Friday, 29 January 2010

Money money money

The world's leading bankers have arrived again at Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. They are there to argue the case that what they call heavy handed financial reforms will delay or even hamper the green shoots of global economic recovery.

In 2009 not so many of them made the trip: maybe they felt chastened by the fact that we the public of many different countries round the world had had to bail their business out with public finance that might otherwise have gone on healthcare or education or reducing climate change. (or perhaps it was because their expenses had been capped)

But with governments declaring that "we want our money back" and threatening to do so through curbs on trading, taxing bonuses and in other ways clipping the risky wings of banking, the bankers have turned out in strength to say 'touch us and it all comes down around you', or words to that effect.

I don't claim to understand this all (but they do and look where that has got us). I have enough trouble keeping track of the twenty pounds I got out yesterday from the ATM. But I have two words of caution ringing in my ears as the bankers seem to think that their world should stay they way it is.

The first is from George MacLeod in 1968:
Something needs to be done about the money boys who run our world. It is urgent that the whole issue of international monetary finance be reviewed.
Have you ever queried the bankers? I have. Try the lower echelon of banker, and most of them will say, ‘These things are too high for us, we cannot attain unto them.’ But a small minority will whisper, ‘You’ve got something there boy; isn’t it exceptionally cold weather for so late in the month of May?’
Try the upper echelon of banker. I have. I wrote to the top man of a London bank, a charming man, asking his comments on a similar document to the Haslemere Declaration. He replied that the figures were inaccurate. I immediately asked which figures but had no reply.

They are in training for the job of international bankers. They know what is good for us. Don’t consult us, the paltry crowd. But do they know what is good for us ... Or are they sowing the seeds of the next war?

The others words come from Alice Walker and a poem that in some ways sadly didn't make the final edit of my thoughts on BBC Wales this morning:

We alone can devalue Gold
But not caring
If it falls or rises
In the market place.
Wherever there is golf
There is a chain you know,
And if your chain
Is gold
So much the worse
For you.

Feathers, shells
And sea shaped stones
Are all as rare.
This could be our revolution:
To love what is plentiful
As much as
What’s scarce.

Reverse Course

My thoughts on BBC Radio Wales this morning went something like this:

Good morning: I was about eleven when a group of us spent a day learning to canoe. By the evening we were sure that we had mastered it and we were bold enough to think we’d not get caught, if later on, we sneaked down to the lake and had another go. Well we made it to the jetty undetected and I was daft enough to climb in first. I’d only got one foot in the boat when my comrades had the bright idea of pushing it into the lake.

The problem was my other foot still planted on the shore. As my right leg travelled onto deeper water and my left leg tried to remain just where it was, the distance uncomfortably increased. Decisive action was needed. I lunged toward the shore and caught hold of the jetty. But to my horror the canoe maintained its course. I ended up horizontal to the water, stretched out like the Severn Bridge, but with no such means of support. An inevitable disaster ensued.

I thought of that this week when I heard how the gap between the richest and poorest people in Britain has increased again. This has been going on for forty years and so I wondered just how long can those with plenty, distance themselves from those in need. How long before society is simply stretched too far?

The government’s definition of impoverishment is a relative one: where we draw the poverty-line is dependant on the average income of our nation. As that changes so does our understanding of who is poor. So, poverty in Britain looks different to somewhere else like Haiti, even before the earthquake. But how we care for those with little, wherever they may be, ultimately defines who we are. And nothing is more suggestive of a dangerous malaise than the simple truth that the rich are continuing to get disproportionately wealthier.

The bible recognises that taking care of the least of us is not just a matter of political expediency. It’s not even about economic justice, important as that is. Closing the gap between the haves and have-nots is about our spirituality. Because it is not money, but the love of it that can corrupt our living, whether we are rich or poor. It’s the misplaced adoration of pounds and pence that can make us indifferent to the plight of others, trapping our Spirit within a poverty of heart that becomes the root of all our problems.

Something must change:

not just in government or banking

but in us and what we value

if we’re ever to close the gap and change the course of what we have become

Monday, 25 January 2010

I'm (not) walking in the snow

It's been a while since i blogged, something to do with spare time going on a catalogue of things that broke down, inc: my desktop PC, the washing machine, tumble drier (I know its bad for the planet) the car (also bad) the electrics dying in the house, and then a leak in our kitchen ceiling this week. But all that is over now (i hope) and we had a great walk round the Museum of Welsh Life on Saturday, where there was still snow piled up high and out of the way. It reminded us of all the fun we'd had with snow over the festive period.

I remember the first time my daughter really encountered snow.

Oh … wow’, she said and then, proud of some recently acquired knowledge, she pointed a finger and proclaimed with certainty, ‘White!’ Snow was a wondrously strange new object to behold, a fresh mystery to be embraced, one that made her shiver for an instant and then ran between her tiny fingers. I was just happy to see her sense of wonder in God’s creation.

The next time Niamh saw snow outside her window we were impressed that she remembered what it was called. This time the conversation went:

Oh … wow! … Snow … White.’

Apart from making me look for seven dwarves, I was again impressed with the wonderment she offered to the falling flakes of white that gathered on the ground. While grown-ups were worrying about journey times to work and if the Gritters had been out, (and I know these are legitimate concerns) she was more than happy to welcome this occasional but spectacular visitor back into her life.

Snow fell again just before Christmas in 2009 and it was half-way through January before the thaw set in round here. During that time Niamh went walking in the snow, slipped and slid across the snow, threw balls of snow and built men of snow and eventually … she kind of became bored with it. Snow became a part of every day, taken for granted, no longer greeted with cries of ‘wow!’

Sadly, many of us do the same, and not just with the snow. We loose a sense of wonder with the world that God created. We hurry past sunsets and primroses, and forget the excitement we once enjoyed by chasing squirrels. The world becomes, as some say, dull as ditchwater; though as any naturalist will tell you, that too is teeming with exciting life. Some of us loose our sense of wonder with the church, this wonderful family that God has called us to be part of and which He’ has chosen to show the world His love. And some of us loose our sense of wonder with other human beings: equally made in the Image of God, we quickly reduce them into ‘interesting or boring’, ‘beneficial to my purpose’ or a ‘hindrance on the way’. And so we easily forget that every person whom we meet carries in their living something of God’s glory and reveals Christ to us.

As the days go by we need to keep alive our sense of wonder. I am reminded of the poet John O’Donohue who once said:

I would love to live

As a river flows,

Carried by the surprise

Of its own unfolding.

Friday, 8 January 2010

It's a season not a day.

For a couple of years now I've been going on about (some might say moaning about) how Christmas is a season ... not just one expectation laden day. In a December post I mentioned how our Renovare group had had some conversation on how to make this actually happen.

Well as so often in my life, it was my wife that made it happen.

On Christmas Day I received twelve envelops, one to be opened on the appropriately allocated day of the festive season. Each gift referenced the spiritual meaning behind the original Catechismic Twelve Days Poem and also managed to incorporate one of the 6 streams of Spirituality that feature within Renovare ( ... so on one day I got a new bible, on another I got 50 trees in a threatened area of forest, then there were the onion bulbs, the fairtrade chocolate bar and who could forget the pan pipes. Most of this unfolded on the beautiful, if snowy, Isle of Bute (plus a quick trip to Colintrive for festive jazz) and amounted to a wonderful Christmas Season.
Only 350 days before we get to do it all again!