Can You Dream a Little?

A few weeks ago I read an article in The Guardian, which has given me much cause for thought ever since. The ideas are not new to me and the conclusions don’t quite work for me either, but there is much in it that is worth exploring more about the demise of the nation state:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/05/demise-of-the-nation-state-rana-dasgupta?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

Unknown-1Alongside that sits my ongoing rumination about economics and politics and a need for something altogether different. Economics, from the Greek word, ‘Oikos’ literally means ‘household’ or ‘ecology’ and has to do with how we organise our household or our ecology – worth noting here that both the household and the ecology are ‘living systems’ and not ‘mechanistic’ (a word which describes many of our current approaches in how we think about economics generally). I have particularly found Kate Raworth’s book, Doughnut Economics, to be extremely helpful, along with Charles Eisenstein’s, ‘Sacred Economics’, and Tomas Sedlacek’s, ‘The Economics of Good and Evil’, in helping me reframe how I think about economics and to dream about what else might be possible for us together.

 

Unknown

from certianlyher.com

Politics, on the other hand, comes from the Greek, ‘Polis’, meaning ‘the city’ and has to do with how we live together as people. Our current political system is simply not cutting it. I’m actually not out to criticise our politicians. I think many of them are genuinely trying to do a good job. It’s the system that is broken and lacks the ability for true representative democracy to flourish. There is such a weariness with the two-sided braying and mocking, referendums which don’t even come close to talking about the real issues, media control of the arguments and social media manipulation of the mass psyche. Posturing, pedestalling, point-scoring, point-missing and powerful lobbies pulling strings……is this it? Is this the best of us? Is there nothing better that we can imagine? What I’m interested to find is a reimagining of what it means for us to live well together in this global age and hope we can find a way forward together, politically (with a small p) to face up to the major issues of our day.

 

My friend, Steve Lowton, recently did a little vlog series about authenticity and it has made my ears prick up. He stated that there are three things he is listening out for: 1) the sound of people living authentic lives, 2) the sound of the people on the streets (people movements which are emerging) and 3) creative artists/poets/dreamers who can help to open up the imagination of what might be possible. If Rana Dasgupta is right, and the nation state as a concept, is crumbling, we have 100 years ahead of us of some significant turmoil as we try and navigate our way through to a reimagined future. What if, as Bishop Michael preached at imagesHarry and Meghan’s wedding, we reimagined the world based on love?! Is it really that crazy? It is foolishness to those who deem themselves wise and experts in how things need to be run….but there is great wisdom to be found in the ‘self-giving, others-empowering love’ we find in the kenotic source of life itself!

 

Unknown-2More than ever, we need to find ways of having conversations, based on the premise of Albert Einstein, who said that if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend 55 minutes trying to find the right question and then he would only need 5 minutes to solve it. Our temptation is to dive in and fix problems, often based on our own very limited perspective, or piece of the jigsaw, which often leads to finger pointing, blaming and shaming, before we’ve really discovered what the question is that we’re actually needing to ask……The problems before us are complex and the next election isn’t going to fix them! We have an environment which is under significant stress, an economic system which is profoundly dysfunctional, global inequality at every level, major health crises, boundaries and histories which divide us and ongoing conflicts and wars. Pointing fingers and blaming ‘the other’ isn’t going to help us. We must be willing to encounter those totally different from ourselves and find an altogether better way……

 

But if you take the time to listen, there are people of authenticity making a different sound, there are people movements across the globe calling for something new and there are many creative minds, hearts and voices beginning to weave together some dreams of what might be possible……

 

Unknown-4

from animals.howstuffworks.com

Do you think that the caterpillar can ever conceive of becoming a butterfly? And yet….in the cocoon, in the waiting, IMAGINAL cells form – they have the potential to become anything!! It is time for a great metamorphosis, where our imaginations can dream of what seems utterly impossible…..it is time for new creation…..can you see it? Can you perceive it? Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Then be authentic and turn your face into the wind that is blowing…..because together, with love, we can!

Political Parables – Free Market Economics

Unknown First of all, I listened to an awesome radio 4 show this week, which is part of a brilliant series called “Promises, promises: A History of Debt”. This week’s short program was entitled: “The International Politics of Debt” and serves as a good backdrop to challenge some of our world-view before embarking on this next parable, which to be honest, interpreted through the lens of Freire and Herzog, blew my mind! Have a listen: http://bbc.in/18eAr6m The parable in question is that of  “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27)

Matthew 25:14-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the imagesone talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 25:14 Greek bondservants; also verse 19
  2. Matthew 25:15 talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer
  3. Matthew 25:21 Greek bondservant; also verses 232630
English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. I have sat in so many different church contexts over the years and heard this parable taught the same way. “Use your talents/gifts/money for God, because God doesn’t want you to waste what He’s given you. You are supposed to multiply it and increase it and use it for His glory/for good/to show others His blessing…..” But, hang on a minute. What if we turn this parable on its head? What if Jesus is not casting God as the master, but he is again directly speaking into the societal set up of the day? What if this master is in fact a ruler in an agrarian society, with a governing class beneath him, a section of merchants, retainers and priests with a few artisans thrown in underneath that and a bunch of unclean/degraded/expendables at the bottom of the pile? If this is so, (and I’m not sure the master fits the bill in terms of who Jesus is revealing the Father to be), then what might the parable mean? Is it possible that the radical person is not the one who doubles the money of the “unjust ruler”, who reaps where he doesn’t sow etc etc? Rather, could Jesus be highlighting the one who choses to challenge this way of life, that in effect keeps the ruler rich and powerful, or gives increase to the ones who are willing to increase their wealth through defunct systems of usury, to be the real radical/irritant/one of another kind of Kingdom? It’s not to say that God doesn’t want us to use gifts he’s given us for the benefit of others…..but maybe that’s just not what this parable is about. Too often, the parables of Jesus are used to uphold and justify a certain way of doing economics and perhaps we don’t want to engage with the hard-hitting realities of what he might really be saying…. If we assume that this master does not represent God, then what might a modern-day reading of it be (also given the context of international debt)? Maybe something like this: For it will be like the CEO of a big chocolate company, who went to the Ivory Coast to ensure a good flow of chocolate into the West and ever expand his chocolate empire. He called three of his most entrusted leaders to himself, and asked them to ensure more chocolate at a lower price. He set one of them, with the most experience over 5 factories, the next one over 3 factories and the last one over 1 factory. The first two set to work, thinking about how they could make more chocolate for less money in order to keep their boss happy and the business functioning well. They knew if they did well, they would secure their own future in the company and good income for their families. Understanding capitalism, they came up with a cunning plan. They decided the best way would be to get cheap or even free images-2labour. So, they enslaved children from the surrounding area and nations with families who were too poor to keep them, and put them to work in the fields, picking the cocoa, or in the factories at the grinding machines, under terrible and dangerous conditions, in which many of the children died or were abused by hard task masters. images-1The last of the workers, saw what the other two were up to and it made him sick to the stomach. He refused to enslave children in this way and couldn’t understand the motivation of the CEO. He chose to pay people a fair wage, keep their working conditions good and have strong morale amongst his team. The CEO returned. He was willing to turn a blind eye to the methods and was full of praise for the ‘business acumen’ of the first two. He paid them well, ensuring his ‘fair trade’ logo and set them up over even more projects to continue achieving brilliant results. The other guy was out on his ear, sacked from the company with no right of appeal. Confused and dismayed, what was he to do? End his life? Beg for his job back and act the same way as the others? No, he continued Unknown-1to try to live a life that restored people’s humanity and hoped for “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible”. So, who is the radical carrier of the Kingdom of God here?

Intentional Conversations for a Reimagined Future

I’ve just had the privilege of spending two days immersed in the ‘Art of Hosting’ in the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol. I’ve encountered AOH a few times, but it was beautiful to spend time in such an environment. Yet again, I find my self changed, challenged, stretched and inspired by love and relationship.
The weekend began with us checking in together with a simple, yet profound two-part question: why here? why now?

For me the answer to the first part was connected to the land itself. There are some places that are calling for new conversations. Stokes Croft is such a place and I felt a deep connection with it. The land itself was prepared and ready. Some places resist such conversations, and I don’t think we could have had the conversations we were having in the middle of Westminster, at least, not yet.

Why now? And here I link slightly back to my last blog. I believe we are on a cusp. We are at a moment in time when many things we have felt ‘certain’ about are proving to be very shaky and things are crumbling and breaking around us. We are in a post-capitalist, post-post modern, post-christendom, post-nation state moment. But the imaginings of what else is possible are still in dream form. And so, for me, now is the time for conversations, not only for the sake of talking (although really talking to one another is in-itself wholly worthwhile!), but with intentional actions emerging. I absolutely loved the resonance in the room as I shared this. Forty people from a bunch of European nations, of whom I had only met one before, all sensing the same thing…………

Charles Eisenstein writes in his latest book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”:

“When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small-scale, is therefore a political act.” (Taken from his website charleseisenstein.net).

AOH is a profound experience because it holds a space open in which and from which these political acts can emerge.

For me, and I think increasingly for many, the nation-state project, at least in Europe, is failing or waning. As William T Cavanaugh writes in Theopolitical Imagination: “Nation States are only held together by our imaginations”! But our imaginations have become tired of them. They do not hold the substance of the beautiful world our hearts know is possible! The evidence of this shift is seen with the conversations/tensions happening in Scotland, Spain, Greece and Ukraine. Nation states have become unmanageable, dislocated from reality, unrelational and unsustainable. I believe we will see the rise of regional governments and city states and I am excited to call for transformative conversations to emerge around new possibilities.

 

Sacred Economics – Gift

As a preface, let me just say that, in these short blogs I cannot do justice to Charles Eisenstein. I’m going to keep the posts to around 500 words to make them readble in small chunks. But, read his book! It’s even free on line and you can give a gift afterwards to him or someone else! Also, this is my own take on what he says and he may not agree with all my points!

His first chapter begins with these beautiful and profound words:

“In the beginning was the Gift”

Life itself is given. Ancient religions tell the stories of God making the world and giving the world to us, not to dominate over, but to steward. And if life is given, then our default state is one of gratitude. Gratitude knows that we honour or dishonour a gift by how we use it. Charles argues that having received a gift, it is a natural response or desire of gratitude to  want to give in turn. And this is the basis of sacred economics.

“Even after all this time 
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me”
Look what happens
with a love like that,

It lights the whole sky” – Hafiz

Today’s economic system rewards selfishness and greed and has the appalling undergirding message that “more for you is less for me”. But this does not have to be true. Charles asks us what an economic system might look like that rewards generosity? What if “more for you is more for me”?! In community, gifts circulate and all lives are enriched as a result.

If human beings are made in the image of God, we have either greatly misunderstood divinity or taken a long journey away from it. In fact, we are so far away from it that we live in a world where “ruthless sociopaths rise to wealth and power and disempower the multitude”. We have to be realistic about our current state and that such tendencies can exist in everyone somewhere within us. We have until now been journeying with an economics of separation, of usury and scarcity (maybe controversial for some!). It is time to discover together an economics of reunion, of reconciliation, of gift, of hope and resource.

Economy is so much more than money, and money at its core can be a beautiful thing. It is, in its simplest form, a token of gratitude. It has been allowed to become something far more terrible, but it is not beyond us to reimagine its future.

As earlier posts on this blog to do with the subject of ‘Kenarchy’ show, I believe that gift is the very nature of God. God has always been one who gives of himself, who pours himself out in love for humanity and the world and calls us to become like Him in that. And as we pour ourselves out in love, we recover what it means to be truly human. There are dreadful theologies that paint God as some kind of far off Imperial dictator, who gave us the world to master it and dominate its resources. Domination and stewardship have nothing to do with one another. If we are to find a new future, we must recover our humanity, to become like God, and be those who become gifts to the world around us and use our money in that vain – to bring life and as much beauty as possible!

Reimagining Money aka Sacred Economics

For a long time I have been convinced that we cannot reimagine the future if we do not redefine our relationship with money. A number of years ago I read a book by a chap called Alan Kreider in which he was talking about how we foster community. He said that the sad truth is, until we’re able to talk about money in a free and open way and sort out our finances, we can never truly learn to be community.

Since the financial crash of 2008, I have been fascinated to watch the unfolding interplay between the banking sector and the ‘political elite’. We suffered a massive earthquake, the after shocks continue and serve as a warning that more disaster is on its way; but we have an hilarious situation in which the politicians tell us that by some weird combination of printing more money, tightening our belts or spending more (depending on who your finance minister is!), punishing the poor and ‘regulating the banks’, whilst bailing them out, we  will somehow recover from this trauma, so that we can continue business as usual. But it is business as usual that caused this crisis and it is business as usual that will lead us back into one.

I have been disappointed by the lack of alternatives discussed in the public political arena. In my mind, it matters very little which party is in power, as the general direction of all of the current alternatives is towards future growth of the economy with more of humanity and the earth itself becoming fodder to the ever hungry machine. Here in the UK, the conservatives tell us that austerity is the answer, and we must particularly blame the ‘feckless poor’ for the mess we are in. The labour party tell us that actually spending more is the answer, but the responsibility must lie with the ‘greedy rich’. The liberals are lost at sea and seem to have forgotten what liberalism is, (at least for a while) and then UKIP arrive to offer the ‘heroic’ idea that what we really need is self protectionism, independence and more patriotism. Kill me now.

And yet, we remain in an amazing moment of anomy, in which many, the commons, the multitudes are undeniably calling into question meaning and purpose at a profound level. We are at the fullness of what Foucault calls ‘Biopwer’ – the commodification of life itself. And people are sick of it. People are sick of feeling like they are being eaten rEVOLutionup like bread in order to keep the economy going, to keep the targets met, to keep the debts serviced. I see teacher after social worker after nurse after builder after sales person have breakdowns in my consulting room, because they can no longer stand under the rod of their oppressors. I see managers and directors having breakdowns as they realise they are losing touch with their own humanity and for what? Is this what we were made for? Is this the best we had hoped for? But it is in these moments that we must allow the songs of ‘Les Miserables’ to become our own – “Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men, it the music of a people who will NOT be slaves again….”

There is a sound emerging in our hearts, there is a rumbling in the people, there is a hope rising in our hearts that this dog eat dog world of violence and suffering is not the future we must endure. There is an alternative. There is a possible future of peace and love, but raging against the machine and losing our voices shouting at it may not accomplish very much – at least that is what I am learning! I have ranted to myself and others many times, but what has it achieved? Perhaps a stirring of hearts, perhaps a rising of hope, perhaps a new determination that life can and will be different for the multitudes. But ranting will not suffice, nor dreaming alone. It is time for brave acts, to disregard the powers and to begin to be creative.

But our creativity must be both prophetic and practical, experimental and pragmatic. We call for a new future and we live differently. And so, we must redefine our relationship with money, not do away with it, but refine what we mean by ‘money’ and ‘the economy’. With that in mind, I want to do some blog posts on a phenomenal book I have just finished entitled ‘Sacred Economics’ by Charles Eisenstein. It gives voice to Sacred Economicsmany things I and others have thought about but lacked the understanding or language to communicate. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Charles believes in the creative commons, when it comes to copyright – (check out their website), so I am free to copy passages of his book where that is helpful, but I want to honour the brilliant work he has done. He gives a brilliant history lesson in our relationship with money, how it has led to an age of separation where community is broken down and we have lost relationship with one another and the earth, how we recover a ‘gift economy’ and how we practically move forward to “the more beautiful future our hearts tell us is possible.” I hope the coming blogs are inspirational, encouraging and practical.

The photo “revolution is taken by Tim Pierce. http://www.flickr.com/photos/qwrrty/6209634263/