners and losers, who keep poker-faced in order to hide their feelings from others. Can the faith communities win the struggle for justice when they are playing by a different set of rules, he asked, or is there a poker theology?

G8, a group of eight of the world’s most powerful economies will come together at Camp David on May 18-19 to determine economic policies that favor the 1% and NATO which meet in Chicago from May 20-21, will work to enforce those policies. The teach-in sponsored by SCUPE together with Chicago Temple, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Illinois-Indiana Regional Organizing Network sought to articulate the theological and economic questions and to train participants to engage in actions.

Dr. Tim Eberhart from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary presented a biblical and theological perspective on the image of “the table.” At the center of nearly every household is the table, around which most other household activities are organized.  At table, we encounter the most basic questions of economics.

1. Who gets to sit at the table?

The God of Jesus Christ invites everyone to the feast of life. All are welcome, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the excluded. There is more than enough for everyone.

 2. How are the seats arranged?

At the table, the dinner guests are co-equal companions around the feast of life. In God’s economy, all share and enjoy the goods of creation through cooperative and reciprocal economic relationships.

3. Do the elements served nourish the body?

God’s intention is for the creaturely flourishing of the whole of creation. To be faithful to the God who nourishes our bodies with life-giving food means criticizing economic structures which prioritize the generation of abstract, financial wealth (Wall Street wealth) over the real wealth of the earth’s abundant goods and over well-crafted materials that serve human flourishing, the health of ecosystems, and local communities (Main St. wealth)

 4. What bonds are formed around the table?

The Holy Spirit of God joins everyone together in bonds of joyful fellowship. The relationships that are formed around the table are deep and sustaining. Here, Christians can participate in the local economy movement, which is based in an ethic or virtue of neighborliness and that seeks to maintain the primacy of community as the aim of our economic life. It’s perhaps not an accident that local food is at the heart of this movement, food that is grown locally and that nurtures relationships, both with the earth and between farmers and consumers.

 5. In whose name is the meal blessed?

We who are Christian bless our table fellowships in the name of the Lord our God, who gives us permission to begin the messianic banquet feast already here and now. To begin now the banquet feast of God’s kingdom means first criticizing forms of household arrangements marked by a colonizing social dynamic in which the worldwide spread of free markets allows the ongoing expansion of corporate domination over more and more spheres of life.

David Hatch, Executive Director of IIRON (Illinois-Indiana Regional Organizing Network) offered an economic analysis on the current situation.

President Roosevelt’s New Deal came about not because he initially wanted it, but because he was pressured by unions following the Great Depression. In the recent years there has been a significant decline in the manufacturing sector with an accompanying loss of unions. And then in the past thirty years, corporations have managed to destroy most of the regulations that kept them in check and have gained way too much power over the American political system. Since about 1975, worker productivity has exponentially increased while wages have remained stagnant, and the ratio of CEO pay to workers has sky-rocketed, in one instance (United Health Group) to over 1737:1. At the same time the tax rate for the 1% as well as the corporate tax rate has plummeted. Average people have seen their personal debt increase, and many have had their homes fore-closed. The fore-closure epidemic is the direct result of a plan by the banks to complicate the lending process by a process of selling mortgages to third parties.

Yet many people believe a different narrative that is offered to them through a savvy media machine that couches this situation in the language of values. The faith community has satisfied itself by focusing on saving the victims are losing the battle.

The event included a training on becoming people of “power” conducted by Don Floyd of IIRON. Defined as the “ability to act,” power, integral to many of our faith traditions is often misunderstood by people of faith. Faith communities are among the most organized entities in the world, we noted, and have a critical role to play in holding the political and economic players accountable. Educating and organizing faith communities to engage in this struggle are important parts this work.



Resetting the Table by Dr. Tim Eberhart

NATO/G8: An Overview  by Father Bob Bossie

Called to Prayer: A family prayer guide” by Rev. Tanya Eustace

A Time for Peace, Pastors Say” Chicago Tribune, May 11, 2012:


One Comment

  1. Here’s some nice coverage about the event from the Chicago Tribune. There’s even a quote from a certain Rev. Dr. Premawardhana.