Tag Archives: world

The credit crunch – a prophet speaks…

Ann Pettifor has always impressed me from her time heading up Jubilee 2000, which became the Jubliee Debt Campiagn, and she had lots of interesting things to say at Greenbelt, but this article in the Guardian on Saturday is incredible…

‘And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” – Matthew 21:12-13.

Let us make no bones about it. This financial crisis is a major spiritual crisis. It is the crisis of a society that worships at the temples of consumption, and that has isolated and often abandoned millions of consumers now trapped on a treadmill of debt. It is the crisis of a society that values the capital gains of the rentier more highly than the rights of people to a home, or an education or health. It is the crisis of a society that idolises money above love, community, wellbeing and the sustainability of our planet. And it is a crisis, in my view, for faith organisations that have effectively colluded in this idolatry, by tolerating the sin of usury.

I define usury as the exalting of money values over human and environmental values; of creating money at no cost and lending at rates of interest intended to accumulate reserves of unearned income. Of reaping that which one did not sow.

Christians began to dilute the sin of usury as far back as the 1500s. John Eck, supported by the Fugger banking family, in his book Tractates contractu quinque de centum (1515), defended 5% as an acceptable rate of interest as long as the borrower and lender mutually agreed to the loan. Martin Luther took exception to this laxity, and raged that “heathen were able, by the light of reason, to conclude that a usurer is a double-dyed thief and murderer. We Christians, however, hold them in such honour that we fairly worship them for the sake of their money … Meanwhile, we hang the small thieves … Little thieves are put in the stocks, great thieves go flaunting in gold and silk.”

Luther’s views were regarded as fanatical and were to be firmly displaced by the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564) whose writings altered the status of the usurer in society. Instead of arguing in effect that loans should be “natural” or sustainable, Calvin argued that interest is lawful, provided that it does not exceed an official maximum.

Calvin said that when Christ said “lend hoping for nothing in return”, that meant we should help the poor freely. He dissected two Hebrew words for usury – neshek meant “to bite”, tarbit meant “to take legitimate increase” – and argued that only “biting” loans were forbidden. Thus one could lend at interest to business people who would make a profit using the money.

In what was to be an epic shift, the Christian goalposts had been moved; by Eck and then Calvin. Whereas Islam remained opposed to interest and usury, elites in Christian societies were given permission to decide on a rate of interest.

Today, unscrupulous moneychangers like the head of Lehman Brothers stand condemned by millions – robbed of their money, their pensions, their homes and their futures. Too late, the moneychangers have taken their gains and fled, leaving bankruptcy, losses and a systemic global financial crisis behind.

“Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money,” Roosevelt said of other unscrupulous moneychangers in 1933. “Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish. The moneychangers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilisation. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”

As a first step to applying those social values, we may bring back the ancient truth that usury is a sin.

We need more modern day prophets, more like Walter Rauschenbusch

One

we’re one but we’re not the same, we’ve got to carry each other

Is how Bono puts it.

Unity.

Something the church is suposed to be famous for. Something that is supposed to characterise those who follow Jesus, and indeed demonstrate to others that we are followers of Jesus because we love each other. Unity is also as Vinoth Ramachandra puts it:

a blind spot of evangelicalism due to our individualistic understandings of the gospel

It is sadly true, often Christians, not just evangelicals or protestants seem to spend more time witnessing against each other than to those who don’t know Jesus, and to whom we want to enjoy the life to the full that Jesus offers. I hold my hands up as one who is guilty, and only too aware that often my reaction to being labelled is to do the same, to define myself over and against another.

Why do we struggle with unity? Partly perhaps because we are human, tainted by the fall and we have a tendency to make a balls of things. Could it also be because we focus our unity on the wrong thing, or use the wrong means perhaps more accurately to seek to achieve unity?

Frequently protestants tend to use doctrinal consensus via theological debate as the means. I know myself I have uttered the words ‘uniting around the core truths of the gospel’ many times. ‘What is core?’ however then opens the debate, and either we see lots of groups emerging, or a watered down consensus that is virtually meaningless. Perhaps we need to listen to the Newbigin’s, Bosch’s and Ramachandra‘s of the world who suggest that our unity must come from our mission, or more correctly our shared participation in God’s mission. This becomes messy and more awkward – it is more difficult to draw neat lines. It is noticeable that when churches work together, when they unite in mission, God shows up and people come to know him. When we choose mission as the means of our unity there is less control, and maybe more room for God than when we tightly define our unity. When we focus on loving others together paradoxically we learn to love each other, and it is this that Jesus calls us to – not to judge each other on our doctrinal purity (I think it was Rene Padilla who said that). Obviously its not just as simplistic as I’m making out but i wonder if our problems of unity would look different if we had a greater focus on mission? Once again Vinoth says it better than I ever will:

It is only when we have learned to die to our own plans and projects, including our plans for world evangelisation, that we can truly love another and move forward into every dimension of life under the leading of the triune god of mission.

biofuels and the real credit crisis

The ‘global credit crunch’ is dominating our news stories, economy, spending and even making it into church sermons. People are worried about the drop in value of the property market – which well certainly in parts of East Belfast was artificially inflated by greedy property investors. Economic growth is slowing, the exchange rate with the euro is not good (for my cross border forays, good for those coming to the pound-zone). In this worry and obsession with the good times slowing, I am grateful for papers like the Independant who can remind us of the real crisis in the global economy. I’ve been reading snippets of this over the last months, but few news outlets are prepared to make it front page news. Maybe partly because it puts our issues in perspective and gives the Daily Mail less to be alarmist about – although I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame immigrants.

It seems we have got ourselves (globally) in trouble with environmental alternatives. Biofuels the great answer to rising fossil fuel transportation costs are causing a real crisis among the poorest countries in the world. Crops that are used for biofuels are also used by milions for food. So when the increasing demand for fuel drives prices up, that means the cost of basic staple foods rises too, and who does it affect the most? The poorest. Those with no voice. This isn’t a little problem. There have been protests in Haiti, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Tortilla Riots in Mexico and protests in Italy. Western farmers are enjoying the bumper profits but at what cost? Newspapers have been reporting this and warning that we may be sleepwalking towards a food crisis. Ordinary punters like us can change the minds of the powerful, but with this one its so huge – where do we start – any suggestions?

[I’m off to suggest to Tearfund this may be a badger – who to badger is the question though..]

The Kite Runner

kite-runner2.jpgIn the last month I’ve read a pile of theology books, and been struggling through ‘Tender is the Night’ by F Scott Fitzgerald, which just hasn’t grabbed me. So when the Kite Runner arrived I thought I’d get stuck in. I deliberately avoided the film because I wanted to enjoy the book first. I’m glad a day getting the bus coincided with a night in as I drunk in every page of this phenomenal book. At times I was transported into another world, at times I was choked with emotion. This book has been like something amazing that I can’t quite think off right now – balm to my soul perhaps. If you haven’t read it – go get your hands on a copy, borrow mine – it will do you good. Its an amazing story exploring race and sectarianism, friendship, identity, betrayal, loyalty and redemption. It struck me once again of the power of the novel and how much better they are at exploring these real everyday broken people issues than a lot of the eh only fit for recycling so called ‘Christian’ books out there. Anyone seen the film?

Beginning Advent – a World AIDS Day Challenge

world_aids_day_ribbon.pngAs we begin advent – waiting to celebrate the coming of Jesus – the one who came to bring life and hope, we begin on a sombre note. Today is World AIDS Day. We begin reminding ourselves of a disease that is ravaging entire communities, that is leaving a generation of orphans in Africa, among other places. What are we to do? Often we feel helpless. Well as in advent we celebrate the gift of the Christ-child, how about celebrating advent and marking World AIDS Day by giving – perhaps matching what you spend today or on a typical Saturday night out with a gift to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS? One example is Tearfund’s Bring childhood back to life HIV/AIDS campaign. Or maybe giving some time to find out more or to campaign.

So you’ve been raped, have 200 lashes

This story is almost unbelievable. To be raped is bad enough but to then be punished for breaking social rules – a woman in the car with an unrelated man, both of whom were raped by a gang of 7 men. Not sure what happened the rapists. This from the country whose King had the audacity to tell the UK it wasn’t doing enough to fight terrorism. A country whose human rights abuses the UK is willing to turn a blind eye to as long as it can sell them weapons. I realise I am being simplistic, and was impressed that ‘The Kingdom’ tried to address some of the subtleties of life in the middle east. However this court ruling just seems crazy. So much so it leaves me speechless…

supersizing and pineapples

An Australian problem rather than an American one. It seems all is not well down under. Too much Fosters and too many many barbies (of the food not doll variety), means the Australians now need supersize ambulances and reinforced stretchers.

In Burma the military dictatorship decided a year or two again a fit of craziness to move the capital, well actually build a new one called the ‘Seat of Kings’. While they build new palaces for themselves the people suffer… The British government in its wisdom has economic sanctions against Burma – bizarrely only on the issue of pineapple juice, not oil or gas (where the dictatorship makes most of its money). Now I’m not too up on all this, and do have questions about making sure sanctions don’t hurt the poorest, so am wiling to be corrected here…

Africa, the Irish and the EU at 50

Its been a week of hearing about Africa from two well known sons of Ireland. The first much more famous being Bob Geldof. Bob was doing a ‘lecture’ at Queens on Wednesday – his speaking style, choice of language and illustrations probably weren’t to the Vice-Chancellor’s taste who appeared to be hiding his face behind his hand a lot. I almost got dizzy as he walked up and down – not really looking at us as he waffled about ‘making a difference’. What was interesting was how he concentrated on the need for commitment – something our generation with our low attention spans aren’t very good at. He did improve when fielding questions, especially when talking about the EU and its responsibility to mark it’s 50 years by wielding the considerable influence it has in ways that Britain and America can’t – especially on Darfur. Darfur was also a topic that came up at Fergal Keane’s Ulster Museum on the Road lecture on Thursday night. As regards public speaking, Fergal blew Bob out of the water. For those of you unfamiliar with Fergal, he’s a BBC correspondent who covered the Rwandan genocide, and has reported from the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and Iraq. He’s also an accomplished writer. His experience and analysis of living in an age of anger and fear was breathtaking, his stories of suffering and hope in Africa left very few dry eyes. After the Holocaust Europe said ‘never again’, then Rwanda happened as the world watched on. Keane’s book ‘Letter to Daniel’ contains his reflections on reporting the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Its well worth a read. Again we heard ‘never again’, but yet thousands have and are dying in Darfur while the world watches. China keeps blocking UN resolutions because it gets oil from Sudan so doesn’t want to endanger that, Russia is wrapped up in oil interests and with the banning of one of the opposition parties is slipping towards a police state, Britain and America are enmeshed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe its time for the EU to get involved – it has been successful in other places and has more sway than it realises. I didn’t realise that almost all the world’s peacekeeping and policing forces outside Iraq are staffed or funded primarily by Europeans. I’ve always written to my MP on these issues – maybe its time to start lobbying our MEP’s? As Geldof said – it would be a better way to celebrate 50 years than a concert with a few washed out pop stars.

For more information on Darfur check out the BBC in depth report.

World on Fire

I’ve always thought this an awesomely provocative video. A year ago I did a talk on money, and how as followers of Jesus we should think about money. As I was preparing it I realised that often my reaction to the inequalities in the world is that I should spend less, and not be so wasteful. But then I realised that all I was actually doing was being tight, not generous. God is generous and if you have a look at parts of the bible like Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 15 you’ll discover that he wants people who claim to follow him to mirror that generosity.

On a side issue, too often people think Old Testament and flinch, or think OT law – irrelevant. But if you take the time to check out what God was saying you may be surprised. God was trying to give his people some good stuff – he was saying this way that I am giving you to live isn’t a drag but is the best way there is, full of powerful visual reminders of who he is. If the Jews had ever lived out the important bits of the law they would have had a revolutionary society and economic system in which there would have been no long term poverty, immigrants, widows, orphans, the disenfranchised would all have been provided for and taken care of. The only place we see this working out is in Ruth where Boaz follows the instructions in the law to be generous and provide for the poor, not to be greedy by not harvesting every grain of whatever it was he grew from his fields.

So back to Leviticus 19 – where the whole ‘love your neighbour’ thing comes from – it is essentially talking about what it means to be holy – God’s definition is vastly different from one lots of Christians have today. Yeah there are several culturally contextual things but justice and generosity come out, and holiness isn’t about sitting on your own exuding peaceful thoughts – holiness is public and social. God knows the temptation to greed in all of us and when we are greedy we mistreat others – the roots of oppression and slavery (more on that to come later).

So coming back to my original point I realised if I am to live generously that means living more simply, but the money or excess I save is to be given away to those who need it. Hardly revolutionary I know but its easy to kid ourselves by spending less when the goal of spending less on stuff we don’t need is to be more generous to those who are in need…