T4CG Newsletter, Christmas 2022. This is an extract – to view full version click here
Welcome to the T4CG Newsletter.
The commercial world sells anticipation as a feeling of pleasure that will be fulfilled. But in truth anticipation is often bittersweet. The anticipation of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany comes with joy, but also with apprehension. The excitement about seeing loved ones is mixed with anxiety about painful family tensions. The joy around the Christmas tree is tempered by worries: about increasing global instability, war, inflation, political and economic dysfunction. We are filled with wonder about Jesus coming to transform the world, but we know his journey includes the horrific reality of Golgotha.
The uncomfortable tension of anticipation is not just for Christmas. Christians must always live with this paradox, this worldview that encompasses the greatest happiness and the most profound tragedy. Anticipation can serve us particularly well in our times of darkness and confusion. Pregnant with the unbidden, it cultivates in us a trusting attentiveness to the new life God is seeding in the midst of the unravelling. There is death and grieving, but we can hear the Holy Spirit calling us forward to participate in writing a new chapter in the history of the world.
This winter, many people across the churches are urgently concerned about the so-called “Cost of Living Crisis”, campaigns “to end poverty” and calls for the Church to “raise a prophetic voice”. Some may believe that a change of government will solve the problem. But this is a false hope and a misreading of the new era we are entering. Over the last four decades, governments of both the ‘left’ and ‘right’ across the West have colluded in perpetuating a dysfunctional and dehumanising political philosophy. They have been far too comfortable with unconstrained finance capital that discards places that did not attract investment; too comfortable with a hyperliberal ideology that breaks the bonds of mutual obligation. This neoliberal consensus has wrecked not only our economy but also our common life.
Our attitude of anticipation must combine supernatural hope with the acknowledgement that things in this world don’t always get better. We should acknowledge that we may not know yet what being “prophetic” might involve. Authentic prophecy carries great risk, because it requires the surrender of tribal allegiances and the speaking of words that people do not want to hear, that even the prophet may find uncomfortable. It may involve humiliation. Jeremiah found the prophet’s journey hard and lonely.
What should the Church’s “prophetic” voices be calling for? Should they campaign for more generous state benefits and higher cash payments? Maybe, but it does not seem “prophetic” to consign another generation of families to welfare dependency. It sounds more like a capitulation to a politics of low expectations. It sounds like something coming out of a Church that is stuck in the politics of the 1980s, in a worldview that is not yet able to offer the hope and the resistance needed in this new era.
This era’s true prophets should speak out in solidarity with the communities abandoned by globalisation. The Church has a vocation to defend families, their livelihoods, traditions, their belonging to place. The Church is called to uphold the human person in the face of money power on a grotesque scale. The Church’s role is to advocate for the restoration of the abandoned places, for place-based investment, for decent jobs and training.
In the spirit of anticipation and acknowledgement, church leaders in post-industrial societies should engage with issues of class. They should support Levelling Up proposals to restore power to the forgotten towns. They should not collude with the politics of abandonment. No, they should become deeply involved in efforts to reform the economic order.
Catholic social thought, or as we sometimes describe it, Common Good thinking, can help us understand what is going on. It contains that tension between hope and reality: it is not utopian. Its preferential option for the poor is not satisfied with parking the poor in endless dependency on the beneficent welfare state. Rather, Common Good thinking envisages dignified work for all, self-determination, and moral responsibility. It provides a framework, rooted in the Gospel, which helps us discern how to reform our political economy to uphold the human person, and to recognise the importance of relationship for reweaving the torn social fabric. It is a language we can draw upon to envisage building the Kingdom within our communities. It stimulates a wider understanding of evangelisation, a missional frame within which to put faith into action.
If the Church fails to resist, then they will lose touch with the poor communities in the forgotten places that understand the damage wreaked by this forty-year political consensus. Those working-class communities bear the scars. It is a grim irony that while the Church claims a prophetic mission to serve poor communities suffering from cold and hunger, those same communities are mostly deeply estranged from the Church.
What is going wrong? Perhaps “social action” has inadvertently alienated the very people it helps. Perhaps too many churches, becoming progressively middle class, have fallen out of relationship with disadvantaged communities. Their kind intentions produce “outreach”, but not genuine relationships of loving friendship, trust, reciprocity and mutual respect. The Kingdom will be built from those relationships.
At this point in our national story, Christian anticipation requires humility, repentance and deep listening, to God and to neighbour. To be truly prophetic, we should be prepared to set aside old assumptions and be asking “what does God want of us in this place?”
These tensions need attention at multiple levels – which is why T4CG is dedicated to bringing Common Good thinking into Church, schools, politics and wider society. In this edition we bring you content engaging each of those realms.
Our director Jenny Sinclair travels to Krakow to participate in a conference about ethical politics, and to advocate for the Catholic social teaching framework as a countercultural challenge to neoliberalism. And Maurice Glasman, interviewed by Sohrab Ahmari, talks about the Blue Labour vision, challenging both the Church and the political class to recognise that resistance to capital is central to a common good politics.
Alongside this, we bring you three grounded stories of churches and schools contributing to the required countercultural challenge. William Taylor writes of his church’s new missional energy after having the courage to make change and adopting a spirit of anticipation, Catherine Brady describes how common good social action seeded a multi-layered patchwork of local partnerships, and Jo Stow reports how SEN children are growing in character and getting involved in their local area as they absorb Common Good Thinking. In the full edition, you will find our latest signs of the times selection of articles and recommended books.
A very Happy Christmas and blessings for the New Year
Jenny and the Together for the Common Good team
This is an extract from our Christmas 2022 mailing. To read the full content, click here
Header image: Fr. Ilie Bobaianu, Romanian iconographer