Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Timing – Disbelief of Prophecy

The prophet is taunted by the people as they disbelieve the prophecy and whether God's judgement will come. The prophet sees the consequences but not necessarily God's timing (Isaiah 5:19). The people may disbelieve the prophecy because they do not see it happening but what the prophet knows is that unless things change the consequence is inevitable.

In this Isaiah passage (5:8-25), the prophet is describing the sins of Israel and their most likely consequence. The people refuse to see it and to address the issues and as a result the judgements will come.

As I think of the economic system, I believe we see the consequences of a corrupt and out of balance system. Despite the warning signs of cycles of recession, people believe that it can be fixed by the same thinking that caused the problems. Consequently they ignore the words of those (the prophets) who call for a rethink and for the imbalances to be addressed.

From a position of relative security, facing the consequences of a system that favours the wealthy doesn't seem that important but now having experienced the uncertainties caused by the lack of a permanent position and the inability to purchase a house, like the prophets whose lives become part of the prophetic message, I have become much more focused on the problems of the system and our failure to address the issues.

The art of prophecy is communicating these insights in a way that will help others see the problems and address the issues that they raise. The prophet warns of the consequences of a particular course of action but not from the perspective of seeking judgement or destruction but rather from the perspective of having the people hear and change the direction in which they are travelling.

The Equality Trust (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/) talks of the benefits of a more equal society. As such they speak as a prophet and like a prophet, they struggle to have their message heard. Like a prophet, they know the consequences of being an unequal society but they don't know when the worst of the consequences will kick in. Will their message be lost until the worst of these consequences kick in? Are we open to hear the message and act to correct the imbalance. Are we prepared to challenge the system and make drastic changes even if those changes upset some of our long held dreams?

My call is for shalom economics that seek wholeness and justice. A just economy aims for a more equal society. A shalom economy seeks to satisfy the needs for all of the cosmos. Are we prepared to struggle for such a change?

Without a fundamental change to the basis for our economy, we will continue to go through cycles of prosperity and recession. Many of the ecology problems and the number of people struggling to survive will continue to increase if we hold on to an economic model that is based on balancing of numbers and rewarding for services that don't address the problems. Will we listen to the prophets or simply treat them as eccentrics of now relevance to society?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Influence of Framing Stories

At Workshop session in May 2010, Stuart Murray talked of the importance of the framing story when interpreting Jesus' actions and words. His examples revolved around the context of Jesus' life and ministry and the changes caused by the church becoming the state religion.

In "Squirrel Inc.", Stephen Denning (2004) talks of a challenge in the framing story in the context of saving a business. However that framing story is really about the nature of the business not the overall business philosophy.

As I look at and hear the British government talking of how to restore the economy, I realise just how influential the framing story is. The government can see no alternative to massive spending cuts and throwing the most vulnerable into positions of difficulty. The economic dependency on money and a balanced financial set of books dominates the thinking.

This context has led me to think more about framing stories and how to encourage change in the framing story. This requires understanding the possible framing stories.

Stuart Murray portrayed a framing story of empire that saw the church become the state religion. As a consequence, it accepted force as a means of conversion to the faith and conformity as an indication of commitment. But Stuart also talked of how Jesus' ministry could be seen as revolutionary and challenging the authority of Rome and the established religious authorities.

Looking at our economic framing story, it primarily revolves around growth in a context where resources exceed what is needed. From a Christian perspective, this leads to the prosperity gospel. From a business perspective, the focus is on profit. The difficulty comes when growth does not occur. The framing story fails but people go on believing that it is the way to achieve things. If growth isn't there, then the business of government must cut costs in order to balance the books and ensure profitability. Those discarded are those regarded as having limited skills. These are the people who can least afford to be without an income. The framing story fails to deliver the desired prosperity but the framing story isn't challenged.

For the environmentalist, the proclaimed framing story is one of sustainability but although they argue for balanced use of resources and ensuring an ongoing productivity, they have not discarded the notion of profit that depends on a framing story of growth.

What I contend is that the framing stories based on the authority of the state (absolute power), growth, and sustainability are all flawed. They don't bring the desired benefits to the people or more accurately to all of the creation. We need a different framing story.

I am seeing this different framing story as that of Shalom. That is being at peace with one another and creation, bringing fullness and completeness to all, developing the full potential of all of creation, and overriding ruling or co-operating together by love.

I am not sure that I fully comprehend the impact but I see it as more encompassing and more importantly doing away with the notion of profit and growth in a financial sense. Shalom's overriding principle is the welfare of the other be it a person, animal, or nature. Exploitation for personal gain is discarded. It is for the gain or enhancement of all that we should be focused on.

References

Mission & Compassion - Expressing love and truth. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Denning, S. (2004). Squirrel Inc.: A fable of leadership through storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Shalom Economics

I have been reading the study noted from my first Workshop session. The session was called "Re-imagining hope." The second session was on "Discovering shalom" (Anvil Trust 2010, pp 18-26). In reading and reflecting on this material, I have been challenged to rethink my economic emphasis.

When talking of a revised economic system, the emphasis was on Christian economics. Unfortunately, the word 'Christian' carries a lot of excess baggage in people's minds and you can be distracted from the emphasis that you really want to give. I have also talked of God's giving economy and of a people first economy. A giving economy has some of the central concepts of my thinking but is an incomplete description. People-first does shift the focus from a monetary emphasis but it ignores other elements such as the environment and the entirety of God's creation. Creation-first or environment-first are terms that carry too much baggage or could place emphasis in the wrong place. Shalom with its emphasis on 'wholeness' or 'completeness' is more inclusive. It also carries an emphasis that would see the economic focus shift from individual or national to global or cosmos.

The workshop notes say "The word shalom is usually translated 'peace'" (p 18). They contend a better translation is 'wholeness.' They say that "Shalom is created from the verbal form shalem, which has the sense of = 'to make something complete.' The words they use for the "root-meaning" of shalom are "'wholeness,' 'completeness,' 'intactness,' 'holistic,' ''integratedness,' 'harmony' - 'everything fitting perfectly together'" (p 18). It is this last phrase that is key in economic thinking. It isn't trading off one thing against another rather it is fitting all things together perfectly.

They go on to place emphasis on shalom as "a declaration of how things should be and it is an affirmation of how things should be" (p 19). It reaches "from the centre of God's purpose for both society and the cosmos" touching "the heart of the individual." They content that it is nothing short of full salvation since "it demands that all basic needs are met, that justice is established everywhere and that the human heart display integrity" (p 19).

Shalom economics therefore requires a focus on 'meeting basic needs,' establishing justice, and maintaining integrity. This isn't just for people but for all of the cosmos.

The needs of the environment, animal and plant life have to be kept in balance with the needs of people. As the Workshop authors say it is "to live in harmony with the God-given order" so that all things find their "full-divine potential" (p 22). Eden represents living in the context of or from "the undying source of life" (p 22). Man isn't the gardener, caretaker, or consumer imposing human order but rather part of creation living in harmony.

What are the implications of this style of thinking on economics? The emphasis vanishes for profit making or balancing the books and shifts to the building of harmony and the meeting of needs. It is no longer "how can we afford to meet this need>" It is shifting focus to meeting needs and going beyond that to enabling the finding of full potential for all of the cosmos. It is seeking to know what that potential is and seeing it blossom.

If we look at international conflicts, they would vanish in a shalom economy because there would be a desire to bring all nations to their full potential and to ensure that all had their needs meet. The environment would not be exploited but man would learn to live in harmony with it.

I often see where plants are reclaiming old building sites or the traces of human exploitation. Nature fights back to bring equilibrium. I believe the same applies to the climate. I don't believe that we have yet seen the full impact of nature fighting for survival. Rising sea levels and high temperatures may be insignificant signs of nature's fight for survival as man continues to destroy in order to maintain an emphasis on growth.

A sustainable economy may address some of the imbalance with nature but it is not the same as an economy that seeks to bring harmony while meeting the needs of all of the cosmos.

It may sound extreme but I believe humanity will be forced into submission or will self destruct unless humanity learns what it means to live in shalom.

Reference

Re-imagining hope - living at the edge of time. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

An Alternative World View - Part 2

Where to from here?

Having addressed the prosperity system, McLaren (2007) tuns to the equity system. He sees the prosperity system being the driving force causing the equity system to be out of balance. McLaren opens the chapter with the reference to a song by Jackson Browne called "The Rebel Jesus." McLaren says that Browne truly understood Jesus' message and that the system killed him. McLaren says "Browne can't help being cynical even about holiday charity. The seasonal giving of gifts among relatives contrasts with the locks and guns with which people guard their personal assets the rest of the year. ... he quickly adds that our charity goes only skin-deep, because if we go further than charity - to the realm of justice - and deal with the systems that make and keep poor people in poverty, we will get "the same as the rebel Jesus"" (p 228). Browne concludes that he is "a heathen and a pagan" "on the side of the rebel Jesus" (p 228).

I think I need to hear this song as it seems to reflect much of my own feelings and thoughts. Much of what happens in society goes against what Jesus taught. Consequently we need to rebel but as this song says we will "get the same as the rebel Jesus."

McLaren goes on talking of the inequalities within the system. My thoughts went to the current crisis and the fact that bankers continued to get paid huge bonuses supposedly for earning large sums for their banks while the people whose money they lost continue to suffer. This isn't simply inequality. It is outright failure of the system to consider the causes of the recession and to address them.

What would happen if the reward was attached to solving the equality issues? Would bankers be more proactive in ensuring that their actions and decisions favoured the poor rather than the rich? Would they be more conscious of systemic injustice and work to solve its problems? Are bankers simply good at playing the prosperity game or do they really have the brains to solve the equity issues?

We get what we reward and the reward clearly favours those who turn their backs on equity issues and play the prosperity game to its full potential. I have no sympathy for bankers or property tycoons when things go into recession and their fortunes are depleted. They played the game and argued for the system despite all of its faults. Reminds me of McLaren's earlier statement, they were so busy working for growth or to obtain more that they never had the time to enjoy it.

Blame

My previous paragraphs place blame at the feet of bankers and developers but as McLaren says it isn't their wealth that causes poverty. Rather it is "systemic injustice" that contributes to "the wealth of the rich" and "the poverty of the poor" (p 237). The wealthy have simply done what the system required. Sure they didn't look at the injustice in the system but they did what they believed the system required and what they believed would bring prosperity to all. They didn't see the widening gap or the poor's lack of self esteem that cripples their ability to pull themselves out of poverty.

McLaren goes on to talk of how Jesus subverted the system (pp 238-242). Jesus sought reconciliation rather than "fair" punishment. He addressed issues of unequal opportunity rather than focusing on quantity of work performed or rewarding based on work performed. or rewarding based on work performed (Matthew 20:1-16). McLaren argues that Jesus created "an economy of care for the common good" (p 239). McLaren argues that "the justice of God is not unfair; it goes beyond fairness to include a concern for social sustainability, healing, and transformation; it doesn't fall short of fairness, but its fairness includes a grace ... that can heal society and undermine systemic injustice, not just maintain its status quo" (p 239).

I have argued that we would not have terrorists if America and Britain addressed the underlying concerns of the terrorists or at least that allowed or enabled the terrorists to recruit soldiers. This is address systemic injustice and we need to be doing this in relation to the inequality in our society.

In looking at Luke 16, McLaren argues that the man is "reducing an unfair debt" and as a consequence easing the oppression of the poor and reducing the advantage of the rich (p 240). I can see people objecting to McLaren's reasoning but when you see the framing story as one that puts the power in the hands of the rich and impoverishes the poor then McLaren's interpretation makes a lot of sense.

McLaren ends this section with a call for "the rich to generosity" saying that they need to "invest their energies for the good of their poorer neighbours" (p 246). However, the also says "we will work to improve the system. to detect and remove systemic injustice, so that the equity system of the societal machinery would indeed be equitable" (p 246). I see this as tinkering with the system when it really needs a complete overhaul. That is it needs to be dismantled and reconstructed. I can not see how an economic system that places emphasis on balancing books ahead to the welfare of the people can be corrected without complete reconstruction of the rules. Nor can I see a system that has no means of determining value, since the mechanisms for measuring value are themselves traded, can ever ensure that all are treated equitably. There is no measure that can be gauged as equal or fair.

It seems to me that although McLaren critiques the current system, he is still tied to it and assuming that something of value is in it that is worth saving. I simply can not agree.

New kind of question

McLaren isn't the only one to recognise the inequality issues. He quotes Kofi Annan (December 2003) who said "We should have learned by now that a world of glaring inequality - between countries and with in them - where many millions of people endure brutal oppression and extreme misery - is never going to be a fully safe world, even for its most privileged inhabitants (p 249).

This echoes my previous conclusions but it also shows how difficult it is for those who supposedly have influence to bring about the required changes. If Kofi Annan, as the Secretary General of the United Nations, saw this, then how many other political leaders understood? None appear to be able to bring in the required changes. Legislation or political will is not enough. There needs to be a ground swell from the people that brings down the discredited system.

McLaren argues that the rich nations have the resources to invest in solving the world's problems but the security issues drain those resources crippling all action (p 250). The framing story is so powerful that no one is prepared to change the pattern of investment even though they know that they spend more than needed on military capability.

McLaren argues that we need to ask questions that will encourage "people to think rather than react" (p 253). I am inclined to say we need to present the alternatives more clearly as options. Not simply as theories but as workable alternatives. People need to see the variations in solutions and to be able to evaluate the outcomes.

McLaren talks of extending the frame of reference and recalls "the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Nation: "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations" (p 253). What I see is that the indigenous people rather than the empire builders retain the understanding of being one with the world. This is true of the New Zealand Maori.

McLaren also quotes Dr Martin Luther King Jr. who not only emphasised racial equality but also economic equality in his book "The Trumpet of Conscience" (p 254). There seems to be no end to the people who recognise the existence of inequality and dream of solutions. What we don't see is a lot of progress toward a lasting solution.

Development Economics

McLaren refers to this research but again I see most of its proposals as tinkering with an ineffective system and not changing the framing story. I have no dealt the proposals would have some impact but they wouldn't address the current economic crisis which is pushing governments back to securing their own interests at the expense of other countries. Under the section on limits, McLaren does talk of an "overconsumption crisis" rather than an "environmental crisis" (p 260). What he contends is that we, in the developed world, consume more than we need. I was recently told there is no recycling in Texas but that simply shows a complete lack of concern for waste disposal. It is what Douglas (1974) called "productionism" rather than "consumerism." Douglas argued that we produced for waste rather than need. I see this reflected in the collection of mobile phones that we were given and the collection of computers that I saw taken to recycling. Was the purchase of these all necessary or were they purchased simply because there was a new updated model available? Need didn't drive the equation. I see the same with clothes. I have many that are wearable but no longer quite fit for purpose. The temptation is to purchase something that is a better match but what happens to the old? Recycled, shredded, ... wasted not needed.

One element where I probably agree with development economics is the importance of community. He refers to Wendell Berry who defines communities as "families of families linked together in a local environment of land, water, air, and climate" (p 263). He goes on to talk of "publics" as "larger networks of people whose influence spreads over many corporations, institutions, cartels and media" (p 263). It is argued that systemic injustice "works on the level of publics, and publics weaken or destroy communities as they seek more power or profit" (p 263).

In communities, the ability to build equality dwells. If we are to establish equality or equity then we need to strengthen communities rather than destroy them. I believe it is through building strong communities that solutions will be found.

Believing and Hope

McLaren argues that we need to have belief in an alternative system, otherwise the current dominant system will retain its place. Simply destroying confidence in the dominant system will not bring a solution. We need to inspire belief in a system based on community.

McLaren also emphasises the importance of hope particularly for those who are oppressed. Where there is no hope, it is difficult to inspire and foster change or progress.

Community

McLaren says "A community who begin to wake up to the covert curriculum in which they swim each day would want to band together to share their insights about it. They would help one another not be sucked in, not be massaged into passivity, nor be malformed by this powerful educational process ... They remind one another of the alternative framing story they had come to believe was good, beautiful and true, and they seek, together, to love by this alternative framing story, the radical good news" (pp 291-292).

This to me was the heart of Anabaptist community. Members challenged each other to live in the "fear of God" and to live out their faith in interaction with each other.

References

McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.