Last month, Metanoia kicked off a year-long celebration of our 15th anniversary with a summer version of our Jubilee Banquet. The first jubilee occurs in the book of Leviticus where it is prescribed in the law of the Israelite people that every 49 years debts were to be forgiven, slaves were to be set free and the community was to allow the land to rest for a year without growing crops. It is a law that prioritized the life of the community and the renewal of the land over the rights of individuals to exploit one another or the land for gain.
Historians are not certain whether a jubilee year ever actually happened. It is prescribed in Leviticus but we don’t have any recorded accounts of it occurring. Nevertheless, the idea of a jubilee year flows through many of the messengers of the Bible, from the Hebrew Prophets to Jesus. It is interesting to think about how we might structure society if we knew that every 49 years we would all basically start again on a level playing field. The 20th Century Philosopher John Rawls argued in his Theory of Justice that maybe the most just way to organize ourselves as a society would be if each one of us never knew tomorrow whether we were going to wake “up on the bottom” or “on the top” of the social and economic hierarchy. The idea of jubilee persists.
What does this social and economic philosophy have to do with our banquet? Nonprofits are sometimes known for keeping their donors an arms-length distance away from those they are serving. Nowhere is this more evident than in the events that nonprofit organizations hold to raise money. There might be one or two people there as spokespersons for the ‘clients,’ but the goal is generally to get as many wealthy people into a room together as possible so that their generosity can rub off on one another. Along the way what is lost is a view of those same clients as citizens, individuals within society with their own rights and privileges who are essential to any long-term solution.
I get it with the traditional fundraising models. If the main goal is to raise money, the typical way of hosting these events is probably the most efficient way to do so. But raising money and fundamentally solving problems are two different things – one can lead to the other, but that correlation is not automatic. At Metanoia, we believe that to get to a sustainable solution, EVERYONE has a contribution to make so they are ALL invited to be in the room as we celebrate what we are doing together.
At Jubilee, there are people living in mansions dining with people that don’t know if they can make their rent next month. But when it comes to building sustainable solutions in our community, both those kinds of people are essential to the work we do. Further, their ability to relate to one another in a spirit of mutuality and commonality is essential to the work as well.
At this year’s Jubilee, we asked everyone to put on goofy looking sunglasses to “envision Metanoia,” or to see the potential in people and places in our community. I had the privilege of being up on stage when all 400 people in that room put on their glasses. Ya’ll looked funny – all of you sitting in a dimly lit room with neon sunglasses glasses looking up at those of us on stage. But it was a real inspiration to me that EVERYONE seemed to have those glasses on. No one was thinking themselves better than anyone else and everyone was having fun with it. I’ve had any number of people tell me since Jubilee how much they enjoyed the experience. I like to think that a part of that enjoyment is a spirit of commonality that we aspired to and, in at least small ways, we attained that night. It is only an evening meal, but for at least a few hours we really were more as a community than we are as individuals and that dynamic has transformative power.
Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the authority to forgive debts or free people in bondage, but we hope that we carry the best spirit of Jubilee with us in our work. We hope that everyone is treated fairly and in a way, that acknowledges that they have a part to play in the solutions we are all working on together. Whether you could attend our Jubilee Banquet or not, we are grateful that you have joined in this movement that prioritizes viewing people as citizens and respects the notion that we are bound together in one human community.