19.11.13

Ann Morisey on Citizenship in the community


The writing below is largely reflective of Ann Morisey's points but filtered through my own mind and so this is not a transcript and perhaps to a small degree also, my interpretation.

Ann was Community development officer for ten years, a role created by Derby diocese circa 1976 - 7.

She begins by comparing community to an aerosol in that the word is sprayed around and it gets used liberally by many. We need to engage with the word in a real way in the face of community breakdown.  

A fragmented society is different from a diverse society - people are unable to make connections because they do not want to form a common and traditional culture and a sense of the common good and labouring for this is challenged:  "For whose good?"

We live in a tribalising culture - facebook enclaves, football affiliation etc all of which give a sense of family instead. Trust is found in these places and not in the fragmented culture. 

Ethnographical skills are required - Street Pastors is flagged up as an example - an ethnographic skill is borne in those who can empathise with the 2am drunk clubber. Those who empathise develop ethnographic skills. 

Some of those more traditional entry points make a lot of assumptions that do not always sit with the context - ie Baptism assumes that names are Christian and can be pronounced, that some vestige of faith will be there. 

What are we about?
What about society?
Are we a decadent society?

Decadent societies are often prosperous where middle class greed sits in opposition to lower class hopelessness. Societies that persist in decadence become unwilling to commit to their own upkeep and fall into decline (Some points here from Wikipedia definition). 

Citizenship challenges our decadence. For these reasons it will not be popular. 40% of the gains of quantitive easing go to the 5% of the richest nations - we are not growing a community approach, neither are we driven by solidarity. We are perpetuating inequality, Ann proposes. 

Wikipedia's chilling description of decadence should stop us in our tracks - there is something here to grapple with. 

Enlightenment invests in us this feeling that progress is achieved through reason but hope springs up rather than trickling down through rational systems. 

Local and neighbourhood might be better terms than community to give this sense of a bottom-up approach. Experts puzzling through our problems with ideas for success is not the answer. 

Our culture today triumphs rights over generosity and generosity needs also to become contagious - there is a need to be more motivated by generosity than competitive rights-seeking. 

A cynic is a hopeful person who cannot face disappointment again and there is a pessimism about human beings being able to correct their own errors - the cynic doesn't believe in redemption, really. A cynic distrusts ethical and moral dreaming. 

Profit and power and status
Alisdair MacIntryre in After Virtue talks about how profit and power and status are our drivers and how we achieve these for influence. If people organise around these the hope is lost. 

Alisdair MacIntryre evolved a new Benedictine order in response to what he was feeling - we need the imagination that comes into play at the local level - performance obsessions narrow imagination!!

Ambition for the alternative thing that happens in the neighbourhood is where our energy should go. 

Ann challenges us to follow the alternative performance mandate of Jesus 'the man' - don't forget Jesus the man!!

Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society by Alberto Melucci is a book that can offer help. Ann explores how we must become aware of the ways in which the powerful retain power. Advantage is kept where there is an unequal distribution of resources. 

Ann explores Valorisation - the way we value what we commodify, where there's power - the psychologist over the homecarer, for example. Defining roles and rules is also one of the ways in which we collude with the institutional violence that places emphasis on power and position over everything else. Revolution always happens from the bottom-up and not the top-down and so we have to turn this on its head -  this desire to acquire power. 


We are to subvert the dynamics of profit, power and status by following the alternative performance mandate of Jesus. 


Ann explores the lectionary and how by following this we are unable to see the narrative flow of the gospel - we miss the full story by following the lectionary - we need to open our eyes again to Jesus' radical mandate.


Jesus eschews power in going to the Wilderness to puzzle about power, profit, power and status which are all offered. He sets his face towards Jerusalem and Peter speaks our concerns, our limited imagination - Jesus knows that Peter is articulating the solutions of the world in his rallying Jesus and telling him another way is possible. Jesus' response is to subvert power and enter on a donkey. Jesus wants us to puzzle. Jesus is able to be a non-anxious presence. He subverts the taken notions of the world. He introduces wide fraternal relations instead - the horizontal relationships - everyone is our brother and sister and in this way we transcend tribalism. Jesus invests in the most unlikely and communicates not by analysis but by analogy and he invites people to think for themselves countering the sin of Eve who allowed herself to be told what to think by the devil. 


We are similarly to help people to work it out for themselves. When we do it like Jesus, we discover a generous economy that is characterised by a cascading of grace. 


One of the new prophets speaking into this worth looking at is Martin E. P. Seligman in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. His Positive Economics explores how abundance flows through relationship and not stuff. 

In this way anxiety is counteracted. 

What is anxiety? 
We react rather than respond when we are anxious. The reptilian brain goes into overdrive and we become cold-blooded and we lose awareness of our own limitations and pains and those of others. We need to be able to recognise when the reptilian brain is in overdrive and when we are reacting rather than puzzling it through. 

Anxiety has us handle conflict through emotional distancing. 
Staying engaged in the face of our natural anxieties is the challenge we must speak over ourselves. We can ask for forgiveness from those who are different to us and we can ask for forgiveness from God.

We are also inclined to 'herd' when under threat. 

We also forget how to have fun together.
"Laughter is a rumour of angels," said Peter Berger (in his book The Sacred Canopy). Look on the face of a baby and soften your eyes, says Ann. Soften your eyes when you look on your community. Be committed to fun, play and festivity. Bring on those who have this capacity to animate.  

When we are anxious we pick on those who are vulnerable and last in and then we are in the territory of scape-goating. Beware anxiety! 

Anticipatory obedience
Jesus seeks to bring an end to scape-goating. 

Do the middle classes think they are in receipt of salvation from bosses who secure their status and affluence? Then you secure supposed salvation by pleasing your boss. In troubled times when the middling people get anxious then we really are in tricky times. The poor are always in tricky times but the middle classes in anxiety partake in anticipatory obedience and lose their voice and ability to act counter-culture to the profit and power and performance fixation.

Girard has spoken about this cultural obsession with this ubiquitous scape-goating. The gospels are written from the viewpoint of the scapegoat with Jesus rising again but tell us too that the scapegoat will always be around. People who 'church' preach about the putting to death of the scapegoat and his triumphant return in Eucharist. The dynamic of blaming does deeply dastardly things. 


Jesus saves us by showing us the alternative performance mandate!


When Britain was exhibiting revolutionary fervour in the 1840s, there was a form of evangelical action that spread principals across the land. Victorians were given a sense of purpose from the religious purposes they imbibed.


What is revolution? It is the throwing off of the perceived constraints of our circumstances to not become a prisoner to them and Methodism did this in part. The perceived circumstances only see us lethargising ourselves and being taken over by addictions. Throwing off the perceived constraints was something that the Methodist movement did. All it had was conversation. They puzzled together, from a place of vulnerability rather than competence and respect. Solidarity went across tribe.


I think that the New Wine Movement is achieving this. We are bridging across denominations and affiliations. That bit is me and not Ann Morisey.


We have to talk to one another, she goes on to say.


Ann Morisey talks about James Bond in Skyfall and how he exhibits his vulnerability and dependence. He is not promoting performance and power but a vulnerable resilience. Vulnerability is a 'thin place' and the theology we see here is that there is a viable manageable economy of abundance in this.


Rudolph Bahro says that the new culture is always created by a few people who are not afraid about feeling insecure. Amen. 


...and that is the challenge that she leaves us with. 

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