Time to Reimagine the Future!

So many voices are saying that we can’t go back to how it was. We don’t want to live at the same old exhausting pace anymore. We don’t want to continue to harm our environment nor accept such staggering inequality. This quote below is actually from Sonya Renee Taylor, not Brene Brown!

One of my favourite stories to read my kids when they were younger was ‘The Great Green Forest’ by Paul Geraghty . It talks about the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and how one day, the man on the digger stops and listens to the forest and realises he can’t do his job any more. He can’t be part of this destructive way. So he gets off and walks home and never returns, whilst the forest envelops his old machine and regenerates. It used to choke me up and the kids would look at me and wonder why I had tears strolling down my cheeks! Our world does not have to be shaped by the idea that we are ‘homos economicus’ – the selfish, self-centred, self-made man of the neo-liberal era. That is OVER! And all neuroscience and developmental psychology points to a very different reality anyway – one that we have perhaps been blind to. The truth is, we’re actually wired for empathy and compassion, but the systems we have created have warped our behaviour. But through all the pain and difficulties of COVID-19, something in our corporate memory has been awoken of our interconnectedness to the family of humanity, other species we co-exist with and the biosphere we co-inhabit together. We simply cannot go back to how things were – everything has changed.

 

Change doesn’t just happen because we want it to – that’s a good start, but vision alone is not enough! I’ve been spending a bit more time in my garden of late. I love gardening. For me it is the place of my best personal development and growth. Last year, I let the whole garden be fallow – I just left it. This year, when I came to plan what I wanted to grow, I found that I have a lot of clearing to do. There are things I need to “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow”, before I can “build and plant”. It’s particularly amazing to me how florid certain weeds, like creeping buttercup, can be! The networks of roots in the soil, take quite a bit of digging out. For me it’s a great metaphor for our mindsets, fixed beliefs, thought patterns and subsequent behaviours. If we’re going to make space for a kinder and more empathic, life-giving way of thinking and being in the world together, then we have to be willing to root out our old ways to make room for that which we want to plant and sow.

 

To take this garden metaphor further, once the ground is clear, my seeds aren’t going to grow on their own and I’m not going to cultivate a harvest overnight. I am going to have to work the land (thankfully some of this has been done by previous garndeners and I am grateful for what they have sown). I am going to need to build frames to enable good growth and ensure the soil remains cared for and the plants watered. I’m going to have to protect the seedlings from birds, rabbits, slugs, flies and all kinds of other pests, whilst recognising there is providence for them too! There is a tenderness and a ferocity to gardening that helps us to think about how we co-create and labour for the kind of world we want to be good ancestors of.

 

And so let us do the work together. Let us clear the ground, begin building the frameworks we need to co-create the world our hearts are longing for. In Morecambe Bay, we’ve been thinking about the areas of politics, economics, society and ecology. There are many others, but here are some things we might want to consider and build towards (there is further reading/material to engage with if you feel like going a bit deeper In the hyperlinks):

 

Reimagining Politics

 

Patrick Chalmers is currently writing a series in The Correspondent which helps us face up to our own political illiteracy. He invites us to explore together what we mean about politics and how we engage with political ideas, like democracy. Many people have been writing for a number of years about the broken nature of our political system. Well, now we have a chance to reimagine it, let’s grab this bull by both horns and engage with it fully.

 

Here in Morecambe Bay, we’ve been exploring what it might mean to develop a politics of love and kindness. We agree that the basis of a politics of love is friendship, deep listening and the embrace of the ‘other’. It means loving our enemies, doing good to those who may seem to want to harm us and choosing the way of peace. It involves seven key principles:

 

  • prioritising the poor
  • protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children
  • instating women to ensure full equality in everything
  • caring for the sick
  • restorative justice for those in prison
  • welcoming strangers – particularly refugees and asylum seekers
  • caring for the environment in which we live (locally and globally) by being responsible in how we steward the earth’s resources

 

What does that mean in practice? It means holding spaces for communities to come together and talk about the issues that really affect them. We’ve found the Art of Hosting really helpful in creating a framework to do this. It means deliberately building relationships with ‘the other’ through initiatives like ‘The Poverty Truth Commission’. It means creating trauma-informed practice and building a culture of hope. Do we dare to do the work required to reimagine, reinvent and reinvigorate this space? Can we throw off our apathy and cynicism and engage with the stuff that shapes how we do life together? We must embrace a politics that is much more local, participatory and engaging.

 

Reimagining Economics

 

In Morecambe Bay, we believe that an economy of wellbeing is what we need to build together. This means doing away with stigma and the idealisation of growth at any cost and replacing it with a much kinder way of stewarding the earth’s resources to create sustainability and justice. The New Internationalist is clear – We cannot grow our way out of poverty.

 

Here is a framework created together by 170 academics In The Netherlands and helpfully summarised by the brilliant Jason Hickel, which provides a hopeful alternative:

 

  1. Shift from an economy focused on aggregate GDP growth to differentiate among sectors that can grow and need investment (critical public sectors), and sectors that need to radically degrow (oil, gas, mining, advertising, etc.)
  2. Build an economic framework focused on redistribution, which: establishes a universal basic income, a universal social policy system, a strong progressive taxation of income, profits and wealth, reduced working hours and job sharing, and recognises care work.
  3. Transform farming towards regenerative agriculture based on biodiversity conservation, sustainable and mostly local and vegetarian food production, as well as fair agricultural employment conditions and wages.
  4. Reduce consumption and travel, with a drastic shift from luxury and wasteful consumption and travel to basic, necessary, sustainable and satisfying consumption and travel.
  5. Debt cancellation, especially for worker and small business owners and for countries in the global south (both from richer countries and international financial institutions).

 

Hickel is clear. “We have a word for what’s happening right now: recession. Recessions happen when growth-dependent economies stop growing. It’s really important also that we don’t confuse economic de-growth with economic contraction. One is pressing the brakes to avoid a collision. The other is a compete and utter car wreck. When a tree or human or any natural organism reaches full adult size and stops growing we call it “maturity”. We would never call it “stagnation”. That we routinely use the latter term to describe the economy shows that we have no plan, no end in mind… just perpetual expansion. What we need is to build a different kind of economy altogether: an economy organized around human well-being rather than around perpetual growth.” Kate Raworth’s work on the Doughnut Economy is another way we can think about the future. It’s so exciting to see the City of Amsterdam adopting this as their model for the future.

 

Reimagining Society

 

Society is built and shaped by our values and what we value. In Morecambe Bay we’ve been reimagining what society might be like if we reassess those values starting with love, kindness and empathy.

 

To reimagine society we need to reimagine what we mean by the welfare state, or social security. It is broken, but it can be reimagined and indeed has been by my wonderful friend Hilary Cottam in her book Radical Help. Here is Hilary in a brilliant conversation with the world-class Economist Mariana Mazzucato and Tom Loosemore about the reimagining of welfare for the future.

 

We need a welfare system that is primarily shaped by relationship. Hilary Cottam’s six foundational insights on how to do this are so much food for thought. 

In this one page Hilary exposes everything that is wrong with our current system and gives us the permission and the flexibility we need to reimagine and implement an altogether kinder and more practical solution to the issues we face in the 21st century.

 

Two of the core pillars of the welfare state (and btw the concept of state needs to be fully reimagined also, if we are to create a just and fair world in which we live in peace together) are education and health. Both need reimagining and there isn’t space in this blog to go into all of this now, but here are some thoughts on where education and health need to move towards, but Hilary’s principles can be applied to these and many other sectors also.

 

Reimagining Ecology

 

There are so many incredible voices speaking into this right now and the earth is literally groaning for us to listen to what it is saying to us. Can we listen to the narrative of The Great Green Forest? Will we allow ourselves to be forever changed, to repent of our abusive and unkind domination of the ecology, and turn instead to the gentle stewardship of the land and all living creatures to which we are called? There are so many prophetic figures calling us back to this original purpose of humanity. One of my favourites is Alastair McIntosh. This is well worth a listen, if you’ve not heard him already.

 

The tectonic plates are shifting. We are moving from a patriarchal, toxic-type of masculine and dominant-sovereign understanding of how we shape the world towards a much more feminine, inclusive, collaborative and empathic one. Embrace it. Nurture it in yourself. Let this fresh wind blow fully in your face and shake off the dust of the past season that clings to you or the cobwebs which pull you back. The future is calling us. Can you hear it? Listen. Take a breath. Open your eyes. See what lies ahead. Link arms in hope and determination. Let’s go there together.

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Easter Reflections: A New World is Possible

I tested positive for Covid-19 on Good Friday. As a doctor it’s always tough to be off sick – you feel a mixture of guilt (because you know how hard your colleagues are working), frustration (because you want to be back out there serving your community) and helplessness (because there’s nothing you can do about it). I knew I had the virus before my result came through – I felt like I’d been hit by a bus – like all the energy had been knocked out of me and I was very achey. This, along with the cough and other symptoms has made me stop. I am forced to rest. I can’t just continue. I need to let my body recover. Covid-19 hasn’t only shown us the fragility of human life, but of the way we have constructed our systems together – the vast injustices afforded to more than half the world’s population and the damage we are doing to the planet itself. This virus has created an enforced rest for the majority of us and made us stop. And whilst we do so, the earth itself is regenerating – perhaps we are too.

 

This weekend, along with millions of people across the globe, our family will be celebrating Easter. During this rest there is time for me to reflect again on that incredible story and think about its implications for the world. Easter, I believe, perhaps more than any other time, gives us space to pause and ask ourselves what life is really about – what is it that we’re really living for?

 

Easter can be thought of in many ways. It seems to me that we have entered a new space in recent years to be able to discuss issues of spirituality much more openly again. Here are a few ways that I see Easter, if you’re interested (!):

 

1) Easter is about new beginnings. The chance to start over, to see the world radically differently in the light of what God reveals to us about his own self-giving, others-empowering love. It’s an opportunity for us to press the reset button and find the grace and hope for the world to be made new. In the midst of the pain and complexities of the global lockdown of COVID-19, multiple voices are beginning to call for a reimagined world. Jeremy Lent writes powerfully about the reality that everything has changed. He states that the ‘neo-liberal era’ is potentially over and therefore we have an opportunity to reset the foundations upon which we build our lives together on planet earth, whilst working for its regeneration. It’s well worth making yourself a cup of tea and pausing to read his reflections.

 

2) Easter is about a new economy. Easter is about debts being forgiven and a resetting of our priorities. Never, in all of human history, has there been such stark inequality between rich and poor, nor has the climate ever faced such an emergency. Our economic systems are entirely defunct for the needs of the global population and the environment in which we live. The old lie that ‘there is no such thing as society’ is exposed for what it is and the story of ‘self-centred, selfish man’ as the basis on which to build economic theory is broken. In its place new experiments are emerging around economies of wellbeing. This week Amsterdam declared it is going to be the first ‘doughnut city’ in the world – read this and let your heart leap – we’re talking about the kind of economy that is regenerative and distributive by design! The world made new! Jesus proclaimed the economics of Jubilee – a forgiving of all debts and the chance for the people and the land to rest. So radical it was never adopted, but his manifesto has never changed. We have an opportunity together to embrace a much more loving and radical economics if we want to. We don’t have to continue as we were…..In fact there are fresh global calls to cancel the debt of developing nations – now that would be a reset!

 

3) Easter is about a new politics. Bishop Tom Wright calls resurrection ‘THE political act’. In other words, he’s saying that the ultimate power of the world is not that held together by the likes of Trump and Putin, but the life-laid-down-love of the cross – no power can overcome this love – it is the ultimate force in the universe and it is legitimated in the resurrection of the son of God, who lives this way and overcomes death itself and empire in all its forms. This politics of love is non-violent, enemy-loving and full of peace. It does not erect walls, it builds bridges. It is full of compassion and mercy. It always hopes, always trusts and always perseveres. Russell Brand and Brad Evans have a fascinating conversation about a new politics of love – something we have been actively exploring in Morecambe Bay (See Roger Mitchell’s brilliant talk). They discuss how this is anything but ‘airy-fairy’. Love, rather, as the ultimate foundation of how we build our lives together gives us an alternative reality on which to build a fairer and kinder society. Brand is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I like his ability to ask good questions and provoke our ability to think as we challenge our own presuppositions. Some people are now coining the term ‘glocalisation’ to think about how we become more locally focused, whilst remaining globally connected and concerned about the plight of others around the world. In other words, glocalisation enables a much more relational, loving, connected politics and economics whilst also enabling us to learn from other great ideas and initiatives around the world and care about our fellow human brothers and sisters more. The politics of Jesus is seen throughout his life and ministry and his death and resurrection makes it even more possible: prioritise the poor, put children in the centre, instate women, free prisoners, heal the sick, welcome strangers, renew the creation….not a bad starting point for a new world.

 

4) Easter is about healing. As we behold the wounds inflicted on God himself, we find one who is truly with us in our own suffering. His therapeutic healing is one which draws alongside to be with us in our pain and distress, washing our feet, bearing and carrying our infirmities with Him – sometimes that results in incredible miracles but often it’s just the knowing that he is with us in it that is enough. We see this kind of incredible healing at work through our health and care workers across the globe right now and in countless tales of lives poured out in service to others. The whole point of healing is to bring wholeness. I wonder what our health and care systems would really be like if we put wellbeing and wholeness at the heart of the design process.

 

5) Easter is about salvation and redemption. I personally cannot align myself with a theology of penal substitution. I don’t have time or space in this blog to say why, but would recommend ‘A More Christlike God’ by my friend Brad Jersak, or this blog to explore the issue further, if you’re interested. As we look upon the crucified Christ, we don’t look upon someone appeasing an angry Father, rather we see God himself, misunderstood and rejected, nailed to a cross, breathing out forgiveness and revealing to humanity that this way of life-poured-out-love is stronger than death itself. This way of life saves us from our own selfishness, greed and ego-promotion and invites us into something far greater and more beautiful. The invitation of Easter is to reset our relationships with each other, the earth and God himself; to discover that God IS love, not at all like an Imperial Sovereign, and the very nature of the Trinity is self-giving, others-empowering love! The truth is that unless we’re willing to deal with our own internal mess, our own ego-mechanisms and projections, then we will never heal the mess of the world together. The invitation from Christ through the ages is for each of us to take up our own cross, to crucify our own selfish nature, which fights against the way of love and put on the ‘new self’, to be made into new creatures and partake in the new creation.

 

I believe we have an opportunity in this time to rest, reflect, reimagine and reset. If we dare to ask ourselves some deeper questions and become uncomfortable with the answers we are discovering; if we can allow ourselves to feel some of the discord about the way things have been, but also recognise the fear we have of stepping into a different way of being together and the grief cycle we must enter to let it go; if we can embrace the inconvenient truth that the earth and the global poor are speaking to us about the unsustainable nature of our neo-liberal world, then perhaps we have enough critical yeast to change us and inspire us towards a new world together. I take great comfort in the idea that God is with us in this struggle and works through us, by his Spirit, to bring reconciliation to a broken society. Over the last few days I have heard my favourite childhood bible verse, from the prophet Isaiah, a number of times. I leave it with you as food for thought:

 

Isaiah 43v1

”Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.“

 

 

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4 Things to Do If You Are ‘Isolated’ at Home Because of Corona Virus

Tweet I’ve been thinking about how people can best use their time, if they are stuck at home during this Corona Virus, Covid-19 Pandemic. Some people will be asked to ‘self-isolate’, along with their household for 14 days because they have symptoms of a high temperature and/or a persistent and troubling cough. Others will be [Continue Reading …]

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How Does Change Happen? Part 2

Tweet This question has become extremely important to me, in my work around how we tackle health inequalities and social injustice. It’s all too easy to take sides, point fingers and play the blame game. But if our political system teachers us anything, it is that this kind of didactic, oppositional approach to life, brings [Continue Reading …]

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Love Politics – Part 1 – Zahra Delilah

Tweet On July 17th we hosted another conversation in our series on how Love and Kindness might serve as important foundation stones for a reimagined future that is socially just for humanity and sustainable for the environment. So far, we’ve looked at ‘Love People’, ‘Love Society’, ‘Love Economics’ and this time the focus was ‘Love [Continue Reading …]

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Poeting an Alternative Future

Tweet As part of the ‘love and kindness’ series on the Black Swan Podcast, I interviewed the brilliant  and award winning Spoken Word Poet, Matt Sowerby. Matt is 18 and lives in Morecambe Bay. I find his words to be beautiful, challenging and moving. Here are the links on iTunes and Spotify if you want [Continue Reading …]

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The Rise of Antidepressants

Tweet The BBC ran a news piece today about the massive rise in use of antidepressants in England and Wales over the last 10 years. And depending on which study you believe between 1 in 11 and 1 in 6 people in England are now on an antidepressant (though we must remember, that antidepressants can [Continue Reading …]

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The Black Swan Podcast

Tweet I’m super excited to announce the launch of a new podcast: “Black Swan Podcast”   Until 1791, people in the UK assumed all swans were white. Then a black swan was brought to these shores and so perspectives and previously held beliefs and opinions had to change. Sometimes anomalies cause us to stop and [Continue Reading …]

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Black Swans and Poverty

Tweet Here is a copy of the speech I recently gave at Morecambe Food Bank when Heidi Allen MP and Frank Field MP came to be with us and to listen to the community here in Morecambe Bay about our experiences of poverty. There were some incredibly moving testimonies from community commissioners of the poverty [Continue Reading …]

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Truth about Poverty

Tweet One of the best things I have been involved in over the last few years, is the Poverty Truth Commission and it has helped me to learn just how utterly complex and wicked poverty is as an issue. I’m currently reading an absolutely brilliant book by the theologian Samuel Wells, called ‘The Nazareth Manifesto’. [Continue Reading …]

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