My personal response to Andrew Bolt’s column in the Herald Sun on Friday the 13th.
In spite of the assertions made in your article on Friday 13th I don’t feel that Urban Seed can take responsibility for keeping the lights off in North Korea. Urban Seed does take responsibility. however, for running an open lunch each day at Credo Café in the basement of the building of the Baptist Church.
Some days we have capitalists at the table from the foundations and charitable trusts you mentioned in your article. I don’t always agree with their economics, where their money comes from or their ideas of success.
Some days we have socialists at the table like those from the Stop G20 coalition. I don’t always agree with their economics, where their money comes from or their ideas of success either.
Both groups share the table with those who are homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill and refugees. In my experience the capitalists put in a bit more money, while the socialists are better at doing the dishes, but we all have a lot to learn about our economics and the true nature of poverty from those at the bottom of the pile.
“Just what will make those lights go on?” you ask. In my experience Melbourne is not as light and dark as your column suggests. We can not apologise for relating, educating and debating with both ends of town. Many people love diversity and feel a deep human need to hear and connect with the “truth” of their “enemy” beyond their own partisan perspectives. Capitalists, socialists and those with no place to lay their head all keep coming back to share lunch at Credo Cafe. This is the basis of our politics. You may call this a “fascination with the politics that enslave” but as a “salvation seeker” I see the “lights go on” for people all the time.
Of course, our politics make us an easy target: play one group off the other and attribute guilt by association. Our inspiration, Jesus of Nazareth, copped guilt by association for those with whom he ate and was ultimately crucified under the false charge that he would destroy the temple (read: economic system) of his day. It was a false charge because, I believe, Jesus knew that in the end the “temple” would destroy itself (and I would suggest any system of economics that becomes an “–ism” always does!) All he did was predict it. Of great concern to him were the victims it would take with it. He was also concerned with how people could begin to imagine and practice an economics of “enough” for all.
This concern motivates and informs Urban Seed’s work each day. It is because we know and love the capitalists, the socialists and those who are marginalised that we will continue to be actively involved in the important meetings and debates that shape our culture – from inside and out.
Contrary to what your article implied, our activities around the World Economic Forum in 2000 involved legal observation, prayer and actions to de-escalate the “battlefield.” This was merely an extension of our respected daily work of nonviolence with drug users, rough sleepers, schools, traders, police and council in seeking to keep the city safe for everyone.
Of course, creative protest and civil disobedience are also tools of nonviolence and essential to healthy democracy. From a Christian perspective, blockades formed part of the strategy of Jesus. Indeed, he wasn’t above a little symbolic property damage and blockading in order to make the point that our “light giving” structures are never divinely permanent. He taught that the real light that is produced by an economic system can’t be measured by satellites in the sky. For the “Son of Man”, the real temples of worship are our bodies. The ultimate source of light is found in people, especially the poor.
Being a rather confrontational tactic, table turning blockades should always be a last resort. Some would say that Jesus wasn’t as lucky as us to live in such a wealthy, “well lit”, liberal democratic society as our own. Urban Seed has at no point said the G20 should be stopped and Brent has said clearly that the meeting should not be blockaded. We have encouraged both G20 and Stop G20 participants to attend our bible studies about economics and workshops on nonviolent community safety and protest to explore the question of “What would Jesus do?” together.
Your description of a benevolent G20 trying to make “trade a bit easier… and the competition for energy less nasty” is generous at best. Whilst poorer countries are present with their many and varied levels of democratic representation (eg. China!), the self proclaimed agenda of the “highly representative” gathering is the promotion of G8-type policies of privatisation, trade liberalisation, deregulation and increased flexibility of wages and labour conditions in order to serve competition which is described as the key to economic growth and prosperity. Pursuing such policies may or may not make a nation state wealthy, however I believe that failing to also acknowledge the negative impacts of such approaches upon the poorest in these countries, as well as the to the fabric of human community and the created order is dishonest and dangerous. It potentially impoverishes us all.
Urban Seed has been supportive of those seeking to place debt relief, fair trade, and more and better aid higher on the agenda of the finance ministers at the G20. Yet, while pursuing the Millenium Development Goals will produce many important outcomes for the poor, they will not “Make Poverty History”, especially if tacked uncritically upon the back of this system. Unfortunately the need to keep a broad based, celebrity driven, anti poverty campaign “feel good” and positive for the media means that hard truth’s can be inadvertently glossed over. That we in the global North must also “make the poverty of affluence history” is a much harder message to “sell”.
I am under no illusions as to the fragility and weakness of our position. Whilst we have sought to place our bodies at the coal face of the sufferings of the present system we also enjoy many of the benefits of the grand economic plans of others. I strongly agree with you that “bright ideas can have black consequences”. I will point the finger not simply at the failures of capitalism, but also at those of the Christian church, and my own community in particular. Influenced more by the culture around us than by the story of Jesus, we have not always had the courage to risk and scheme ways of redistribution with the same passion and fervor with which we have scrambled after wealth. Idealistic fundamentalists of any economic agenda can do much damage and for the times that I fall into this category, Andrew let me say to you with all the humility I can muster, I’m sorry!
The great Christian protestor Dorothy Day was a communist before her conversion and so was always torn by the seeming inadequacy and ineffectiveness of her own network of Hospitality Houses. Faced with criticism of her rejection of grand schemes to alleviate poverty she concluded that “In the end only love ever changes anything.”
Urban Seed is small because we hold convictions about scale, and economies of scale. Truth-full love is not abstract, but very particular. Our small lunch and our own efforts at redistributive living are not much of an economic system. Neither do they appear to offer easy, obvious or pragmatic answers to the deepest and immediate cries of the world’s poorest. We are not naïve about theses tensions and remaining authentically small whilst maintaining a large voice is a constant struggle.
It is always easy to dismiss something small as irrelevant. Your comparison of Stop G20 promoting “community gardens” to the policies of the North Korean government website, whilst amusingly clever, are superficial and ultimately leave me unconvinced. I remain doubtful that the policies of Kim Jung Il, the meeting of G20 nation states, or buying a Make Poverty History wristband (I do have one!) can capture the love of which Dorothy Day speaks. On the other hand, I am often inspired by some truly amazing community gardeners.
Such small efforts may well be seen as an escapist “freedom-fearing desire to go back to the womb, back to the cave, back to the tribe”. A perplexed wealthy man once asked Jesus, in the shroud of darkness, what is necessary to enter God’s economy. Jesus’ reply is that being “born again” is possible, not through re-entering the womb, but only by the Spirit. Far from an escapist, privatised spirituality, he makes the famous “For God so loved the world…” quote, indicating that spiritual transformation leads to loving deeds that stand up in the light of day. “Those who do what is true come to the light, so it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3: 21)
Far from escapist, I would contend that the witness of this Spirit in action through small, often misunderstood groups of people, from Jesus, to the early church and throughout history, is that love can and will, time and time again, make capitalism impossible and communism unnecessary. (thanks for that one Shane!)
You say that our pastors Mark and Brent “sure do not do irony” because we critique capitalism, and take money from capitalists. Let me assure you, (and feel free to check this with our funders) that when it comes to Mark and Brent, irony is in no small supply!
We believe in redistribution and so we greatly appreciate, but do not depend upon, the money of capitalists. We trust in the abundance of post-competitive economics and believe that love will always turn on lights that money cannot. So our policy with regards to donors is that if it’s a choice between giving us money or coming to lunch, we would prefer they gather around our table, bringing their bodies even without their chequebooks. Like Jesus’ own demonstration of “alternative” economics with 5000 in the wilderness, our lunches keep happening and, miraculously, there is always enough!
Jesus shared his last meal with a capitalist, a terrorist, and some self-employed representatives of the fishing industry who were obviously dissatisfied enough to down tools (at least for a time). Taking bread, he broke it as a symbol of solidarity with bodies broken by our systems, and of the ultimate power of self sacrificing love. (Talk about anti-competitive behavior!)
God’s light is spread, but not through organisational establishments or structural systems. It is spread like a disease – through bodies, through touch, through breath. It is spread by people infected with love. At Credo Café, capitalists learn how to do dishes and socialists learn how to fund things and we all learn how to love our enemies. Come and join us sometime as we break bread, confess our arrogance and remind ourselves of Christ’s body broken in the world.
We know this as the Economy of God and its lighting up the entire world!