Developing a Deeper Understanding of Localisation
Localisation is pretty central to the Joy in Enough message. Not just because it reduces travel demand and the carbon emissions arising from global trade and tourism. Not just because it supports local food production. Not just because it supports ‘buying local’ and the promotion of local industries and services (including and the renovation and re-use services). But because the fostering of active, joyful, and mutually caring local communities is the best antidote to consumerism and to the wiles of the marketing man
But localisation, living a more localised life, is not that easy for us Christians, is it?
On a Sunday morning I tuned in to Sunday Worship at St Martin’s in the Field – just at the point that Sam Wells was preaching the sermon . It’s worth listening to in full –
He was discussing the story of the Good Samaritan –
‘It’s a nice, transparent fable about being kind to mugging victims, yes? Don’t walk by on the other side; do pick people up and look after them. No, it isn’t. It’s an offence to common-sense and conventional wisdom, that’s what it is. A deliberate provocation. Look at the context. Everyone knew before Jesus even opened his mouth that you were supposed to be good to your neighbour. It said so in the Jewish law. The perfectly sensible follow-up question, was: okay, who is my neighbour, then? Where do I draw the line, because in a world of finite people with finite resources, it’s obvious that I can’t care for everybody.’ (My emphasis)
‘But the question the story of Jesus is meant to make you ask is the same one he prompted in the stories he told. Who am I in it? … What news of me, troubling and wonderful, might it bring? Who am I in it? ‘
Sam Wells is always worth listening to. Later that day I was reminded of his challenging words. A friend of mine complained about the intercessions at an Anglican service she had attended that day. It just went on and on she said, a litany of the world’s woes, a bit like a resume of the TV news bulletin sensational headlines for the week. How can we meaningfully pray for all the victims of domestic abuse or fmg, or of every disaster or injustice from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, she asked? How can we spread our compassion so widely?
Is this what the parable of the Good Samaritan is saying? Is this what Christian living in 2017 means?
I stayed with this question overnight. I woke up thinking of the writing of Herbert Simon. An amazing man. His research and writing covered the fields of psychology, economics and management, among many. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/1978/simon-bio.html
One of his favourite quotes was: ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention’
Our ability to process information is seriously limited. Even in his time (he lived from 1916 to 2001) he recognised that our ability to process information, and to effectively act on it, was being stretched beyond its limits. One of the (many) things wrong with neoliberal economics is that it is arrogantly asserts our almost God-like capacity to process vast amounts of information. How much more severe has this overload problem got since – not just in the shopping mall and the workplace but also in the home – and even in the church, in the last two decades?
So next morning I took down my copy of Mark Powley’s Consumer Detox, a very readable analysis of consumerism from a Christian viewpoint. Mark discusses the importance of the ‘burning yes’ if we want to cultivate deeper lives. This may mean saying no to a lot of things that make us very busy now, if we are to create space for something deeper.
In particular he believes that this ‘burning yes’ is more likely to be found ‘by being available to those around us. Yes to being online less and on life more. Yes to the world outside our windows’ (p170).
He is advising us to spend much less time online not just because that makes us less susceptible to the sleight of hand of the marketing man. But less time on the screen clears the space in our lives for those around us, our very human neighbours. And those whose lives we can realistically effect through personal and community action.
But where does this leave us in our global responsibility? After all ‘my neighbour is all mankind’. The world of Palestine 2,000 years ago was a very different world. The world of which people were aware had no more than a few thousand people in it and covered only tens or at most hundreds of miles. Sure they had less resources and much less technology than we have. But it was a world that was easier to cope with psychologically.
I suggest that we should be more modest – and perhaps even less arrogant – about our ability to personally influence the big picture. But there are organisations who are working at the international level whom we should support – the NGO’s like Christian Aid, Cafod, Tearfund, Practical Action (my favourite), Oxfam, the faire trade movement, etc. Support one or two of them with our significant donations, follow their advice on ethical purchasing etc. By and large they know what they are doing.
In particular support their development work. Less on emergency services for the victims of the modern-day muggings, more on developing societies where robbing is less likely to occur. Year ago a friend of mine, Peter, was showing me around the L-shaped open plan office of a big NGO where he worked in the development section. ‘This is where the disaster relief section work’ he said ‘they get all the money. We call them the Marines’ he added ruefully.
We can support the work of Peter from our bank accounts. But we need to work more actively promoting the common good and thereby reducing the incidence of muggings in Stevanage, or Streatham, Stirling or Swansea or whatever community we are part of.
Sustainability is about living within limits. Including the limits of our information processing capacity – and of our compassion? Tony Emerson Feb 2017