Saturday, September 1, 2012

Whoops, money doesn't grow on trees after all

Following the narrative of American politics and of the unfolding life and times of The Episcopalian Church I have never noticed the leading bloggers of the latter showing even scant appreciation of anything good coming out of he Republican Party. To the right of Genghis Khan doesn't even begin to describe the general evaluation of Republican politicians. But apparently a good number of Episcopalian priests (retired) are living off the fat of Bain Capital. As revealed by an impeccable source, Mitt Romney himself, as reported on another impeccable news digest, The Lead. That's the thing about the world, dear readers, it is the easiest place to subject to left-wing critique and the hardest place to live in without some capitalists earning some money!

Speaking of worldly realities, I see our bishops and other church leaders have once again taken to the air waves to pronounce about the iniquities of the world. This time it is child poverty, which features somewhat too highly on world rankings for comfort. There is also a mention of this issue in another Taonga article here, in which my colleague Jolyon White says, "The story often told in our society is that it is your own fault if you are poor. The game is to show we are all in this together and inequality can be just as much due to the way society is structured." Fair enough: poverty is a complex problem. But, in respect of child poverty, I wonder how deep our leaders are going to push the discussion they seek. First, money doesn't grow on trees, so what kind of economic growth are we going to support as churches in order to enable new levels of support for poor families? Secondly, are we going to talk about targeted support or a universal child benefit? Our prime minister this week made the excellent point that a universal benefit being touted by parts of our parliamentary opposition also benefits the already-rich kids. Thirdly, as observed somewhere in my reading this week, it is not a general statistic about child poverty which is the problem in NZ society, but a particular manifestation in which some families are choosing to have more children than can reasonably be predicted to be able to be supported by those families. The children who do not feature in child poverty statistics are precisely the children brought up in families which have made careful decisions about how many children can be reasonably supported (by which I do not just mean financially). Jolyon is right: children should not be blamed for being poor. But does something need to change about adults making decisions about how many children to bring into the world?

I recognise that question is part of a long-term path towards a solution and in the meantime we need to address the present problem. But if that is about providing more dollars, where are they going to come from? Let's face it, we could send a lot more money to the younger generations if we did not spend so much on the burgeoning population of older people! Jolyon, again, is spot on in observing that 'we are all in this together and inequality can be just as much due to the way society is structured'. But will we really engage in the complexity of equality, justice, welfare and access to wealth, or just focus on one issue at a time with pleasant soundbites and hand-wringing? To take one galling issue about child poverty: the poorest children in NZ live in the worst houses re dampness and cold, with inevitably flow on effects on health. But what do we see being rapidly built around NZ to the highest standards of insulation and warmth? Vast complexes of buildings to house our elderly. What transfer of government funding from one generation to another would yield a solution to the inadequate housing stock of the nation? Dare we even ask that question?!

This week has seen much discussion about marriage in our nation. (Quite a bit is appearing on Facebook for those who link to controversialists such as Glynn Cardy and Clay Nelson - Yes, as an inclusive Facebooker, they are my friends!!) On gay 'marriage' we now have a Stuff headline, 'Churches say they will snub gay weddings.' Well, of course. There is a distinctive understanding within Christianity and other religions ['church' is quite a broad term for Stuff, which includes mosques and temples] about marriage relative to popular secular understanding. Anyway, here is my thought at the end of a long week on these matters:

What if we stopped performing weddings in church? Without changing one canon or statute, all ministers could voluntarily agree to refuse to conduct weddings, send couples to registry offices, while offering to subsequently pray for and ask God to bless those relationships which fall within the teaching of the church. No one would be 'snubbed' re weddings, per se!

Speaking of marriage and the rumbling debate re marriage, Christian v secular, there is a stirring and robust commentary here in relation to the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen's stout defence of his diocese proferring a 'submit to husband' alternate marriage service. I think it worth reading as a great contribution to reflection on the nature of marriage. It challenges glib Christian dismissal of secular society's embrace of marriage. It is particularly poignant one week after one of our leading Christian leaders was announced to have left his marriage after being married for nearly fifty years. One week later, incidentally, I think this link is the only statement you will find about this situation on any official site connected to the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. What an enigmatic remark is made at the beginning of the sermon published in that link!

Finally, what are the Irish among us to make of a Press headline this morning, "Irish getting a bit of stick over stereotype"? Isn't it a good thing when people assume we are happy people who love a chat over a pint of beer, with plenty of good humour lacing our conversation, and not much care for tomorrow or whether if we want to go to Kilkenny, this wouldn't be the place we would start from?


Anonymous said...

Can we fix societal problems with money? Maybe.

But there are studies that indicate that one of the key indicators in child poverty in western society is the breakdown of the family. It is suggested that this is a more significant factor than government spending.

How about our church leaders not only draw attention to the presence of child poverty, but also to do what they can to promoted the societal value of marriage and the benefit to children of being raised by their biological parents.


Andrei said...

Where to start?

Child poverty.

Of course the biggest predictor of child poverty is to be born of unmarried parents.

And those who are wringing their hands over this issue are for the most part scions of the middle and upper middle classes for whom homes with carpets on the floor, electricity and running water are the natural order of things.

There was a week or so ago a feel good story of two Samoan Lads from South Auckland whose parents were raised in houses with dirt floors, no running water or Electricity who came to New Zealand so that life may be better for their children.

These boys told of their childhood, their parents influence, the influence of the Church and of hardships like going to school hungry.

But they are prospering and going forward - their talent as tenors may see them rise above the "poverty" they knew in childhood and God willing their children will not ever know what it is to go to school hungry. See poverty is not a paucity of things, it is a poverty of spirit. And these boys by their own accounts were never poor in spirit because of strong family ties and moral values which over trump hardship

And children of parents whose foundational thing is "may it be better for those who come after than it was for us" and who carry this forward within themselves do rise above the circumstances in which they find themselves - and because this was the stuff that the people who came before us were made of we now find ourselves not living in houses with dirt floors but in carpeted homes with indoor plumbing - a world built by people who invested in the future by investing in their children.

If the good bishops really want to address child poverty, it is not by lobbying the Government to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor - wealth which will likely be misspent on the wrong things but to address the poverty of spirit that exists within those poor communities that the people may see that there are things greater than themselves and then be inspired to use whatever resources they have to greater effect.

In other words they need to preach the Gospel and change peoples hearts.

Andrei said...

What if we stopped performing weddings in church? Without changing one canon or statute, all ministers could voluntarily agree to refuse to conduct weddings, send couples to registry offices, while offering to subsequently pray for and ask God to bless those relationships which fall within the teaching of the church. No one would be 'snubbed' re weddings, per se!

Marriage is a sacrament, I believe and suspect you may not Peter.

A holy mystery whereby a man and a woman are united for life by God to become "one flesh" in order among other things to mutually support each other in their joint journey toward salvation.

A Government issued Marriage certificate is a piece of paper which can be used to light the fire or for even for more profane purpose after one or both the named thereon decide that their life will have a richer meaning doing something else with someone else of opposite or even same gender.

Father Ron Smith said...

"It’s all very well to speak about high-sounding principles – love, justice, truth, faith, peace. It’s another thing to live them out in our relationships with one another."

- the Dean of Wellington -

I believe this statement by Dean Frank Nelson - in the wake of a certain marriage breakup in his diocese - is seminal to our understanding of the need to try to nurture the goodness in the specific relationships we are part of - without allocating blame to those people, whether bishops or dustmen - whose relationships no longer seem to be working.

The problem with Christians is that they set themselves so high a goal, that when this breaks down in the lives of other people, they feel the need to blame the defaulters.

They then tend to congratulate themselves on their own capacity to sustain the standard of behaviour that has been their source of self-congratulation - even though there may have been moments in their own lives that may have been 'close to the wire.

Thank God that our God is in the business of forgiveness; and there is nothing that God will not forgive - short of unbelief in the power and willingness of God to do just that - forgive our trespasses!

Christian Marriage is not a doddle. Nor is it to be entered into 'lightly or wantonly'. However, we are human and we are a fallen race.
We make mistakes - some of them horrendous. The ending of a loving marriage is a tragedy. And one can only guess at the misery that must have occasioned this recent break-up of a clerical family.

Let us not make a meal of it, But rather reflect on the possibility that 'There, but for the grace of God, go I'.

My prayers for +Tom & his family.

Bryden Black said...

When I saw your headline, Peter, Whoops, I’d swear you’d been to the Writers’ Festival Friday evening, the early session, with John Lanchester being ‘interviewed’ by Rod Oram. John’s the author of Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (Penguin, 2010). He’s also the author of Capital (Faber & Faber, 2012).

Fascinatingly, he’d finished the first draft of the latter novel before he began work on the former, a factual, hard hitting explanation of the GFC, in layman’s language, which has proved an absolute sell-out success. The novel turned out to be almost prophetic, as the global events post Lehman unfolded ...! Which was why he turned his attention to the drier, factual analysis.

I mention all this not only to recommend both books to our fellow bloggers, but also to reinforce your own assessment (and that of others now) that at root both the Church and its leadership need to rediscover faith in the Gospel itself. It is a moral and spiritual bankruptcy first and foremost which has eaten away at whatever ‘capital’ our forebears had instilled in us that has precipitated the greed and idiocy which has brought about the GFC - and which is FAR from over ... If poor old NZ is ever going to weather this storm and its future fall-out, then we’d better learn pretty quickly not to put the cart before the horse. In addition, we’d better stop flogging the dead horse of human utopian political economics - even as the Church practises its faith extravagantly and more intelligently.

Shawn said...

I would also recommend Thomas Wood's 'Meltdown' on the GFC. Woods is an Austrian School economist associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

A short review can be read here: