More than enough : Phil Kingston : One World Week 2013
This is the text of a talk given by member Phil Kingston at Llanishen, Cardiff churches in One World Week 2013.
More than enough
Many of you will remember the Rich World/Poor World meals which we had some 15 years ago. The focus then was upon the enormous inequality between rich and poor. Sadly that continues and it is now accompanied by two major threats to the lives of the poorest, namely the overuse of what the Earth can provide and global warming.
My talk this evening will focus first of all upon inequality. I will then invite us to reflect upon 7 words in the Lord’s prayer. Next I will speak about climate change and how I as a grandparent am responding to that. Lastly, I will refer to 3 sources of support to Christians who might like to respond to what we have shared this evening.
So let’s begin by recognising the innate dignity of every person who does not currently receive what God has given for all human beings. I ask if 5 of you will be willing to join me out here for about 3 minutes to help me to demonstrate this: by holding plates which symbolise the way in which the current economic system arranges the distribution of what God has given to all.
(Could you stand in line please? The first person represents the 20% of people who receive the lowest income. I will give to the middle person one plate to symbolize what the middle 20% receive. What they receive cannot, in my view, be described as ‘enough’. The second lowest receives a half a plate, and the lowest receives a quarter of a plate. The second richest receives almost 2 and a half plates. And the richest receives almost 20 plates.)
I was surprised, and you may be surprised too, to know that the UK population has an average income which places us within the top 20%. This doesn’t of course mean that you or I are personally in this top 20% but it indicates where we are as a country in terms of income and consumption.
This exercise is a shocking indictment of an economic system which we are told has no alternative. I don’t believe that’s true because it is a system made by human beings; and it can be changed by human beings who believe that the most important way of organising our lives is under the Reign of God. As a Catholic I was heartened to read a statement by Pope Francis when he recently visited Sardinia, a region with one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy. He called this system ‘an idolatrous economic system’ that was ‘without values’. He added ‘We must say: We don’t want this globalised economic system. At the centre must be man and woman, as God wishes, not money!’
I would like to reflect upon a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer for a few moments. It is ‘give us this day our daily bread’. Two aspects of these words strike me as having great relevance for our theme of enough. First of all, it is a prayer which is quite restrained and humble. It asks for bread which, with water, meets the most basic of human needs in sustaining life. Secondly, it asks for bread for today.
Hunger and on-going uncertainty about where food will come from next must be an appalling experience. Yet it is the real experience of so many of our sisters and brothers who we remembered just now. They know the urgency and meaning of that prayer in a way which most of us here can only dimly begin to identify with. These are the people who Jesus spent most of his time with: those who were poor, oppressed and not valued in the society of his time. Jesus spoke extensively about the Reign of God, a way of life for human beings which excludes no-one, dominates no-one and ensures that the innate dignity of every person is fully honoured.
The third thing that strikes me is that Jesus’ prayer didn’t say ‘give me my daily bread’. Like the whole of the Lord’s prayer, it is phrased in the plural. Jesus tells us always to ask on behalf of everyone. That fully includes ourselves; and it never excludes anyone.
It is a big call which God asks us to take when we decide to follow Jesus: that all that God has given is to be shared and that no-one is to be excluded.
During our life-time, you and I have seen an extraordinary increase in the material wealth of British people. As we saw in the exercise, this material gain has not been shared equally throughout the world; and it has not been shared equally within our own society. Very important is that this material gain has been at the cost of the Earth; and which for this last 40 years the Earth has not been able to sustain. Never-ending growth on a finite planet is a contradiction in terms. Yet all of our main political parties are promising more growth as the only answer to our economic problems.
I imagine that most primary school children will have no difficulty in seeing that never-ending growth is not possible; but we adults? Well, thank God that increasing numbers of us recognise that by using more of the Earth than is there, we do great harm to the poorest peoples, to God’s amazing and beautiful creation, and to our descendents. Very slowly, more of us are recognising that we have to live much more simply and frugally and to ask God for the grace to be satisfied with enough. And what is enough? I will say that there are two criteria for this. One is what the Earth can offer without further depletion so that it can give everyone’s descendents the fullness of life which we have now. The other is to ensure that God’s gift of the Earth is equally shared so that all have enough both now and in the future.
Probably the most serious aspect of Earth’s depletion and destruction is via the effects of Climate Change. I will speak frankly about this. The report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was published last month states two things with great clarity and scientific backing. The first is that climate change is already happening. The whole world is experiencing extremes of weather. The second is that climate change is primarily caused by the use of fossil fuels and that an enormous reduction in those is essential.
According to the UN report and to a report from the World Bank, the Earth is heading for an increase in temperature of 4 degrees Centigrade unless this enormous reduction in CO2 emissions happens – and happens very quickly. There is a statement in the World Bank report which all of us who support the work of Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund will find disturbing. This is what it says: ‘No nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change. However, the distribution of impacts is likely to be tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions’. Those who are being hardest hit and will increasingly be hardest hit are the ones with the quarter plate and half plate. What life will be like for them hardly bears thinking about. But think and pray we must; and then trust that God will inspire us to do what is necessary.
What I say next may shock some of you and perhaps affirm others. With other grandparents, I am seeking to bring awareness of what is being done to the Earth, through an organisation called Grandparents for a Safe Earth.
Our grandparents group has long experience of writing to government and corporations about these matters and we have mainly been met with bland responses. Because of this we have decided that when our requests for information and dialogue are not met, we will draw attention to this by taking nonviolent direct action.
I do not easily take a decision to break the law. Most of my career was in social work education, much of it in the training of probation officers. Living within the law is a prerequisite for an ordered and peaceable society. But what if the law supports the destruction of the Earth, with all of the consequences which I have outlined?
A few weeks ago, 5 grandmothers and myself went into the Bristol offices of Royal Bank of Scotland because if its investments in fossil fuels. According to research by WDM, if the CO2 emissions generated by these investments are more than one and a half times the annual CO2 emissions of the UK. We took with us a letter to the person in charge and leaflets for staff saying that we would stay until we received a satisfactory response to our requests for information, particularly whether these investments are being reduced.
Each of us has made a commitment to nonviolent behaviour, whether physical or verbal and our letter made it clear that our intention was to seek information and dialogue. We were not given the answers we sought; instead the police were called and we were escorted out or removed from the Bank’s offices. A video of our action can be seen on YouTube by Googling The Grandparents Strike Again YouTube.
This is what some of the grandmothers said before they took this action:
One said: ‘I couldn’t bear to think that I had stood by and done nothing to stop the Earth being ruined.’
Another said: ‘If we don’t think ahead, climate change will overwhelm us.’
And a third said: ‘These people must be held to account for what they are doing. Held to account by ordinary citizens like us.’
I would add that each of us in the richer countries who already have more than enough owe it to the poorest peoples, to future generations and to God’s creation to hold ourselves to account.
So what can we do?
There is a prayer to the Holy Spirit which has deep meaning in our present crisis. It is :-
‘Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts
Enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we will be created.
And you will renew the face of the Earth.
WE WILL BE CREATED AND THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL RENEW THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
In terms of information which may be valuable to you, there are two Christian organisations which I recommend. One is Operation Noah which is currently asking churches to disinvest from fossil fuels. The other is Christian Ecology Link which has some very practical programs for reducing our own carbon footprint, especially one called Ecocell. And there is a very important report just published by CAFOD called What Have We Done? It is about climate change and our responsibilities both with regard to preventing it and to ameliorating its impacts upon the poor.
May God bless you and inspire you in all of your concerns.
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Comments on "More than enough : Phil Kingston : One World Week 2013"
Thanks Phil- when you put Jesus's actions- eg Feeding of the 5 Thousand, in this social context, it makes so much sense. 12 baskets left over? And there was certainly" Joy in Enough" at this event! Once you factor in that he is talking with people/children who probably go to bed feeling hungry -another dimension enters in. Mary
Hi Mary, I was unaware that this was on the web until I saw it today, 8th May! I value very much your placing of Jesus in his social and economic context. It emphasises just how counter-cultural his life was. I have recently read 'Jesus: An Historical Approximation' by Jose Pagola, a book the like of which I
Professor Mary Grey responds :- "Dear Phil, I was very inspired by your talk - thank you for sharing. I want to add something about what you say about the “Our Father”. This is from a talk I gave in Sheffield on Jesus and non-violence – comparing this with the situation now with Israeli checkpoints: I’m summarising the relevant bits and stressing some phrases: hope you can read it! It’s the stress on hunger and the way Jesus changed the Lord’s prayer that really riveted me. Best wishes, Mary Grey" "These two features addressed the fractured life of poor people under the Roman Empire, because they reflect the unjust land situation – and thus another link with today’s situation in Israel and the West Bank for the Arab population. Undoubtedly some larger landowners were enriched; but many poor farmers’ land was amalgamated with larger estates and freehold farmers became tenant farmers or day labourers. So, even if the later tradition encouraged the voluntary leaving of land and possession “for Christ’s sake,” Jesus’ own practice was rooted in resisting societal corporate injustice. Commensality - or eating practices - were also linked with justice. This is linked not only with the fact that – as is usually stated – Jesus “ate with prostitutes and sinners” – but more associated with the reality that the unjust distribution of land meant massive hunger. Because the unjust situation of Antipas’ Kingdom had gone so far, there was no possibility of insisting on just land redistribution. All that was possible was to attempt the redistribution of land and healing, of the material and spiritual bases, from the bottom upward. That was the Kingdom of God. On earth." "The Pax Romana had fractured the ancient safety nets of peasant kinship, the new discipleship around Jesus attempted to restore this through table fellowship. Even more striking is how this was reflected in the prayer of Jesus. The Jewish Torah had stressed the importance of justice for the land and release from debt. The prayer of Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer, changes the priority to food and debt. “Give us this day our daily bread” speaks directly to the hunger of poor people. Many biblical scholars understand the Jesus movement as a movement of resistance to the Roman Empire and the transformation of this regime of violence and oppression into an alternative society of justice, peace, forgiveness and love. Ched Myers argues that this is exactly the reason that Jesus came to Capernaum by the Sea, with its seventeen fishing villages, to begin his ministry. Go where the pain is felt the most, he asserts. So, it is no surprise that given Jesus’ compassion for the misery of the fisher folk that the call of Matthew to be part of the movement happens so soon. Matthew (Levi) had probably sold fishing rights to the people and charged interest. The fishing industry was for the poor people of this region the public face of the injustice of the Roman Empire. Yet there is an even more radical vital level to the agenda for the Kingdom."