Friday, 13 February 2009

Spring and winter

One of the reasons I love this garden so much, I think, is because I find within it echoes of the wider world, of God’s world, while safely removed from its tumults.

This is a mild, sunny morning, the first real spring morning of the year, giving promise of the warmth and happiness to come after the recent cold snap and snow. The ordinary single and double snowdrops are bravely blooming, and the bigger Elwesii ones are just showing white. The early Crocus chrysanthus have opened wide in the sun with their bright orange stamens sparking fire from the cream of their petals. The pussy willow is shimmering with silver on bare twigs. We are past the worst of winter in the garden.

Not so in the wider world. The news is more desperate day by day. Each day thousands more job losses are announced, ordinary workers’ wages are being slashed, and their savings and pensions are evaporating. The economic winter is only beginning.

Today I found the clearest account I have yet read of the roots of the crisis, in the most surprising place – in a discussion paper put before the General Synod of the Church of England! In his short paper entitled ‘A brief account of the financial crisis’, Andreas Whittam Smith, former editor of British Independent newspaper and First Church Estates Commissioner, outlines the origins of the global bubble in credit and its recent collapse, de-leveraging in economist’s jargon. He concludes with stark pessimism:

Some 18 months since it began, this de-leveraging process is still under way and, if anything, gains in momentum. It is a doomsday machine. In my view, it explains almost everything: –
a. Why property prices continue to fall
b. Why any gains in stock market prices are quickly swamped by fresh selling
c. Why the banks find there is no end to the losses that they are incurring and that they thus constantly need re-financing
d. Why banks remain terrified and will engage in fresh lending only if the government forces them to do so or if it removes the risk.
The recession will continue until this process is over.
Read the full paper here.

In his fine speech introducing the subsequent debate, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu maps out a spiritual response to the crisis. He starts with an apposite quote to set the scene:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity".

(WB Yeats,'The Second Coming')

He goes on to describe a three fold movement - from orientation to dis-orientation and through to re-orientation – to map our journey through this economic and financial crisis. How we got here, where we are now, and where to aim for next. He finishes with words of hope:
We share a hope, born of the incarnation, which goes far beyond economic recovery. It reaches into the heart of every man, woman and child. Yes we lament our situation, but we do so knowing that our song will finish in hope: the hope in Christ's message to us. "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Do not be afraid". (Revelation 1:17-18).
Read the full speech here.

It would be nice to hear a bit more from our own Synod and House of Bishops!

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