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Joy in Enough

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Introducing a project from Green Christian – A post-church talk by Christine Bainbridge

I think most of you know that our church is a recognised Eco Congregation.  We are committed to doing things in relation to our church that make us more environmentally friendly (we use a green energy supplier, for example, and we promote the purchase of Fairtrade goods).  Eco congregation is an initiative of A Rocha, a Christian environmental charity.  I’m involved in Green Christian, another voluntary organisation that raises awareness of environmental issues (used to be called Christian Ecology Link).  It is primarily about offering Christian insights into ecology and the environment.  A few years ago it developed a project called Operation Noah to campaign for action in response to climate change.  Operation Noah is now a separate environmental charity with the sole purpose of tackling climate change.  Now Green Christian is developing another project – JiE – which we hope will, like Operation Noah, become an independent movement.  JiE is focussed on the economy and economics, maintaining that our current models need to change if our planet and its inhabitants are to flourish, or, worst case scenario, even survive.  I’ve been part of a small group drawing up a core document* that will resource Christians wanting to press for change.  Another group has been working on a course that could be followed by home groups or as a lent course.  What I’m saying this morning will give you a taste of what is in the core document.

Slide of Justin Welby.  Caption ‘The UK’s economic model is broken’

In September this year Archbishop Justin Welby described our economy as broken.  He said Britain was facing a watershed moment (a kairos?) – a time to make choices about the kind of economy we need.  The IPPR (Institute for public policy research) had just produced a report on economic justice.  In it they said that it was the increasing gap between rich and poor that worried them most, with workers facing the longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years while companies and executives raked in profits.  A new vision for the economy is needed, said the chair of the commission.

The archbishop and the IPPR are not the only voices raising concerns about our economy.  Christine Lagarde managing director of the IMF

Slide with picture and caption ‘1% of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth’)  Christine Lagarde also speaks about increasing inequality not just between countries but within countries.

Slide with picture and caption ‘Laudato Si’  Pope Francis highlights the link between a free market capitalist economy and increased inequality between countries.  Despite many improvements enabled by capitalism (eg access to clean water, better health) the lives of the poorest people on the planet (the majority) remain precarious.  ‘The earth’s resources are being plundered because of short sighted approaches to the economy…’

Slide of Kate’s book, Economists are also raising concerns.  At our church we recently had a talk by Kate Raworth, an economist and author of ‘’Doughnut Economics’ who spoke about how the traditional approaches to economics need to be rethought.  She puts the case for what she calls a distributive and regenerative economy, using the diagram of a doughnut to illustrate a new economic model A review of Kate’s book is in the most recent copy of Green Christian.

At a previous Green Christian conference Dan O’Neill from Leeds University presented the case for what is called a steady state economy, where growth isn’t the only goal and where something other than the GDP is used to measure the performance of the economy.

Slide Naomi Klein, a Canadian, has written compellingly in ‘This Changes Everything’ of the devastating impact on the planet if our economies continue on a trajectory of perpetual growth.  ‘ Our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth…… – what the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion.

Slide Activity

Each of these people is raising a fundamental question – what is economics for?  What is the main purpose of the economy?

Consider that question yourselves and share thoughts with your neighbour.  Pairs/3s  Brief feedback

Traditionally economics is seen as the study of how money flows through society, how it is generated, how labour works and how goods are produced.  Economists have used diagrams to explain its workings and models that demonstrate, for example, the pattern of supply and demand.  Over time these diagrams and models have acquired something like the status of rules, making the economy seem like a closed system, operating rather like a machine, which once set up can operate efficiently with just the occasional adjustment.  In our present capitalist system the market is the engine of this machine and is sometimes presented as self regulating, so long as it is left alone and growth continues.

Academically, economics is viewed as a science and is studied as such.  However, the alternative voices I’ve just mentioned regard economics as much more fluid; they study it more as an art than a science, largely because it concerns human beings who do not operate like machines, and who are embedded in a planet which is home to a delicately balanced ecosystem rather than sets of cogs and wheels.

Our current approach to economics takes little account of the cost to our planet and it draws on an impoverished understanding of what contributes to human well being.  We are said to be motivated largely by self interest in our dealings with each other.  This encourages competition which is a source of energy in our economy.  Profits and growth contribute to human flourishing, but they’re not the whole story.  Human beings are social beings who care for others as well as themselves.  Some of our deepest joys come from a generous interaction with others rather than from accumulating wealth for ourselves.  We also experience joy in our relationship with planet earth and yet we have been ignoring how our economy impacts on our home – the earth.  As world population continues to grow (40% more than what it was in the 1950s, or even double by some accounts) and as more and more of the world consumes at the rate we do, we are exceeding more and more of the limits that spell out danger for our planet – CO2 levels, loss of biodiversity, acidity in the oceans, loss of forest cover….Surely our economy needs to take account of these factors.

I guess we’re all aware of this, otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.  I’m also wondering if we view the situation rather in the way I have been presenting it to you – as something separate from us that we can view slightly at a distance, in a sort of detached manner, in the way our education and our Enlightenment inheritance may have encouraged us to do.  And we may well end up saying, as one of my neighbours did when I was explaining what I was about, ‘Well, with big issues like these I can’t see what we as a church can do, other than write to our MP.’

This is where Joy in Enough comes in.

There is common sense in grasping that a finite planet can’t keep up with increasingly sophisticated methods of extraction and ever larger piles of waste (eg more plastic than fish in the sea in 50 years time).  We don’t need to be Christians to recognise that.  However, I want to suggest that if we are to seriously engage with these issues we have resources in our individual and corporate faith tool boxes that we can draw on, which can keep us from burning out, fuel our passion, and offer sustenance and encouragement to those who share our concerns but not necessarily our faith.  We also need these resources to encourage one another and other churches to join the search for a more life giving model for the economy before it’s too late.  We need fresh theology as we counter some thinking from the past that has contributed to a harmful understanding of our relationship to planet earth.  There are many strands in our faith tradition, in our scripture, from which to draw and in each era we find we need to highlight some more than others.  So that strand in Genesis that seems to encourage us to take charge of the earth and satisfy our needs was ok when we were just using hand tools and there weren’t that many of us, but it’s not the best theological thread to follow in our current situation.  We need a vision that enable us to connect our faith with our economics in a more life giving way.

Slide of bridge

So, JiE is about trying to build a bridge between theology and economics

Here we are, living human beings, connected to other living human beings in an infinite number of ways, and all of us embedded in a living planet.  We Christians happen to have a distinctive viewpoint as we inhabit our particular ecological niche because we believe that the creator of the whole set up jumped into the middle of it all in the person of Jesus Christ.  This God did not simply consider his creation from a majestic distance.  We have a vested interest, if you like, in how the relationship between ourselves and other humans and with the planet as a whole works out because it’s clearly something that God takes seriously.  In fact one of the things we pick up from our scriptures is that God seems to invite those who know him to be formed into a kind of pilot project for how his way of relating to each other and to the earth might look in practice (his people Israel).  It seems to be about how we are together.  The question is as much about who we are together as it is about what we do.  It’s in embodying this that we are most likely to be able to support the new-thinking economists I’ve mentioned and help ourselves and others move towards a different way of running our economy.

Joy in Enough is a way of opening the eyes of Christians to the need to engage with new thinking about the economy.  It’s a call to those who are glimpsing an emerging vision of what a different model might look like to form a bridge for those who as yet don’t.  If we picture a bridge with solid supports at each end – one theology and the other economics – JiE is about building a bridge between them, the bridge being us; us, together, a movement of people whose theology provides a solid foundation from which to support change.

I was at a training event not so long ago when the trainer said it was the unspoken conversation that drives our behaviour.  This is another way of saying that it’s our underlying beliefs and values that motivate us.  As we consider building this bridge let’s think what some of our unspoken conversations about economics and our faith might be.

Slide Activity

Consider the following examples of unspoken conversations

Economics is for the experts

Theology tells me more about God than it does about economics

Ok, so I’m living in a ‘free market neo liberal’ economy (whatever that is). My task is to live there as christianly as possible

I’m not convinced that our economy is ‘broken’.  Most people I meet are better off than they would have been when I was young

What might be the unspoken conversation about economics in our church/community?  Talk in pairs or threes

 

JiE encourages us to see economics as the work of everyone, not just of the experts.  The word comes from the Greek Oikos, meaning house.  Economics was originally about how we run our household.  Pope Francis shifts the language slightly to emphasise our shared responsibility by referring to the earth as our ‘common home’ (or oikos).  Economics now has to include how we relate to our environment – our shared home which is the earth.  In last week’s gospel we heard Jesus say that the 2 greatest commandments are to love God with… and your neighbour as yourself.  Jesus frequently stretches who we include as our neighbour.  I want to suggest that today our neighbour includes the earth.  We are called to love our neighbour the earth as ourselves.

So, we’re looking for an economy that takes into account that human beings are social creatures, enriched when loving our neighbour, and that we are all, rich and poor, called on to love our neighbour and  our common home, the earth.

In looking at theology, therefore, in our core document, we have focussed mainly on insights relating to creation, change (metanoia – often linked to repentance), lifestyle, and journeying together (pilgrimage). These insights then raise questions that we can ask when considering ways of running an economy.

The Theology in the Core Document

Creation as sacrament – revealing something of God in Community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) held together in bonds of love and being the place where he chose to become embodied in Jesus Christ.

To what extent does this economy respect the holiness of creation and of other human beings?

Does it encourage a fairer sharing of resources nationally and globally?

Creation as gift – something we cherish rather than use as our personal treasure chest

Does this economy encourage us to replenish as well as take?

Humanity embedded in creation – made from the dust of the earth and dependent on it for life.  Not a neutral observer, but in relationship with the earth.

Does it recognise the earth as our common home?

Does it recognise that damage to the earth impacts on human beings?

Repentance – although we may be on the wrong tack economically and ecologically, we have a faith that believes that change is possible.  We can turn away from destructive paths and choose life.

Is this economy flexible enough to read the signs of the times and develop new paths?

Living more simply – We have models in our tradition for living more simply within ecological limits – monastic tradition, 20th century life style movement, alternative communities, Catholic social teaching, the Green Christian Way of life.  Joy is a feature of these movements.

Does this economy measure human well being in ways other than monetary wealth?

Does it build community?

Pilgrimage – we are on a journey with others.  It’s often arduous, but there is joy in being together and in knowing that God is with us.  We keep going.  We are not in the business of quick fixes.

Is this economy offering short term individual gains at the expense of a journey with others towards greater well being for the earth and its inhabitants?

A new heavens and a new earth – our scripture envisages matter as being transformed and yet still being matter.  Matter matters!

How is this economy dealing with the issue of waste?

The economics in the Core Document

In our economics we are looking at what will benefit the earth as well as humanity–

Locally

Homo economicus – taking hold of our local economy. Doing stuff with others.  The Bristol pound.  Credit unions.  Local electricity production, Community use of church buildings (rural GPOs) and grounds.  Community solar panel installation.  Volunteering and ways of accumulating social capital.  Including impact on the environment on every local agenda.  Challenging the religion of growth.

Nationally

Re-directing or slowing down growth – directing growth towards developing renewable energy, green housing and modes of transport, effective recycling, public services and away from generating a desire for, and production of, more ‘stuff’.

Government incentives for generating a circular economy (Repair, reuse, recycle – bottle deposit?) and choosing green transport (Norway and electric cars)

Taxation that contributes to human flourishing by reducing the gap between rich and poor

New measures of prosperity – moving away from GDP as the only indicator of growth.  Others might include greater equality, improved planetary health, access to affordable housing

Changes in company law – so that shareholders are stakeholders representing a wider range of interests, including the local neighbourhood and the environment.  This means that financial return is not the only motive for a company Eg co op

Internationally

Recognising that the size of our global household is increasing and considering ways in which rich countries might contribute to the flourishing of poorer members.  Tax on carbon emissions.  Sharing green technology and other specialised expertise.  Avoiding disposal of our waste in these countries or in our shared oceans.

Slide Conclusion

Throughout the document we refer to joy.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, a gift that surprises us as we build bridges, speak truth to power, act generously, and walk together in anticipation of an economy that doesn’t cost us the earth.  We’re hoping the core document might encourage others to join us.

 

*The core document is available on line at Joy in Enough, Green Christian

Christine Bainbridge

November 2017