Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Prioritising the love economy

In today's environment, education is slanted towards getting a career, mothers are encouraged to go back to work as quickly as possible, we want to move people from the disability pension onto Newstart and now people are encouraged to work for as long as possible before retiring. 

The message is loud and clear. You need to work for a wage to contribute to society (although I do understand there are other reasons for the later retirement age). 

And that may make some kind of sense, if economic growth is to be the number one priority for Australia. And often it seems as though the politicians at least think it should be. But is economic growth really the most important thing in our lives. After all, what point does it serve? More money for the sake of more money doesn't seem to make a lot of sense - unless that money is actually getting us things that we value and are important. 

And surprising as it may seem, a lot of the things we value and that we think are important are not tied to money at all. 

In From Naked Earth to Superspecies, David Suzuki talks about what Hazel Henderson calls the love economy, which 'includes all the productive work that humans do that does not involve an exchange of money - things like raising families, doing community work, taking care of the elderly, being active in a club or charity.' Suzuki says it 'may be impossible to put a price tag on these activities, but they are the very glue that holds society together.'

If our focus is on economic growth for its own sake, then these kind of things get de-valued. No monetary transactions take place. Their contribution to the economy is indirect. 

However, this is why the focus on economic growth is so misplaced. Because while these things do not contribute to economic growth, they do contribute a lot of value to society. And when we focus on economic growth we move people away from this very important, very valuable (but unpaid) work that they are doing. 

When we create policies to encourage mothers (or fathers as the case may be) into the workforce sooner and our ageing population to stay in the workforce longer, we are making the assumption that being in the paid workforce is more important than anything that might otherwise be doing. 

But that's simply not the case. 

Taking care of children may not pay much, but it's an extremely important job and adds tremendous value to society. When kids are loved and educated, they flourish. When they feel valued, they grow up to be adults who value others. Yes, there are exceptions. And no, I would never suggest that this means every parents should stay home with their children. Kids can flourish in daycare settings as well. But to say to a person who wants to stay home with their kid, what you're doing is less important than working is ludicrous.  

I personally returned to work when my child was six months' old. I had an office job, where I would basically sit there doing nothing all day. I would think of how much more valuably my time could be spent if I was at home with my child. So I quit. I'm lucky that I found a job where I could work from home. It didn't pay much, but I was one of the lucky ones. I could do that. Nowadays, with the changes to parenting payment making single parents go back to work when their youngest child turn eight, many parents will never have the opportunity to spend as much time with their kids as I did. And while we never had much money, what we did have (time together) I believe was way more important. 

Now from an economics perspective, I suppose my time at work (sitting at a desk twiddling my thumbs) was more important than the work I did when I left (raising children showing them love, educating them about the world around him). Because the work I did twiddling my thumbs paid a lot more than the work I did when I left - even after I found my work-from-home job. 

But what will matter most in 10 years time? Well as it is now 10 years later, I can answer that. The time I spent at work matters not one jot! Any money I made then doesn't matter much now. But I am so happy for that time I spent with my kids. And I believe it has helped us have the close, loving relationship we share today. And, from a societal perspective, I have children who care a lot about the world around them. My eldest son can't wait until he's 18 so he can vote. He cares passionately about foreign aid and the rights of others. My youngest son is the most friendliest, caring child I've ever met. And I do believe it's because I was there, talking to them, getting them to think, showing them that they are loved. 

Again, I have nothing against those who want to work. For many people, it's a better option. Just don't assume it's the best option. Because it's not. 

Parents (as well as retirees) also do a lot of volunteer work - whether it's at the school, the church, the sporting fields, the community club. And that also is of huge benefit to society. For a start, volunteers are often the people assisting, caring and showing compassion when money won't buy it! And isn't it nice to know there are some things you don't need money to buy. And that kind of help doesn't just contribute to society, it can completely turn a life around. 

Now the more we push people to stay in the workforce longer, the less time they will have to do volunteer work. And what happens then? They became paid services that not everyone can afford. And if you take something like help with homework, some people will be able to pay for tutors, while those relying on volunteers will no longer have that help there. And so the gap between rich and poor grows bigger. 

And our society becomes less and less able to care for people and less and less compassionate. 

But should we care about those who need services but can't pay for them? After all, what do they contribute to the economy? 

Maybe not as much as others - but that's just a reason why economic growth shouldn't be our primary focus. Because when society shows compassion and assistance to its most vulnerable, it's not just the vulnerable that benefit, it's all of us.  

This may surprise some people, but I do believe the economy is important - to a certain extent. But I also believe it's far less important than the love economy. And when the love economy suffers because we're prioritising the money economy over it, then something is wrong.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter - a celebration of life

Easter is ultimately a celebration of life.

It is the day we remember Christ's resurrection from the dead. But it is also a day to remember that that resurrection gave new life to us all - and by all I don't mean a narrow group of Christians who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour, but the whole of Creation.

The symbols of Easter remind us of this new life. We don't eat chocolate bunnies just because they look cute. They are a reminder of new life. We don't eat chocolate eggs just because they're a good shape and can be wrapped in foil. They are also a symbol of new life. And while we may miss it in Australia, even the time of Easter is a symbol of new life. Spring is a time when nature is coming to life again - the flowers are blooming, animal babies are being born. Spring is a time of renewal.

So Easter should be a time to celebrate life - by recognising the beauty and wonder of the life we see around us. It should also be a time to reflect that this world we see is not just the loving Creation of the God we remember on Easter, but the world he came to save - the world he loves and cares for and the world he will renew. Easter is not just about humans.

Yet how can we celebrate life today when we fail to protect that life at other times. How can we worship a God who brings new life on Easter and yet turn our backs to the destruction of life throughout the rest of the year.

I've heard critical comments from Christians about Christmas and Easter Christians, those people who go to church only on Christmas and Easter. Yet if we embrace the message of new life on Easter and ignore that message for the rest of the year, aren't we also, in some way, Easter Christians? We give life a nodding acknowledgement as we go to church or open our chocolate bunnies and eggs and fail to really think about what a celebration of new life should mean or reflect it in our daily lives.

Life is the diversity of species on this planet. Life is a healthy atmosphere. Life is the conditions that exist on earth to help all life on earth flourish. Life is the wondrous places that exist on this earth.

Life is the animals in our factories, the species that are going extinct, the climate that we are altering.

Life is every single person who lives on this planet - all the people who are struggling, the people who are starving and the people who will lose their homes or their livelihood to climate change. Life is all the people yet to be born - and the world we're leaving them to live in.

If we truly want to celebrate life, then we need to recognise that life is more than just an empty tomb, life after death or salvation for those who call themselves Christians. We need that life is all around us - and it is that life we see all around us that God cares about.

And we need to commit ourselves to the protection of that life. How can we celebrate something if we are complicit in its destruction? To truly celebrate something is to recognise its value and do all that we can to protect it and see it flourish.

So let us celebrate new life this Easter - not just with chocolate bunnies and eggs, but with a recognition of the value of all life - and a commitment to look after it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Abstaining from meat on Good Friday - have we missed the point?

I'm always amazed by the people who never spare a thought for God in their everyday lives, but get very legalistic about abstaining from meat on Good Friday - sometimes to the point of being horrified when someone else does eat meat on that day - and I'm not just talking about Catholics. Now there's nothing wrong with abstaining from meat - and there are many good reasons to do so, not all of them religious. But I can't help thinking this legalistic approach kind of misses the point.

After all, didn't Jesus say it's not what a person puts into their mouth that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouth (Matthew 15:11).

I don't think this means we should just scrap the rule about not eating meat on Good Friday - at least for those who want to keep abstaining. I believe that symbolic actions and practices like this are important, meaningful and help turn our thoughts towards God.

But those symbolic actions should never become more important than the reason behind those symbolic actions.

It's pointless abstaining from meat if we don't give any thought to why we might be abstaining from meat.

So why do we?

The reason behind abstaining from meat on Good Friday was to share in the sufferings of Jesus. By denying ourselves, we entered into the suffering that Jesus underwent on that day. And by denying ourselves, hopefully we remember that suffering - because we too are suffering.

Okay, confession time. The meal I eat on Good Friday is often one of the best meals I eat that year. Because while I eat fish and vegetarian meals frequently, I make the Good Friday meal a little bit fancy and a little bit special.

And that kind of defeats the purpose.

Or maybe not.

Because in reality, what actually matters about abstaining from meat is whether we are remembering the suffering of Jesus. We don't have to do this by eating fish. We can do it by denying ourselves something else. We can do this by reflecting on the crucifixion. We can do this by remembering the suffering of people around the world.

You can do this while eating a big beefy steak or a meat pie or a baked fish dish or a bowl of rice.

It's not what we put into our mouths that defile us, it's what comes out of our mouth.

It's what's in our hearts.

And it's the suffering of Jesus that is important - and the suffering of the whole world that he entered into - rather than what we eat.

How we reflect and think about that suffering is up to us. For some, it may mean abstaining from meat. Others may choose different ways to remember it. But it definitely shouldn't become a legalistic rule where abstaining from meat is more important than our reasons for doing so.


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