A Reply to John Stackhouse

I don’t think I’ve ever been in serious disagreement with John Stackhouse but his dismissive post about the protest at St Paul’s Cathedral has been taking up way too much of my thought life today. It also caused me to come up with a response that was far too long to post as a comment so I’ll post it here instead.

Hi John,

I don’t know if we’ve been shown this through the eyes of completely different media outlets, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing! So here are four brief comments on your four points and a final thought (exhortation even) from me.

First, unlike the rest of London, the City of London doesn’t have a whole lot of open space. The occupiers were welcomed when they camped in front of St Paul’s and the cathedral wouldn’t have had to close if they had just re-jigged the tents a little sooner.  It was a case of indecision trumping practicality and it caused a mess. But it also brought public attention to the important questions being asked.

Second, British people may not feel that their daily lives are influenced by the church; however, even in the 21st century, C of E bishops get a surprising amount of media coverage. Every major paper is talking about Rowan Williams’ article in the Financial Times. Here’s the Guardian coverage.

Third, I have no idea what the protesters expected, but what they got was a public debate about the church, wealth and poverty.  Ken Costa, high profile financier, Chairman of Alpha International and many other things, has been asked to “lead a new initiative reconnecting the financial with the ethical.”

Here’s what the Bishop of London had to say: ‘The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St Paul’s has now heard that call. Today’s decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe. I am delighted that Ken Costa has agreed to spearhead this new initiative which has the opportunity to make a profound difference.’

It’s a start.

Fourth, I don’t think you’ve grasped the depth of anger in the UK over the banking crisis.  The government has injected almost £124 billion in cash and pledged another £332 billion in guarantees.  And yet, bankers in these bailed out banks, which are still making a loss, are being paid millions of pounds in annual bonuses. We are furious that our money, and it IS our money, is going to people who have not earned it especially when it’s so hard to get a mortgage or money for a small business. THAT is why people are protesting and protesting in the banks’ back yard. (Yes, I did get a bit shouty there. It matters.)

So thank God the church leadership, despite being inconvenienced and challenged, have listened and decided to allow the camp to stay and the dialogue to continue.

Final thought (exhortation even):

I’m one of those “advocates for social change” and I’m too busy getting on with trying to sort out illiteracy amongst teenagers to pitch a tent in London. However, I’m not too busy to be listening out for a prophetic voice in our greedy selfish world.

Although they lack the specific vocabulary, I think what we’re hearing isn’t really a call to end capitalism; it’s a call to repentance within the financial world – to a change of heart about what they’re making money for.

We can stand around say “pack up your tents; nothing’s going to change” or we can echo their call and keep it echoing until someone hears it.

Come on bankers! Change your hearts and help us to change the world with all that dosh that you will inevitably keep on making.

4 thoughts on “A Reply to John Stackhouse

  1. Thanks for this note. I hope you’re not saying that all I’m saying is “Shut up; you’re idiots and nothing’s going to change?” That would be untrue and unkind. I’m saying something quite different: Let’s by all useful means challenge the status quo, and I think (so far) that the Occupy movement isn’t challenging it usefully.

    In particular, you and I rank the importance of what the Abp of Canterbury and other senior clerics say much differently. And so what if the mainstream media feature them? I wonder why they would do that–do you wonder?

    Blessings on you in your worthy work among teenagers. That ministry reflects the kind of focus, realism, perseverance, and usefulness I’m not seeing yet in the Occupy movement.

    1. Thanks John – I fussed over that “idiot” comment to point of rereading your post to find it. I left it because it’s what I heard rather than what I read. I’ll temper it. And I apologise if it was hurtful.

      But I will stand by my gut feeling that sometimes shouting out the truth is “useful”. What’s never useful is saying “this is too big”. When I’m home in Vancouver I hear it all the time – when I do crazy things like ask about how hard people are pushing for fairly traded products in major grocery stores. My new line of reasoning is that it’s better to be a hypocrite than not even try.

      As for British clerics in the news, I’ve been wondering about it for the last 17 years.

      As for my work – thank you for the encouragement. I am finally at peace with the idea that for every 100 people who talk about a problem, you’ll be lucky enough to find 1 who wants to do anything about it. It doesn’t make me dislike the 99, just makes me busy and a bit preachy about my cause -just in case I get a conversion!

  2. Great comment and fine analysis Trish. I cannot for the life of me understand how people can be so fast, so quick, so premature, judging a movement with no clear leadership and a desire to change the way things are done, to reset paradigms, set on speaking together about change and listening before articulating a packaged deal, while at the same time their tolerance for incoherency elsewhere is flagrant. The quickness of judgement is taken to be a sign of intelligence, but it is too selective. As for St Paul’s, it is one of the only cases in all of Occupy to confront the church anywhere, it is exceptional in itself. And that has to be given its merit.
    Glad to have discovered your blog.

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