Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Social Justice (Page 2 of 4)

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

George Monbiot has written another insightful article, this one on the problem of neoliberalism, and the fact that most people in our neoliberal society don’t know what the term means.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.

Here are my thoughts on some of the points Monbiot makes:

  • “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.”

Just like communism reduced people to cogs in a machine, neoliberalism, or market capitalism, does the same. We become consumers whose value lies in how much we contribute to the ongoing efficiency of the economic machine. We are not seen as having inherent dignity in ourselves.

  • “When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation.” Think Tony Abbott and ‘stop the boats’ in Australia.

The rise of Bernie Sanders is as much a response to the current climate as is the rise of Donald Trump. The failure of the Left has been seen by them and is responding in the rise of Sanders.

“Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed”. I remember when communism fell over in the late 1980s, Jim Wallis said the same would happen to capitalism one day. It might take another generation, but we are seeing it happening now before our eyes.

  • “it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” Perhaps one option (and there may be others along the lines of what people like Bernie Sanders are putting forward) is Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.

The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that it is an amoral system. It doesn’t take into account human nature, the fact that humans are ultimately committed to their own self-interest. That’s why it needs people in poverty to survive.

The Inbreaking is here

screen-shot-2015-10-24-at-9-19-40-pmThe Inbreaking is Eden Parris’ third album, and his music still impacts me the same way it did when I first heard it about five years ago.

Having known Eden for quite a few years now, I have seen how his music and lyrics arise out of a genuine, searching faith that seeks to make real his passion for the kingdom of Jesus to come on earth as in heaven.

Eden’s music is a breath of fresh air in a world of Christian music that is largely manufactured for marketing purposes. Albums like The Inbreaking are strangely reminiscent of many of the old Christian hymns, not for their musical style but for their earthy, genuinely Christian theology.

The title and opening song of the album illustrates this eloquently. A song about the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in Jesus, it strongly reflects the hope of the outbreaks of God’s reign on earth that are being seen across this weary world.

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Instead of mega-church, micro-church!

What a wonderful example of what biblical church is all about!

If the poor are always with us, why bother trying to alleviate poverty?

Sight Magazine just posted my recent piece on Jesus’ oft misunderstood words when the woman anointed him with perfume.

God’s gentle, correcting sense of humour

jesus_ecce_homoI reckon God has a good chuckle at our self-assured theological convictions at times. In my case, I think God changes me and moulds me more into his character by using his sense of humour in a gentle, correcting, loving way.

A few years ago I went through a period where I would be critical of a particular denomination. When I saw the type of books that this denomination had in their bookstores and some of the churches I’d been to, and what I’ve heard come out of the mouths of some of its ministers, I have been adamant that I would never want to be part of a denomination that was so wishy-washy about what they believed in the name of being inclusive.

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What does the end of poverty look like?

wealth povertyA few days ago a colleague at work sent through a fascinating article by the son of Warren Buffett. Some quotes from Peter Buffett’s article are as follows:

  • “People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”
  • “What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.”
  • “Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.”

Fascinating points. When we work for a better world, are we just dragging people into a consumerist way of life which perpetuates the very poverty we want to alleviate? As Buffett says, doesn’t this all just feed the beast? What does the alleviation of poverty look like? Is it like the new society described so beautifully in Isaiah 65?

This is why just bringing people out of poverty is not enough. Changing structures which keep people poor must also take place. If there is no advocacy, then the work of development and relief is pointless.

What this reminds me of is Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity Without Growth, in which the author lays out a blueprint for a system that works in a world of finite resources. A book well worth a read, along with the above-mentioned article.

We are sorry for them today

aboriginal_christian_art_dotcross_alice_This week is Reconciliation Week in Australia. I think we have come a fairly long way in the healing of our past failings with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. But to get an accurate answer to that question, it’s of course best to ask them. There is still much racism in our country, and it’s great that one of the benefits of technology is that you can’t get away with it for as long anymore these days. You will be exposed very quickly if you do or say something offensive.

As usual, the AFL is doing a good job at reconciliation. We have many Indigenous players and they are a great role model for young indigenous kids throughout the nation. This weekend’s Dreamtime at the ‘G event was another masterpiece.

One of the beautiful songs I have sung at church for many years is the Aboriginal Lord’s Prayer. It is a wonderfully honest version of Jesus’ model of prayer for us. It is honest about the hurts that Aboriginal people have experienced (and continue to experience), and it is a humble admission of the fact that all of us, black or white, have done wrong and need forgiveness. Here are the lyrics:

Aboriginal Lord’s Prayer
Words: Warmun Community, Music: Tiwi community Broome
© 1996 Tiwi Community WA, Broome Catholic Diocese

You are our Father, You live in Heaven
We talk to You, Father, You are good. (repeat)

We believe Your Word, Father, we Your children.
Give us bread today. (repeat)

We have done wrong, we are sorry.
Help us Father, not to sin again. (repeat)

Others have done wrong, to us
And we are sorry for them, Father today. (repeat)

Stop us from doing wrong, Father,
Save us all from the evil one. (repeat)

You are our Father, You live in Heaven.
We talk to You, Father, You are good. (repeat)

Chained to scourge of slavery

Don't Trade LivesAnother great article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Slavery in 2012 is a reality. It didn’t end 200 years ago with Wilberforce or with Lincoln. It may have been outlawed then, but it still exists today.

Two weeks ago was Abolitionist Sunday, and as we celebrate Christmas, how much of what we buy has been produced by slave labour?

Campaigns like World Vision’s Don’t Trade Lives, as well as Stop the Traffik, are very worthwhile ones to get involved in if you want to see what you can do to make a difference.

The day the mining magnate met Jesus

Here is a modern Australian reading of Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Western Australia and was passing through. A man was there who was a very wealthy mining magnate. He had heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.

When Jesus saw him he said to him, I must stay at your house today. The mining magnate couldn’t believe his ears and welcomed him gladly.

All the people, especially those who were strong social justice activists, saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a mega-rich mining magnate. If he really cared about the little people, he would know what sort of character this person was.”

But the mining magnate stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my wealth and earnings from my mines to the poor, and if my mines have been detrimental to the lives of people or to the environment, I will close them and pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too has a high place in my kingdom. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus always surprises us. My wife and I have spent the last 12 years in a poor inner-suburban church which is doing well if it has $1,000 in the bank. We are social justice types who also have a passionate concern for the environment. Call us hippie lefties if you like, but I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus who struggles and many times fails to live up to the life that he calls us to.

I get angry when the mega-rich whinge about their rights and how they’ve got it so difficult. When I hear them say such things, I wish they would get a dose of reality. But then I read the story of Zacchaeus and see my own reverse snobbery. We love to pin the rich up against the wall – and most of the time they deserve it – but we have no right to judge them as if we are somehow better.

Jesus never does this. He always pulls the rug out from underneath us and exposes our character flaws. That’s why you can never put Jesus in a box. If you try to paint him as someone who is more left-leaning than most, he reminds you of how he related to Zacchaeus. And if you try to place him amongst the moral majority who decry the declining values of our culture, he reminds you of the woman who knelt at his feet and poured expensive perfume on him whilst those standing around condemned her for not spending the money on the poor.

You see, Jesus is never about issues; he is always about relationship. The kingdom is never about values; it is about relationship. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, has spent 30 years working amongst the poor of that vast land, and he says that the thing he sees the most is that the gospel is about relationships. It is not about causes or values or issues; it is personal in every way, including in its take on social justice. Real justice is personal, it is never separate from relationship.

One of the reasons I love Jesus – and one of the reasons I sometimes want to avoid him – is because he can never be pinned down. Whenever we think we know what he is on about, he surprises us. But in doing so he never condemns us, never condemns anyone. That’s why I can trust him, and that when I am challenged by him. I don’t have to run away, because all he wants to do is show me what is best, show me that his ways are not my ways, and that he is ultimately trustworthy. We can read the gospels a hundred times over and still be shocked by the outrageous, counter-cultural, unconditional, life-affirming, comfort-shattering love of Jesus. Our response to such actions of Jesus as is seen in the story of Zacchaeus or its modern equivalent of a mega-rich mining magnate says more about us than it does of Jesus or the mining magnate, or whoever else you want to put in the story.

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, also makes the crucial point that in offering to spend such intimate time with Zacchaeus, a hated Roman collaborator, Jesus turns the hatred of the crowd from Zacchaeus onto himself. This is one of the real points of this story. Jesus always shows his love and grace at his own expense.

Bailey also points out that, once again, the transformation Jesus gives is complete. It is not just about the transformation of Zacchaeus from a wealthy money-grubbing hoarder into a beautifully generous human being; the transformation also has wider implications for the village he lived in. The people there would no longer be oppressed and ripped off by this former Roman collaborator. God’s grace came to everyone that day, not just to Zacchaeus’ house.

Jesus’ love is real; it is costly and it is sacrificial, as real love always is. By calling out to a hated tax collector, Jesus took the crowd’s hatred of this despised person onto himself. In the process, both Zacchaeus and the villagers are all freed. How would we respond today if Jesus wanted to share an evening in the lavish home of a wealthy mining magnate, enjoying their company over a nice meal and a few red wines? Would the social justice types among us question whether or not this was the real Jesus – friend of the poor – or just an impostor? Would others of us be smug in our seeming affirmation that God really is about prosperity? Or would we question ourselves instead, suddenly realising that we assumed we had Jesus all to ourselves?

Jesus caused a crisis everywhere he went. Just when we think we have him right where we want him, he shocks us, and reminds us again that we can never paint him into a corner. If a well-known multimillionaire walked into your church, how would they be received? Would we welcome them with open arms, or would we think, “what are those rich *&%^/*%&%^ doing here?” Jesus loves the mega-rich just as much as he loves you and me and the poorest people on the planet. God help me to be the same.

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