Aye, but how?

by Elias Blum

So let’s get this straight.

  • The Queen gets a £5 million raise, while unemployed people get a benefit so low and meagre that they are reduced to one grim meal a day.
  • Top earners get a 5% tax cut, while working families with a stay-home parent (despite all the ‘big society’, family friendly rhetoric) will be penalised.
  • NHS services in England (although not in Scotland, thanks be to the SNP!) will be reduced, while private healthcare companies profit from distress.
  • Big companies cut costs by using ‘workfare’ labour, then hide their untaxed  and immoral gains in foreign bank accounts.
  • There’s one law for the rich and another for the poor: the rich can flout the rules with impunity, while the poor are criminalised for the mildest infraction.
  • Youth unemployment and graduate unemployment are at an all-time high across Europe, but there’s no effort to invest in the sort of New Deal infrastructural projects that would create employment.
  • The economic models we have relied on for the past 30 years have been shown to be grossly deficient, but no UK politician has yet has the courage or the wisdom to articulate a sustainable, socially just alternative.
  • The bankers shifted their losses on to the public, and went back to ‘business as usual’. There has been no major re-regulation, break-up, or mutualisation, of the banks.
  • The mantra of endless growth is still repeated, despite the very real threats of climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and loss of biodiversity, and despite the fact that well-being for all, not wealth for the few, is what enables human flourishing.

In short, we no longer have democratic government of, by, and for the people (i.e. a government which represents us, is accountable to us, and serves the common good). Instead, we have an oligarchial government of, by and for the rich (i.e. a government which represents corporate interests, is accountable to ‘the markets’, and serves the bottom line of its paymasters).

Only the richest 1% benefit from this. The rest of us (the desperate, trapped, welfare-dependent poor, the struggling working poor, the hope-stolen graduate, the squeezed lower middle, and even the moderately prosperous upper middle) are being systematically pillaged by a thin, fragile crust of sociopathic corporate rent-seekers. We have been enslaved to the doctrines of neo-liberal capitalism by the high priesthood of City bankers and Chicago School economists who serve at the cruel feet of that most unforgiving and extracting idol, Mammon.

And it seems no-one dares do anything about it, because the oligarchs control the media and the politicians, and hold the monopoly of power.

These realities, if they were not evident before, are evident now. But it is so easy to be overwhelmed by these realities, to be crushed and dispirited by them. A friend of mine put it this way:

“Yes. That is the way of it. I was brought up to think we can change things. But frankly, at this moment, I have never been more at a loss as to HOW.”

How indeed? To look at the world today is like staring into a dark, bottomless pit. The task before us is to fill that pit with the good stones of love, mercy and restorative  justice, and to provide a foundation on which the structure of a good society, dedicated to the worth and dignity of all its members, can be built. But it is so easy to be discouraged, to be defeated by the size of the task and the odds against us, to be overcome and overwhelmed by the layers of hate, bitterness and brittle self-interest that stand against us. The temptation is to jump into the pit before we fall, surrendering to what we think is the terrible inevitability of our failure. Where can we find the strength to go on? Where do we even start? How can we make a difference? Is there any point?

While wading through this swamp of despondency, I came across a sermon from the  Christian Universalist Association website that really challenged and encouraged me.

The message of encouragement I took from this sermon was this: that the revolution we need starts on the inside and works on the outside. It starts with an inner testimony and expresses itself in social action. It starts with being transformed and leads to transforming. Both are long and messy processes of gradual growth, but both are possible, as many can testify. How do we overcome? How do we triumph? How do we heal and restore the world? By being it and by doing it. By finding a need and meeting it. It almost doesn’t matter what or where. There’s so much to be done. But we can do it. The first step is to realise that it is possible. From that flows all else.

The challenge was this: what can I do, what one specific, immediate, practical thing, can I do to advance the common effort? That challenge is confronting me squarely, and I am confident that an answer will soon make itself evident.

I figured that if the Spirit could speak to me through this sermon, others might be reached through it as well.  If my despair can be beaten back and transformed, however marginally, into hope and purpose, then maybe the despair of other can be similarly overcome.

(There’s a bit of tuneless singing and general American-style boosterism at the beginning, but don’t worry about that. Listen to the words. This is what strong, passionate, progressive and inclusive preaching sounds like.)

Rev. Susan Smith, “Just Do It”