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A Time of Shouting

 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives 49 years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud. ... And you shall hallow the 50th year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee [Heb. yobhel - ram's horn, or a time for shouting] for you; ... you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you.” (Leviticus 25:1-6)

In 1994 in Indianapolis, the Episcopal General Convention passed a resolution declaring the year 2000 a Jubilee year, with its commitment to the Jubilee imperatives as described in Leviticus – the forgiveness of debts, environmental stewardship, and the liberation of the enslaved. The resolution encourages every congregation to implement one Jubilee imperative in the local or global community during the next three years.

At first glance, implementing a Jubilee year seems so impractical, so impossible; however, the Jubilee commitments of the Episcopalians and other denominations have catalyzed the world religious community into doing just that. The World Council of Churches will be wrestling with the issue of forgiving Third World debt at its gathering in Harare, Zimbabwe in December 1998. Jubilee debt forgiveness will be the specific focus of the worldwide Anglican bishops' meeting at Lambeth, England in the summer of 1998. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has developed a set of criteria to use in determining whose debts to forgive. Coalitions are forming in the US and the UK to look at profound ways to make a difference in the year 2000, and they are focusing on debt forgiveness.

Could we find a way to steward the environment and forgive Third World debt? Could everyone participate in the Jubilee? The difficulty is that doing so could involve real sacrifice. But think about what taking to heart this Jubilee would do for our souls and the health of our planet.

Here is a story by the Rev. Susan Briehl at a retreat last summer that aptly illustrates the concept of Jubilee:

As children we played a game called Tornado Monopoly. We'd play intensely, angling for property, railroads, cash, and buildings. The bigger kids would usually end up with most of the best real estate. But in Tornado Monopoly, if you were facing bankruptcy, instead of having to leave the game and the fun, you could yell TORNADO, and in a few chaotic seconds, money was redistributed, people were released from jail, properties were available again, and everyone was suddenly, solidly back in the game.

Could it be that this is what God had in mind when commanding the people of Israel to practice Jubilee? Blowing the ram's horn to proclaim Jubilee, “a time of shouting,” was like yelling TORNADO and joyfully redistributing wealth and land, releasing prisoners, resting the land, and greatly rejoicing for having crushed the powers that would divide us into winners and losers, exploiters and oppressed.

We don't know if Jubilee was really practiced faithfully as commanded in Leviticus. It seems to have been a divinely inspired ideal that humans just couldn't put into practice. I think I might know why. I remember one Sunday evening when I was winning the Monopoly game. Gary and John had languished in jail while I collected prime properties, hotels, and a wad of cash. I was winning and my heart was racing with the thrill of it, when my own brother shouted TORNADO ... and I yelled NO!

Everyone stopped and stared at me. I was hanging on for dear life to the stuff I'd accumulated, and I wouldn't let it go. I was clutching my money, guarding my property, ready to cry. The divided heart. I wanted the game to go on, and I wanted to win. TORNADO hurt when you were on top. It was hard and it was scary. Billie, the kid who was winning most often when I yelled TORNADO, said softly, “Let it go, Susan. Let it go. Trust me, it will be more fun if you let it go.”

Here we are, all of us in some way, hanging on as if for dear life to whatever it is we think will save us or bring us security or a solid future, respect, happiness, meaning. We clutch land while others have none. We clutch money, food, freedom while others are at the brink. We don't want to let go. It feels like losing, and we're afraid.


As we approach the end of 1999, we can stand with those who expect the apocalypse, we can party in Times Square, or we can do something really profound for the Earth and our children. Then, the sound of the ram's horn will proclaim a real Jubilee, a time for shouting, and we will have good reason to celebrate.


Alice Speers is an Episcopalian working at the intersection spirituality and ecology. She is also doing a stream restoration project in her neighborhood.

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