There are moments when life in this small diocese threatens to resemble one of Susan Howatch's 'Church of England' novels! Consider these components: a city stunned at news of a factory closing and hundreds of jobs threatened; an impoverished diocese looking for a new bishop; a beleaguered Dean, looking for a new Director of Music; and in between these possibilities are all the endless twisting strands for a complex of sub-plots. I doubt I have time to write it, but this is one of those times when it seems that life imitates art!
Thinking about those components with all their potential to carry the richness and confusion of life – one speculates how the strands will weave and where the emphasis will fall. I have no doubt that the very centre must be the city and the news of the factory closing: the issues of Bishops and Deans, dioceses and cathedrals, should be centred on the call of the city and not be distracted by ecclesiastical housekeeping or politics. In this novel the response of the church to the city’s trauma is the critical element. Perhaps this is a moment where art might guide life!
The wonder of life is that we dare take it for granted and commonly miss sight of the reality that life, matter, is charged with wonder.
The Jewish roots of our faith embrace this realisation very clearly in the law giving. Consider this fragment from the Leviticus reading this morning and see how wonder and reality, spirit and matter are held together:
19:2 … You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
The deep truth about us is ultimately the call to be holy – connected as one with God. We are spiritual beings and we forget that at our peril. To realise this truth is also to radically amend how we live – we are to live accountably and with care for one another – so immediately after the call to be holy we hear some instructions on how to live accountably: we are not to exploit, not to take everything that we might, but we are to leave enough for others so that they too can be sustained. It’s the story embedded in the gleaners and reapers painting by Millet that I remembered and mentioned some months ago (in our reflection for Advent 2, 2016).
Here is the foundation for how we are to live: we work because we are placed in the world to work and become the people we are created to be; and we must work in such a way that others are enabled to do the same.
Apply this, roughly as need be, to our local situation now. Our city is in some distress because a global corporation, a faceless entity, Mondelez International, has chosen to shut down the Cadbury’s factory which has its Quaker roots in this city. The long hand of globalisation has reached out and ripped apart our community: Mondelez International is, figuratively, reaping to the edges and stripping the vineyard! It is ironic that on their website Mondelez promote their value of ‘Heritage’with a familiar icon: a glass of milk and a bar of Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. To skim their website, its massive amount of data and its focus on shareholders – is to catch a sense of how and why Mondelez International ‘reaps to the edges’. The Mondelez vice president for our region, Amanda Banfield, sees the problem as a matter of scale and said:
"The plant is not losing money, it is not about that. It is about its long term sustainability. It is actually more cost effective for us to move this volume elsewhere and that is really the view we have taken.
This is truly an instance of ‘reaping to the edges’.
What are we to do? There is a lot of anger in our community and talk of boycotts of Cadbury products – which might actually have some merit in resisting an unethical enterprise. Yet the reality is that Mondelez International could buy Otago and Southland. We are nothing in the scale of their business. When evil is done; what do we do? We go back to basic principles, I can almost feel the Quaker over my shoulder! Christ says: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;…”. We resist evil by not becoming like it; we confront power by powerlessness – and it takes a lot of imagination and creative thinking to work that out into practical terms.
We have been in such places before. We thought about such things in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008; in the Occupy movement of 2011; in the Hillside Engineering Works Closure of 2012… and still such evil happens because there is not the moral vision to see the profound spiritual connection between us all: that my well-being involves my neighbours well-being; that our humanity requires that we resist power (including our own) and secure the vulnerable. Our salvation involves the restoration of a broken relationship with the whole created order through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and, by the power of his Spirit, the creation of a community in which our care of one another makes us all transparent to God.
How are we as a church to respond to the closure of Cadbury and the issues it presents to the workers and the city? Prayer will be, must be, at the very heart of all we do.