Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Engage with shopping

Under enormous pressure from DS, here are my notes from last night:

First up, what brands are ethical? Well Nestle is definately out and so is Coca Cola...but can you be so sure? Check out this website for what people in 5 different countries regard as ethical companies...prepare to be surprised:


So, how do we make judgements about what companies are ethical and which are not? Either we do tons of research (very time consuming and hardly practical) or we opt out of the whole High Street thing altogether and buy from retailers we know have sourced their products. By the way, "The Good Shopping Guide" (Ethical Marketing Group) is an excellent way to find out which companies are ethical and which are not.

Then we looked at a few case studies and discussed them. These can be found at:


I think the last of these raised another interesting question: What is most important in making ethical decisions - human wellbeing, animal wellbeing, or the environment? I think we noted that with the present environmental crisis, animal rights has probably taken a nose dive. Yet, even concern with the environment is pretty androcentric. A few of us said that whilst previously we would definately have put human welfare before others, we are now beginning to realise that you can't parcel things up so easily. Animal, environment and human welfare are all tied up with each other and God has called us to care for each.

After discussing the case studies, I did a bit of a brief overview of the kind of thinking that has led to our present attitude to consumption - including an overview of how Christians have thought about this in the past. When I find the time, I'll post my notes online, but in the meantime, here are the main points:
  • up to 16th century there was remarkable consensus about economics (i.e. usury is wrong, retailers should set a 'just price' not what people are willing to pay, people should be paid a 'just pay', making money at other's people's expense is wrong and consumption in moderation is important etc.)
  • The consensus was broken with the growth of capitalism at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the pressure on Christians to engage with a consumer society.
  • The Enlightenment created a division between public and private. This relegated religion to the private and said it had nothing to say to economics, which was in the public sphere.
  • Economic theories further said that everyone would be better off if we all pursued our own self-interest. This essentially meant economics was self-consiously amoral. It declared itself free from ethical considerations. This is still true today, except for a few maveriks.
  • Christianity broadly speaking followed the lead of culture and on the whole (there are always exceptions) focused on spiritual life and not economics. Just price, opposition to usury etc went out of the window. The one ethic that continued was the principle of moderation, which still continues today - more commonly known as, 'simple living'.

We finished with two questions, and I used the words of 2 Biblical bad guys to frame these questions;

1. The words of Judas when the woman poured perfume on Jesus' feet and wondered whether it should have been sold and the money given to the poor (it was worth a year's wages) Judas' words are the words of the advocate of 'simple living', are they not? After all, the woman was lavish with her consumption and Jesus rebukes Judas' suggestion that it should not have been consumed, but given to the poor. Isn't 'simple living' denying a lot in the Bible about enjoying the lavish provision of God, by enjoying parties (as Jesus did) and feasting (as Jesus did)? Is consuming only what we 'need' pretty dull and lifeless and Pharisaism? Also, can anyone define what we 'need' to live on? Isn't it very relative? Arriving back from the 3rd world, you might have a very different idea about what is 'needed' than if you have been subsummed within western culture for years. Aquinas defined'need' as what is needed to live in the station we were called to. Sider talks about living in a way that is not embarrassingly minimal. Aren't both these definitions unworkable? Aren't they both determined by our culture?

2. I asked the question that was asked to Jesus : who is my neighbour? You work for a company selling mobile phones. You are aware that the people who produce them are working in substandard conditions and for unreasonably low pay. You also know that if you give up this job, your family will be without a wage earner. Is your responsibility first to the person you can't see in the Far East or to your family. According to the Anabaptist, Yoder, "one must accept all personal, moral and spiritual liability for all harms done at any distance in space or time to anyone by one's own choices." Others say your responsibility is first to your family. I expressed by concern about dividing the world between 'us' and 'them'. It is the root of racism and the Bible surely teaches that we are all equally made in the image of God.

As this post is already ridiculously long, I wont go into what everyone said. I look forward to all your comments.

Monday, 26 November 2007

If only there was a Jewish poet rapper to tell me what to do

Sorry that last post was way long and I sound like a grumpy old man

Shame living out faith is not as easy as abc or '1-10', so much stuff to work out together, so much...engaging to be done.

It's a shame there isn't a Jewish poet rapper to tell me what to do in every contemporary situation.....what...there is...oh yeah

If you don't know the excellent Mr Scroobius Pip then enjoy some lighthearted (mostly) relief



What will you Jimmy Choose

The Bari Bag was created with the help of creative director Sandra Choi. It's a crocodile bag with beautiful Bugatti construction, a bold zipper that allows the bag to expand, and its own fur blanket. Oh, and don't forget the $28,000 price tag.

It might be the fact that i could never afford this 'owt cature' as they say in Sheffield (although I am tempted by that zip that enables it to expand - genius) but 'HOW MUCH'? If Choo's croc bag (croc of $%^?) doesn't get you thinking about what we consume and Tonight's engage session would have.

Mark did a grand job of leading the discussion with some v interesting current and historical perspectives on why we buy what we by and which bits of faith do or perhaps should be 'engaged' as we shop.

I am publicly asking him to post his notes and the questions he had us pondering (come on Mark, you know you want to). This is how Mark set it up on his e-mail - We’ll be thinking about the rights and wrongs of shopping. We all do it, but do we think about the morals of it? Up until the eighteenth century, Christians assumed what they purchased was a central part of what it means to be a Christian. Why has it changed? We will look at a few case studies to discuss the rights and wrongs of buying a Nike pair of trainers etc. We will then explore our Christian heritage for some principles so we can work out what to do.

Here are just a few of the things it triggered for me. It was one of those 'more questions than answers' type chats and I am sure we will be spending more time on it (if others want to?)

  • When we have all we need and advanced capitalism can only survive by desire cultivation (ie wall paper and cushion fashion - come on, 20yrs ago you bought these every 20 yrs now we have seasonal interior decor, who is making me feel guilty for still having an aubergine wall?? Somebody spends billions of pounds a year making me feel inadequate just so they can sell me stuff - seriously leave me and even my kid's TV watching 2 year old brain alone we don't want you Barbie this and pooing dolly that, at least nobody did until you flashed it on our retina surrounded by alpha/apex skinny happy girls with great teeth) the issue of what a realistic level of sufficiency is is really hard to negotiate

  • Is sufficiency / 'simple living' an end in itself? ( I think its more a means of worship and justice - a la Jubilee/Feast of Tabernacles etc in the OT and it's not necessarily about not enjoying the good stuff of life, its about valuing that of real value - could easy go on one about this so will leave it there for further discussions)

  • Communities of people asking these tough questions are vital - I love you guys! Seriously, one monk would not have had the courage to march on Rangoon, but its amazing what people will do/can achieve in communities of action. i'd love engage to be a kind of community of action that gives me courage to do different things.

  • It's no wonder Christianity seems irrelevant to the real stuff of life sometimes when Jesus is removed from economics and politics, both macro and micro versions. Jesus was following in a line of rabbi's and prophets who called for radical choices to be made in every aspect of life to bring justice and mercy (the essential characteristics of God himself). Essentially, among many other things Jesus was a unique, divine movement initiator. A movement that should be impacting coffee pickers and sweatshop sweaters with mercy and equality and exposing the exploitation right now. This would be evidence of the here and now presence of the risen Jesus and a massive call for those of us complicit in the system to 'repent', turn from our ways and let the God who created all this guide us and recreate us as we are designed to live - in fruitful peace. Phew (is this a vision of 'evangelism'? Is this shining as stars and holding out something that offers hope when this polish proverb is observably true even in our lifetimes?

Under capitalism man exploits man; under socialism the reverse is true”)

  • Is there a risk that we just get 'sold' the green/ethical thing as more value add on a product or service, thereby following the market logic of supply and demand rather than 'just price' and 'just wage' (see marks notes) and therefore..... just playing ball even more blindly? And... is there any hope of subverting the system this way or do we need to be more radical

  • Can the capitalist system be redeemed or is it evil. What about micro finance (check this to find out more about MF http://www.grameenfoundation.org/what_we_do/) projects in the third world bringing thousands out of poverty - is that wrong?

  • Why do so many mainstream Christians have so little grasp of the swathes of the biblical story that deal with all this stuff (perhaps invidious dualism or the inconvenient truth of what Christianity might actually cost (take up your cross surly cant be just about being a doormat or a martyr) )

  • If it is possible to be in the world but not of the world is it possible to be in the (capitalist) system but not of the system? If so, what does that look sound feel like?

  • Lets talk more, lets listen more on this stuff but what in Gods name am i going to do about it tomorrow? ....help please.....



Sunday, 18 November 2007

How about writing to your MP?!

Last month we had a talk from Robert Spooner about the situation for asylum seekers in the UK. Have a look at this video. Its great and why not write to your MP?

Amnesty International UK has produced an excellent 11-minute film, which lucidly tells of the urgency for action to end the destitution of people refused asylum. It is a really excellent resource to help convince your MP of the need for change. There are a few things we'd like you to do:
1. Watch the film at amnesty.org.uk or a trailer on youtube.com
2. Invite your MP to watch it at a special Parliamentary Preview event on 4 December. To help you do this we have a special Voice Your Views webpage . It only takes a few steps to prepare the letter text and even finds out whom your MP is.
3. Organise a screening in your area. For a copy of the DVD email livingghosts@church-poverty.org.uk with your postal address.

Welcome to Engage!!

hi everyone! Welcome to engage blog!!

Engage blog is for people who want to:

i) Explore issues of justice, mercy, faith and hope from a Christian perspective and how they might change us and through us the world
ii) Dare to think that by doing this we might find out a bit more about what it means to be a human being, in a community and on this earth

We meet for chats in the pub and at people's homes from time to time.
  • We want to engage with real life issues that are important to us.
  • Its dialogue, rather than monologue.
  • No one tells anyone what to believe. It is about trusting you with the responsibility to make your own moral judgements, even if that is different to received beliefs.
  • It is for people of all faiths or none.
  • All questions and comments are acceptable, except those which are disrespectful, rude or overbearing.
  • We hope it will not just be a talking shop, but a springboard for action in the community.
  • We are happy to not always arrive at answers, but we don’t value our ignorance as an end in itself.

A few things you might like to know about this blog:

  • If you want to post on the blog, you need to tell me and I'll send you an invite to do it.
  • Anyone can read this blog.
  • Anyone can make a comment.
happy blogging!