Monday, 25 May 2020

Equality is Biblical

I wanted to write this book because I saw a gap in the way the church approaches the issue of male-female equality in leadership and service.

Everyone agrees that women may be equally as capable as men of leadership, but not everyone agrees that women can be permitted to lead.

The church mainly divides into two strands on this issue — theologically liberal groups/individuals, who believe men and women may equally lead and equally serve; and theologically conservative groups/individuals, who believe in male headship (that men should lead and women should serve men). 

This extends into the domestic sphere with the (conservative theological) assumption that women should take responsibility for cooking, cleaning and childcare (the work of a domestic servant) and obey her husband, and that men occupy the position of master/head of the household and their work is in the public sphere (as a businessman, artisan, farmer, factory hand, or whatever). I have even known a theologically conservative Christian man, with a wife and children of his own, offer to extend the protecting shelter of his spiritual authority over another household — a mother with two boys. Being also theologically conservative, she was pleased to accept.

It also ramifies into the question of being heard, as women's voices are silenced by a subservient role; they are not part of making the decisions, and therefore do not shape the faith community (in a theologically conservative setting).

The two strands of attitudes to this issue proceed from two different understandings of biblical authority. The more liberal groups sit looser to biblical authority and are more inclined to move with the times, and may not even consider the Bible to be divinely inspired (there is variety of opinion on this). The more conservative groups look to biblical authority to govern all aspects of their lives, and believe the Bible to be the "Word of God".

There is between these two approaches an apparently uncrossable chasm.

But I have for some while thought there is a third way, which this book proposes, that I hadn't heard anyone teaching so I wanted to share it.

It is common, in those who revere the Bible as divinely authoritative, to look to proof texts for direction in establishing how to proceed. But I think, even for those who reverence the Bible as God's holy Word, that this is an incorrect handling of holy Writ. 

Through the pages of the Bible we see the development of the people of God — changing attitudes. For instance, in the Old Testament we see the Law of Moses establishing purity codes of separation for holiness of Jews from Gentiles, and dietary rules for kosher food. But in the New Testament (in the book of Acts) we see God communing directly with Peter, and God's Spirit at work in Paul, moving them to leave behind these former restrictions and embrace a church where Jew and Gentile can mingle together, eat together, live together and inter-marry. There are other examples, but that is a very clear one.

So, in seeking biblical wisdom we can see it is important to trace the journey — the direction — in which the Spirit is leading us, not merely take a snapshot moment and apply it as set in stone for ever.

In the example of Paul and in some things Jesus said and did, we see a very clear difference in attitude to women from the Old Testament view of them as chattels given as multiple wives to men.  

It is therefore important that those who are serious about reverencing the Bible as divinely inspired should take account of the the journey or direction in which the Scriptures are leading us, in order to follow in the way, not get stuck in the mud. Proof texts do not give us all the information we need. We also have to trace the direction.

I would say, then, that we do better to consider the Bible as a map than as a manual, showing us where we are now, where we have come from, but also — crucially — where we should be headed.

With that in mind, in Equality is Biblical I trace the role of women in the church from its origin through to where we are now, and where the direction that becomes thereby apparent will take us next. 

As well as taking note of the direction of biblical teaching on any given issue, it is important to consider that issue in the context of biblical teaching as a whole. For those who are strictly conservative and reluctant to accept the illumination of textual criticism of the Bible, let me add the reassurance that I mean considering an issue within the context of the whole Bible, not considering the Bible within the context of what scholars say about it (though I personally evaluate scholarship as helpful). Even the most theologically conservative Christian on the planet should surely welcome a holistic reading of the Bible, holding in mind and taking account of all its texts in reading any one.

My book also looks at examples showing how the role of women has changed at different times in church history.

So, in considering the role of women in society and in the church, and how we might shape this by biblical principles as applied by those who hold the Bible to be the divinely inspired Word of God, I have looked at the matter within the context of salvation history as the Bible describes it. I have written with the assumption that cursing and blessing are real, not quaint archaisms, that there is a divine order, and that biblical teaching is a trustworthy foundation for us to build our lives on. I have only gone outside the text where some of the philosophical and contemporary sociological resonances usefully illuminate the biblical material.

In tracing the direction of development within the Bible itself (not the development of attitudes to the Bible) and in taking into consideration what the Bible has to say about leadership, service, and salvation, I have come to the conclusion that equality is biblical.

I also spend a little time thinking about how increasing feminine energy in the way we worship might moderate the masculine energy currently dominating our models of worship, to build safer and more spiritually robust faith communities.

If all that sounds interesting to you, Equality is Biblical is now available in the UK (publishing later in the year in the US), from a variety of bookstores, such as Eden, Waterstones and Amazon UK,  or directly from the publisher SPCK

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Campfire Church for Ascension

From the Campfire Church this morning.

I can think of three ways that spiritual power moves — there may be others, but three will do for the moment. We’re going to look at them one by one over three weeks. Next week we’ll be thinking about the principle of cauldron energy — how power moves in circles, or spirals, nurturing and accumulating power. The week after that we’ll think about the principle of sword energy — how power can move in a sudden shaft, cutting through. 

But for this week, let’s look at the principle of bellows energy — how power moves in a combination of opposition and conjunction; two halves working together.

Nature is in God and God is in nature. It isn’t helpful to speak of the working of the Holy Spirit as supernatural. The way of faith is natural, because nature comes from God. Nature is God singing.

The psalmist speaks of the life of creation like God breathing in and out, saying (Psalm 104.29-30), 

“When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground..”

This is bellows energy — breathing in, breathing out. Opposing forces working in conjunction.

Life is made up of balancing pairs: a bird needs both wings to fly. If you keep hens and don’t want your birds to roost in the trees, all you need to do it trim the wing-feather tips on one side, and it cannot fly.

The blood moves in our vascular system through a balancing pattern of arteries and veins.

Our depth vision comes from having two eyes working together.

Our bodies come in the first place from the conjoining of the male and female principles balancing humanity and expressing the wholeness of God in nature, the power of life.

Our bodies develop by dividing, the emergence of balancing pairs — like the brain and the gut that develop as a balancing pair joined by the vagus nerve, or the skin microbiome that balances with the microbiome in the lumen of the gut; the outer and the inner.

This is the bellows principle, two aspects working in conjunction and opposition to express power.

There is an invisible dimension to it as well — it is not only physical.

You can observe the bellows principle in scattering and gathering, in dismembering and remembering; and we touch this mystery in our Eucharist, as we think of the body of Christ broken on the cross and gathered together in the people of God, symbolised in the bread which is gathered together in one loaf from the grain that was scattered on the hillside, and fell into the ground and died to produce a harvest.

At Ascensiontide, when we think of Jesus leaving Earth to return to Heaven, we also touch the mystery of separation and belonging, of losing and finding, of embracing and parting. This is the bellows principle of the working of spiritual power.

The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is like the opening of the highway for our souls. It is the second half, the completion of a balancing pair. At the Incarnation, he came down, and made a way into human being. Then at the Ascension he travels upward, taking humanity up into divine being. He creates the new and living way that knits together heaven and earth. And next week we’ll be looking at how he opens that new and living way, for us.

So, though we may think of the Ascension of Jesus as being about leaving, separating, parting, losing, saying goodbye, being on your own now — when we touch the mystery and feel it, we begin to see that it is also about joining up, connecting, reconciling, restoring, embracing, saying hello, never having to be on your own again.

As Jesus put it. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it..” (Matt 16.25)

This is the secret to living without fear, having the freedom to love. You do not need to grasp or cling, to clutch tightly, afraid of what you may lose or of being lost yourself. It isn’t like that. There is birth and there is death, but life is eternal, life goes on breathing in and breathing out. Always breathing in and never out isn’t useful, it’s an asthma attack. Problems arise where things accumulate. We make peace with reality when we learn not only to hold on but also to let go.

And in the times we are currently passing through, this lesson is essential. We are letting go of the old — which brings both uncertainty and grief, it is uncomfortable; but it is necessary to make way for the new.

And this is the mystery of the Ascension.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Sermon for The Campfire Church, 6th Sunday of Easter.

Our household had two rescue cats, Ted and Miguel, who were much beloved. Miguel assigned himself to Alice, and Ted assigned himself to Hebe. Seriously, you never knew cats who had so much love and care lavished upon them. Miguel is black and Ted was a jellicle cat, white with a black tail and black splodges here and there — and almond-shaped, calm green eyes. He was not an old cat, but he had a heart murmur, a damaged hip from a bad fall when he was a kitten, and health undermined by repeated antibiotics from incorrigible warfare. He was a serene and contented cat, but he was very thin and clearly struggling a bit. We watched over him with some concern. He hated visiting the vet — it terrified him. We worried about what might soon be coming.

On the 23rd March, the UK went into lockdown, and all our lives changed abruptly.

Before that, on March 21st, Ted had his breakfast, went out to play in the garden, was seen wandering happily in our neighbour’s garden, probably went for a saunter over the wall into the wilderness behind our houses . . . and never came home.

As the nation was gripped by anxiety and panic buying, stockpiling toilet paper and obsessing over the news, our household descended into mourning. Hebe, who was closest to Ted, lost her sense of self, no longer knew who she was, lost hold of any sense of purpose. Overnight, any feeling that her life had a point to it evaporated.

The nation locked down in Lent, and as the people withdrew into their houses and the death toll began to rise, we moved into Holy Week . . . loneliness in Gethsemane, scourging . . . crucifixion . . . a hasty removal of a dead body to a borrowed tomb . . . a body that had to wait wrapped in grave clothes for last rites to be performed, because the lockdown of the Sabbath prohibited those offices being carried out.

As March moved into April, the forces of restriction, limitation and hard-won progress continued to grapple with currents of death and transformation, as people hunkered down in their homes, nursing staff vanished unrecognisably behind masks, loved ones were forbidden from visiting, Covid patients were sedated into a living death to see if ventilation might pull them through de-oxygenation to a new chance at life. Businesses went to the wall, jobs were lost, thousands died, and governments around the world were laid bare for all to see their competence or lack of it, their ideologies and the implications of them.

Themes surface from the lockdown:

  • Firstly, the spiritual imperative of choice — what kind of world do we want? To what pathway will we commit, walking forward? What kind of a world do we want to build? The virus has shown us with stark clarity that, unless we want wave after wave of similar infections, economic dissolution, mass dying and the collapse of society, we have to pay attention to what causes them — climate change, routine use of antibiotics causing resistance, intensive agriculture and factory farming, deforestation and desertification, illegal trading in wildlife and  — above all — consumer culture that takes immeasurably more than it gives back.
  • Secondly, a theme of setting your house in order; whether sorting through belongings, house repairs, making your will and ordering your business affairs, looking to your financial structures; setting your house in order has become a theme emerging from lockdown. 
  • Thirdly, a theme of power and control — authoritarian governments clamping down, insistence on personal freedoms, the withering of trust in government and the shakiness of old social norms.
  • Fourthly, as those with houses shelter in isolation or quarantine, and those without found themselves displaced onto the margins, locked in or locked out, abandoned and hungry, humanity has been forced to behold the terrors of social exclusion, and re-evaluate the trustworthiness of authority figures.
  • Then fifthly, as April moved into May, and daunting realities about the indeterminate nature of the pandemic became apparent, religion, belief systems, life philosophy, the individual’s vision, ideals, and growth potential, all came under review.

Going forward, we have to face up to the dangers of escapism and of allowing manipulative people to channel their agenda through us. We have to find the courage to stop re-living the past, to let go of old constructs that no longer serve us. Now is the time for us to shed old skins that have become confining and tight, so that what we are becoming can find space to breathe.

It’s a time for patience, for humbly accepting limitation, for biding our time. It’s the time for being, as Jesus put it, as simple as doves but as wily as dragons. This is the time for humility and transparency, but not for naivety or credulity. This is a time when the gift of discernment is sovereign as we inch forward into the new.

But I told you the story of Ted dying at the beginning of this, to bring before your imagination that above all the hallmark of these days is that thing Jesus said — unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, there can be no harvest.

What fascinated us in our household was the rightness of Ted’s dying. Yes, it was full of sorrow — it rent Hebe’s soul as the dying of those we love always tears us in two. And yet, despite the grief and the shock and the loss, it felt so right. A simple, quick, natural end. No frightening visit to the vet, no chemical euthanasia; simplicity. It was a pointer for us, as we looked at the pictures on the news of sedated bodies with tubes of every kind coming out of them. Ted’s dying helped us know what we wanted.

Above all else, it gently orientated us towards the focus of our present time, which has to do with making peace with death. Whether that comes to us in the form of frightening financial losses, the loss of income sources, the loss of loved ones to death, or isolation and separation from them because of the spectre of death. Whether it is about accepting the bankruptcy of our society, and letting go of old habits, leaving the comfort zone of the familiar and the selfish in favour of shaping a new discipline that regenerates the earth and works for the wellbeing of all humanity — however it comes to us, the nature of the time we are in is all about death and resurrection. 

Here in the Campfire Church, we have lit a candle and kept vigil with Peggy’s 9-year-old great-nephew Carter, as his life gradually and reluctantly ebbed away. Until in the end his death came as the most right and the most heartbreaking thing on earth.

The task of humanity at the present time is allowing the mortal to put on immortality, letting the perishable die so that we may embrace the imperishable, relinquishing materialism in favour of a path determined by spiritual vision, letting go of the death dealt by cruel authoritarian religion and corrupt, cowardly governance, that conspired with mob violence to nail Christ to his cross, in favour of the new and living way of the risen Jesus, the second Adam, the man who came through.

This is not achieved without intense discomfort. There is no need to be afraid, but no doubt we will be. When all we know is that some measure of loss will be ours in this immense transformation — be it our home, our income, our health, our life itself, or simply the comfortable familiarity of the way things used to be. Of course we will be afraid. We are only human.

But for such times there are two prayers I learned from the jesuit Brennan Manning:

The first is, simply, to say over and over again, “Abba, I belong to you. Abba, I belong to you. Abba, I belong to you.”

And the second, from the psalms of King David the warrior, who was never ashamed of his own vulnerability: “When I am most afraid, I put my trust in you. When I am most afraid, I put my trust in you. When I am most afraid, I put my trust in you.”

The darkest hour is just before the dawn. There’s a new day coming.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Universal Basic Income — surely the time has come

The more I think about Universal Basic Income, the more problems I think it would address.

Here are 4 important ones:

#1 It would create employment choice. It would uncouple the necessity connection between employer and employee. For instance, in this pandemic as economies re-open, it would give workers the choice of accepting the opportunity of returning to work or of looking for different employment if their current work or workplace put them or their families at too much risk. Similarly, it would make it far easier to consider relocating to a different part of the country. For instance, people in poverty in the south east of England could relocate to the north, where housing is much cheaper; and people who would love to live in the countryside (where public transport links are poor) but who are tied to an urban job would find it easier to realise their dream.

#2 It would change beyond recognition the lives of people with hidden and undiagnosed conditions (including neurodiversity and psychiatric challenges or trauma), whose limitations make it impossible for them to manage a regular job in mainstream culture. Many such people are not only content with little, they actually have a profound need for a simple, quiet, boundaried existence. A small income allowing them to live in peace would be such a relief.

#3 It would strengthen the local economy, both regionally and nationally. Poor people spend their money on meeting their immediate needs — food and clothing, for instance — so their expenditure benefits their neighbourhood, creating employment in providing local goods and services. Rich people take money out of the local economy, because their lives are on a larger scale and because they absorb money from the localities where they trade and barrow it away to stash in a tax haven.
Of course, rich people would get UBI too, but as they already strip out so much from the common purse and remove it from circulation so it benefits no one but themselves, an extra few thousand a year from the common purse into theirs is only what’s happening anyway.

#4  It would do away the need for a significant tranche of welfare benefits admin, allowing their bureaucratic structure to be both streamlined and more effective. UBI should actually work out cheaper than the current welfare benefits system, and should also alleviate cost to the common purse in healthcare, by alleviating anxiety and poverty diseases (eg malnutrition). It would also give recipients the possibility of studying, and thus enhance their possibilities of further escaping poverty.

The sort of sum I am imagining is five or (even better) six thousand pounds a year (in the UK). It’s not much, but it would make the difference between being able to imagine a future and bleak despair, in many lives.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Rogation Sunday at The Campfire Church

Yesterday was Rogation Sunday, and in our gathering at The Campfire Church on Facebook, Grace led our worship.

She included this beautiful opening prayer (from a Methodist source, she said):
O God, 
who hast placed us as thy children 
in a world thou hast created for us: 
Give us thankful hearts as we work and as we pray.
We praise thee for the day of light and life,

 for the night which brings rest and sleep, 
and for the ordered course of nature, 
seedtime and harvest, 
which thou hast given us.
We bless thee that thou hast given us the joy of children, 

the wisdom of old men.
We thank thee for all holy and humble men of heart, 

for the love of God and man 
which shines forth in commonplace lives, 
and above all for the vision of thyself, 
in loneliness and in fellowship, 
in Sacrament and in prayer;
for these and all other benefits 

we praise and glorify the name, 
now and for evermore. 

Our reading (read to us by Tony) was from John 14.1-14.

You probably know Grace, if you often read and comment here, as Buzzfloyd. This was her sermon (I'll add the text under the video).

"Maybe, like me, you find it a little strange to jump from the Easter story that we’ve been following, back to words of Jesus from before he went to Jerusalem. But this is a reminder that the Resurrection is not the end of the story – there was more that Jesus intended to do.
In this reading, Jesus is firmly identifying himself with God’s purpose and authority. When he says, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life,” he is referencing and taking to himself the name of God as given to Moses – “I am that I am.” Understanding Jesus as the Son of God, acting as God, is important as we approach the endgame of Eastertide.
On Thursday it will be Ascension Day, when we think about the Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus disappearing from view into the heavens. This completes the arc of Jesus’ journey through the three worlds of ancient Jewish belief – the world of God (Heaven), the world of humans, and the world of the dead – thus stitching them together with the divine thread of his presence in each of them, and opening up a new and living way that reconnects God with His creation.
In the story Tony read to us, Jesus also talks about what the disciples will do next, and how they will continue his work, enabled to act as agents of God through their faith in Christ. Pen talked the other day about how the gospel-writer, John, was steering his faith community to look at the progression of Christ into the body of the believers. Once the man Jesus is gone, the work of the disciples as Christ on earth really begins. That is the focus of this week, and it’s something we can think about in our own lives too.
The days before Ascension are traditionally known as Rogationtide – a time of beseeching God for his care over the newly planted crops. Without God’s blessing at the time of planting, what hope was there for the harvest? So this is a time of looking ahead at the path we are starting to walk now, and asking God’s blessing on our journey forward.
Right now is a bit of a strange time to think about new beginnings, as most of us are stuck indoors and unable to do many of the things we normally do. But perhaps we are like seeds planted in the ground, germinating. Perhaps this is the time when something new, something radical will begin. We thought a few weeks ago about the idea of the Kairos moment – action at the right time – and whether this moment in history might not be one in which it is possible to effect profound and necessary change.
Perhaps this time has made you ask questions of your own life: how or whether you will get through this; what you might do when the pandemic is over; what changes you might be deciding to make, now or in the future. We ask God’s blessing on whatever we are sowing at this time, that it may grow to fruition; and that our choices may themselves bless us and those we are connected with.
Rogationtide, in this country, was also the time for the beating of the bounds. The people of each parish would meet, usually at a so-called Gospel Tree, an old tree which was often an oak, marking the edge of the parish boundary. They were then led by the clergy around the edges of the parish and each farmer’s land, reaffirming where the limits of private land and common land lay. This protected both landowners by confirming their right to farm on their plot, and the common folk from those who would exceed their own space. So this is also a time for thinking about what falls into our remit and is our job to do, and what is out of our hands.
When thinking about changes that need to be made, it can be overwhelming to look at the bigger picture of our broken earth, the harm that man continues to do to man, the monolith of Mammon that absorbs our politics and our societies. So I think it’s important to remember to beat the bounds. Let me take care of my garden and you take care of yours. We are all connected, of course – if I spray pesticides on my garden, it will surely devastate the wildlife of yours – but in the end we can each only do so much.
Knowing that we can only do so much reminds us, then, that our future is in God’s hands. There is nothing in this world that we can truly rely on apart from him. But Jesus assures of God’s provision for us – “Do not be worried or upset; I am going to prepare a place for you.” 
So today, on Rogation Sunday, let this be our prayer:
O God, our Father and our Mother,
Walk the bounds with us. 
Mark out for us what we are tasked with, 
and do not give us more than we can handle.
Bless our beginnings, our changes, our fresh takes. 
Protect and care for us.
Bless our home ground, 
our Gospel Trees, 
our projects that have grown strong and sturdy 
over the passage of time. 
Give us faith.
Help us to follow you in the way of life, 
and to see your kingdom come here and now. 
And when the time comes, 
bring us joyfully home to rest with you. 
In Jesus’ name, 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Set your house in order

Waking as the sunrise begins to fill the room with light, I am blessed by the consummate quiet of these days. 

Last night we sat out in the darkening garden watching the flower moon rising through the sky, so resplendent, so close to the earth.

This is the most spiritual time I have ever known. So many watchers and listeners are saying it is a portal, and so it seems to me. It's like the mother of all advents.

It's a challenger and a revealer and a winnower.

Over and again I feel it asking:

What matters to you?
What do you want?
What world will you shape by your choices?

And, insistently:

Are you ready?

Where my gaze will always fall on it as I wake up, the calligraphy on the wall of my room catches the morning light.

Set your house in order.

This kairos both reveals the state of things and offers us a chance — a last chance, I suspect — to set our house in order. There is work to be done that it is imperative we do not neglect.

What do you want?
Are you ready?
Set your house in order.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Guest post on growth economy, from Tony Collins

 Can we continue to grow?

Recently the journalist and environmental activist George Monbiot posted a short film about the looming dangers of economic growth. He made the point that governments across the world aspire to an annual growth rate of 3%, which means a doubling of the world economy in 24 years. 
This – if it continues – equates to uncontrolled expansion in a finite system, which is a pretty good definition of cancer. We can’t afford it. Behind the apparently modest ambition of a rising economy lies a steady drive to consume more of the world’s resources, pushing the natural world and those humans least able to defend themselves to the brink and beyond.
This is not new. In the summer of 1970, under the aegis of The Club of Rome, an international team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began a study of the implications of continued worldwide growth. They examined the five basic factors that determine and, in their interactions, ultimately limit growth on this planet: population increase, agricultural production, non-renewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation. 
The MIT team fed data on these five factors into a global computer model and then tested the behaviour of the model under several sets of assumptions to determine alternative patterns for mankind’s future. Their conclusion: The earth’s interlocking resources – the global system of nature in which we all live – probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100. The findings were presented in an influential report called The Limits to Growth, which is still available. 
The Club of Rome, which has branches in many countries, remains active and respected, though frequently opposed by advocates of capitalism.
Fifty years on, the report’s conclusions seem unavoidable. If anything, with carbon emissions wreaking havoc, we have less space to manoeuvre. So, with time running out, where do we go from here? George Monbiot advocates a community approach, where public facilities – shared, and therefore far less damaging to the planet – replace private ones. By acting together, all may prosper. 
However, this does require imagination. For some years I lived in a wealthy village in Kent. One year a proposal came before the council to build a swimming pool for the community, but it was thrown out, on the grounds that everyone had their own. 
Over the last few weeks there have been widespread calls for a change of direction. During this time of lockdown there has been an impetus towards community engagement. The British government, despite its large Conservative majority, has been sounding remarkably warm towards the public sector. So what are the chances of a more communitarian approach?
It’s possible. There are initiatives worth applauding. A current example: Birmingham, in the UK, recently announced its ambition to be recognised as a Tree City of the World, and has set itself the target of achieving a tree canopy of 25-30%. Volunteer tree wardens are being trained to care for trees, to advocate for them, and to recommend spaces for new planting. The city is working together to improve the lives of all. This is part of a larger movement, a rising awareness: across the world rewilding movements are taking hold. Given a chance, nature is quick to recover. 
Not all the signs are bad. Hans Rosling’s highly readable book Factfulness, released a couple of years ago, enumerates the global achievements of the last century – literacy for women, spreading global wealth, falling child mortality, the development of protected nature reserves, the fall in deaths from war, starvation and disease. If you want a cheerfulness boost, Rosling’s book is a goldmine. 
Optimism is justifiable, but we have to be realistic: we must stop fouling our nest, or the precious natural world is going to – not die, because Creation is too robust for that – but suffer distortions which it will take centuries to recover from. If we do not act decisively, our children and grandchildren will see huge diebacks, mounting civic unrest, an increase in dictatorships, rising nationalism, widespread starvation, poverty for billions. 
We still have a chance to turn the ship around. In our path, however, stands the current practice of economics. Investors expect shares to generate results. The key responsibility of a company is to maximize wealth for its owners, the shareholders. Many of the best-performing stocks have been in extractive industries such as oil, coal and metals, or in military equipment, or in other ethically bankrupt businesses such as tobacco or gambling. 
Corporate greed is an ugly thing, but we cannot pretend we are not complicit. We are all subscribers to the market in shares if we have savings accounts or pension funds, so very few of us have clean hands. If we use the services of one of the major high street banks, we are contributing, to some degree, in the destruction of the earth, because their shareholders demand high returns and most major banks invest in undesirable stocks. There are honourable exceptions: in the UK Nationwide has an excellent track record, for instance. There is a lot of debate in the banking sector about what it means to ‘bank green’.
One way we can contribute to a better society is to live simply, to reduce our footprint, to consume less, to buy organic, locally-grown food. Ask yourself two questions regularly: do I need this? And, how did this commodity reach me? Cheap food and cheap clothing bring with them hidden victims. The city of Amsterdam has been conducting a review of its economic policies, and one of the items thrown up has been the import to the city of chocolate, some of which is grown with the use of slavery or child labour. Agricultural practices are a huge part of the debate. Your table fork is probably your most important weapon, for good or ill. (Your second most important weapon may be your wardrobe. The world of fast fashion is not a friend of the future).
Another way of contributing to a better future is to use the checks and balances in the system. There is an honourable record of socially-conscious shareholders calling to account the executives of both companies and pension funds. If you have the know-how and tenacity, keep your money in the system and make it work for the planet.
A third way is to invest, yourself, in ethical stocks. Many unit trusts have significant ethical portfolios. The light is dawning on some of the biggest asset management companies: as reported recently in MoneyObserver, ‘BlackRock chief executive officer Larry Fink signed two letters at the start of this year that signalled a tipping point for sustainable investing. In his annual letters to clients, the head of the world’s largest asset manager said his firm would divest from thermal coal and put sustainability at the heart of its investment decisions.’ For canny investors there are good alternatives to fossil fuels: one of the leading developers of solar power, Solarcentury, recently announced positive results. But take proper financial advice – not from me – before committing yourself.
At the start of this short piece I asked, ‘Can we continue to grow?’ The answer, obviously, is no. There are encouraging signs that the message is being heard. One political leader asking the right questions is Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, who argues that welfare, not growth, should be the goal of the economy. 
These concerns are both long-term and urgent. Most of us are simply struggling to get by, and these big questions may seem beyond our pay grade, or too depressing. But not all the news is bad – and, given a chance, the planet can recover.

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Metta Sutta

 . . . .   With the thought of light, I want to encompass the world
          And may this light extend to its four horizons
          And then, with the thought of light increasing beyond measure
          Let light encompass the whole Universe

The Metta Sutta (marked for chanting)

This is what shoùld be done by one who is skìlled in goodness…
…And who knows the páth of peace:

Let them be ab`le and upright, straightforward and gèntle in speech,
Humble and nót conceited, contented and easíly satisfied,

Unburdèned with duties // and frugal ìn their ways;
Peaceful and calm and wíse and skilful, not proud and demandíng in nature.

Let them not do the slìghtest thing that the wise would latèr reprove;
Wishing: in gladness and ín safety, may all beings bé at ease.

Whatever living beings thère may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omìtting none,
The great ór the mighty, // medium, shórt or small;

The seen and thè unseen, those living near and fàr away,
Those born and tó-be-born – // may all beings bé at ease!

Let none decèive another, // nor despise any being in àny state.
Let none through anger ór ill-will // wish harm upón another.

Even as a mother protects wìth her life // her child, her ònly child,
So with a bóundless heart // should one cherish all líving beings:

Radiàting kindness // over the entìre world:
Spreading upwards tó the skies, // and downwards tó the depths;

Outwards ànd unbounded, // freed from hatred ànd ill-will.
Whether standíng or walking, // seated or lýing down,

Free from dròwsiness, // one should sustain this rècollection.
This is sáid to be // the sublíme abiding.

By not holding tò fixed views, // the pure-hearted one, having clarit`y of vision,
Being freed from all sénse desires, is not born again intó this world.