Prayer Candles

Theological Reflection

Our world today…. through eyes of realism

If the world was a village of 100 people, the graphic statistics evidence the inequalities: 

 

The world we live in has hardly had time to recover from the global downturn seen in 2008 accompanied by over 10 years of austerity, when the tsunami of Covid-19 enveloped us. That phenomena has exacerbated the economic and social inequalities, which in turn are fuelling some of the protests and unrest we have evidenced. We see a world in turmoil over climate change, trade tensions and migration as well as over 35 major conflicts happening today. Is this the world that you and I want to see?

 

 “The future doesn’t have to be like this – we have the tools to put out the fires,” said UN Chief Economist, Elliott Harris. “The Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement are our fire extinguishers and all we need, is more political will to use them.

 

 

Do we then simply sit back and watch to see the political leaders of our world ‘do the right thing’ and bring us all back to our senses? Are we confident that this will happen?

Do we just throw our hands in the air and declare: ‘It’s pointless.’ After all, what evidence do we have that our world leaders have shown the courage and capacity to prioritise these matters in the past.

 

OR

 

Do WE do what WE can to make a positive difference.

The old chinese proverb perhaps could be the starting point in response for many. ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’ We want to do more than this. We want to light a fire on a hill that will attract others who believe that we can make a positive difference in our world. 
 

We want to do this through a business venture that builds pathways out of poverty through enterprise, creating employment and income; a faith-driven enterprise ecosystem enabling families and communities to thrive. This is, we believe, a compelling vision that can lead to social transformation.

 

It is encouraging to note that there are those in this world who do not accept the inevitability that things cannot change. Through the years men and women and, in recent years, children have been seen to rise up and cry out for justice. Take for instance the dream of Martin Luther King Jr who told us not to ‘wallow in the valley of despair….’ but to ‘have a dream’; or Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education known for her human rights advocacy; or Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a generation of young people around the world to speak out on the subject of climate change. There is hope and we should be encouraged to be ‘lamp-lighters’ not ‘lamp-outers’.

 

There have been many social justice initiatives promoted in the last 50 years and more. We could get discouraged when we acknowledge that many have either failed or leaders have refused to address the issues adequately or effectively, but there is growing evidence that this inertia in tackling the issues is seen more and more as unacceptable. The ‘Black lives matter’ protest is a case in point. Statues seemingly celebrating slavery that have been in place for many decades are being demolished or covered in graffiti. Slavery which is still rampant today in the form of human trafficking and modern day slavery, is being highlighted as an evil that needs to be challenged, indeed eradicated. Sexual abuse of others and immoral behaviour is a scourge in our world but to a degree, is being brought more effectively to public attention because victims have been prepared to speak out and in a number of areas, action has been taken to focus on such matters. Movements like ‘#MeToo’ have raised the profile of the abuse of women. The strengthening of safeguarding procedures in many settings continues to highlight the enormity of that issue.

 

There are wars and rumours of wars, civil unrest, ethnic cleansing, and other war crimes, all in a world where opulence and riches are exhibited in stark contrast to starvation, disease and poverty that abounds. 

 

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Our world today…. through eyes of faith

 

Back in 1974, the Lausanne Covenant, composed by a leading group of Christian leaders, was affirmed. It had a section called ‘Christian Social Responsibility.’ Back at the beginning of the Millennia (2000), we were encouraged to take on board the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015.

Now the UN has introduced us to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) to build a better world for people. These goals have a close resemblance to the 8 MDGs, which is not surprising.

 

Essentially these and other initiatives are about justice. You look in a dictionary for the word ‘justice’ and you will find ‘fairness.’ You look up the word ‘fairness’ and you will find ‘equity.’ You look at ‘equity’ and you will find yourself back with ‘justice. These words point to a central theme in Scripture, which is:- ‘justice.’ It occurs one way or another over 1,000 times in the Bible. 

 

Our God is a God of justice and the practice of justice is at the heart of God’s purpose for the world in which we live. Our worship of God has little meaning unless it is accompanied by concrete acts of justice. Micah 6: 8 in a sense summarises the ethical stance of the Old Testament when he declares: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.

 

One can be depressed when ascertaining how little progress has been made in initiatives as illustrated in the three outlined. That could be a demotivator factor when it comes to the new SDG’s, but such a response would be a grave mistake. There have been successes. It’s true that progress has been very slow, but much has been achieved and the inspiration behind all of these initiatives has raised a substantial number of individuals, groups, companies, NGOs and churches who have a passion and energy to make a difference where they are. Change has been quietly happening and perhaps, just perhaps we are on the threshold of a new era for a Christ-centred, justice-focussed, transformation in the world. A spiritual approach to the challenges in the world outlined in the Lausanne Covenant, the MDGs and the SDGs is the power that can make the difference. When we ‘walk by faith’ with a passion for justice, then ‘all things are possible.’

 

 The Challenge….catch the vision

Three fundamental challenges come from the words of Jesus to those who would claim him as their Lord.

 

1. His Mission - Jesus outlined this in Luke 4:18 (see Isaiah 61):-   

              

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind.

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

 

 

This statement should also be the Christian approach to the world we live in. These are guidelines that dictate what we must do and where our focus should be in our endeavour to ‘seek first His Kingdom’ (Matthew 6:33).

 

○  The onus is on us to challenge injustice; to have Christian standards in our work ethics; to seek to alleviate the suffering this world brings to so many; to share the blessings we have received with those who have little.

 

2. His Greatest Commandment  - In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus responds to the question regarding which is the ‘greatest’ commandment. The answer He gives is interestingly outlined in two commandments paraphrased as ‘loving God and loving your neighbour.’ A brief study clearly shows that this couplet is essentially encapsulated in one commandment, in that you cannot ignore the needs of your neighbour if you love God. It is in a practical sense one of the ways in which we show our love to God. Matthew 25: 35 -  ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

 

○  Christian compassion (love) identifies need in the world and cannot ‘pass by on the other side.’ Luke 10: 25 appropriately follows the outline of the ‘greatest commandment’ with the story of the Good Samaritan. This understanding has implications on the use of our time, our money and other resources. Loving God and our neighbour is without doubt in the arena of risk taking, but it is the greatest thing that we can be involved in. (1 Corinthians 13: 13).

 

 

 

3. His Commission - Not just to ‘go into the world and make disciples’ but in all circumstances to seek first His Kingdom

 

○  Christian stewardship acknowledges that nothing we have is ours alone. It is God’s and if through any reason we have been blessed with much, then we have much to bless others with. (Deuteronomy 8: 10). In accepting Christ’s commission, we become fellow workers with Him in order to bring a sense of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

 

Christian stewardship is at the heart of all of this. The first commandment God gave to human beings was to be fruitful.’ But how can you be fruitful if you are poor, hungry, have poor health, no clean water or education - and they are just 5 of the SDGs. If the world exercised stewardship of God’s resources, there would be more than enough so that no one would be hungry in this world. Half the world has to deal with the daily challenge of simply surviving, the other half has to face the paradox of what life is all about in our consumerism focussed world.

 

The SDG’s for us are about Kingdom (of God) outcomes and we pray that, like the men from Issachar, we can understand the times we live in and know what we should do. (1 Chronicles 12:32).

 

○  We want to change things on earth because we have received a vision from Heaven. [Amos 7:8 - What God has shown us]

○  We need to harness the positive aspects of commerce as a force for good and stimulate economic transformation in this world. [Isaiah 43:18,19 - situations can be changed]

○ We need to work at building communities of trust by being trustworthy.

This is our vision.

 
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The way forward…… with purpose

"An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists. They have a culture of purpose beyond making a profit." 

Punit Renjen, Deloitte

 

When business models are created purely on a materialistic level, they can be highly corrosive.  We live in a world that, for many, is mainly concerned with getting, but not giving. It’s motivations are an ever-increasing consumption of consumer goods, constant ‘growth’, and an obsession with the treasures of the earth at the lowest level. They represent the ‘kingdoms of this world’ which were offered to and repudiated by Christ in His time in the desert (Matthew 4: 1-11). We can work and live in this world, be happy in it and share in its true prosperity, but we must not be subservient to it and we do not accept its values without careful examination. It is the love of the things of this world that is wrong, not simply having them, (see 1 Timothy 6:10), and far above all that the world prizes, we treasure the love of God and His will for us.

 

“Just as people cannot live without eating, so a business cannot live without profits. But most people don’t live to eat and neither must businesses live just to make profits.”

- John Mackey, Whole Foods

 

There is evidence that in the business world perceptions are changing. Some would say we are living in an exciting era as we identify a greater sense of purpose and understanding of responsibilities shown by a growing number of companies. Benchmarking success in the business world is seen more and more as not just about profit but about investing in the world and improving lives. 

 

There is growing evidence that consumers are demanding companies to serve a social purpose. A study by Edelman and Young & Rubicam indicates that not only does this bring benefit to their employee relations, but customers are more willing to engage with businesses that have, as part of their mission, a policy of making a positive social impact. A research project led by Verizon and the Campbell Soup Company identified that a focus on doing good reduces a company’s team turnover rate by up to 50%, increases its productivity by up to 13%, and boosts employee engagement and satisfaction by up to 7.5%.

 

“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment

around a common purpose, anything is possible.”

- Howard Schultz, Starbucks

 

As Dee Hock (Visa) so eloquently puts it:

 

“Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people.

It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart

or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and morality.”

 

 

The purpose of our initiative is to help bring about this impact by developing a set of training materials/capacity building tools to support Enterprise-Led Development as a means to spiritual, social, environmental and economic transformation, for growth, a sustainable future and overall flourishing. In a sense, it’s the old adage that says it is better to teach a man to fish, than to give him a fish.

 

 

 

There are 3 layers of this initiative:

 

The understanding is that faith, values and character are the foundation upon which the building skills and coaching skills will be developed.

 

A succinct way of outlining the focus of the initiative is as follows:

Poverty

Eco-system

Employment and income

Families and Communities

Social transformation

Luke 10 :7; Book of Job; Ecclesiastes 35 12

The Bible is not a textbook on economics but it does offer much personal guidance on how to navigate both riches, poverty and employment.

God’s people are called to be agents of social transformation proclaiming the kingdom of God and promoting social justice – Luke 4: 18, 19

This is our Mission

 
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The way forward…… with values

 

Let’s look at the values that underpin the approach to this Venture, and look at what scripture has to say regarding these matters.

Values

Respect for all life on earth

Life is what is most sacred on earth and stands above all else - mere tools like enterprise and investment, profits, financial returns etc are there to serve life.

Dignity, flourishing and full potential

All life, including every human, has an inherent desire and need to grow, flourish and reach full potential. It is the purpose of business and society to enable that.

Humility and service

 

As humans we are fallible and need to be humble and listen. What’s more, we are at our best when we not only listen , but act in concert and serve each other.

Community and collaboration

Humans are naturally trusting and collaborative; in tapping into this positive vision we can together achieve what no one can accomplish alone.

Shared vision and values

 

Why is this the most important motivator. It needs to be profound, clear and shared. How is what we figure out together, based on what works and makes us better. What is actually least important and follows need, opportunity and feasibility.

 

The vision we have will be evidenced in the values we hold. The one necessarily impacts the other.

Skin-in-the-game

We believe the joys and successes, sorrows and failures, should be shared to double the former and halve the latter. However, this also means that we are accountable to each other and our partners and everyone owns their choices.

Justice

 

We seek to do what’s right in terms of fairness, in terms of truth and logic, and in terms of making us better. Justice is crucial as a principle in itself and as a beacon.

Radical innovation/draw the owl

 

We seek to solve issues at their core. Most of what we do is new, if not in principle, then in combination or application. There is no playbook. Part of the joy of our work is to write it together.

Joy

Whatever we do, we do it with joy. It’s not always fun, but working with others, sharing a purpose, being part of something more important than oneself, is always joyful and a privilege.

Theological reflection

Genesis 1 is the ‘go to’ chapter when it comes to discussing the environment, but the Bible is full of other verses reminding us of our responsibility to protect the earth and of life which God created.

See: Psalm 104: 25-30; John 1: 3; Romans 1: 19-20; Ezekiel 34: 2-4

 

‘...the Lord detests dishonest scales…

....the integrity of the upright guides them’ - Proverbs 10 & 11

 

‘Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God…...’

- 1 Peter 2: 17

‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ - Philippians 4: 13

 

The Lord tells us that when we help others, we help Him  - Matthew 25: 31-46

 

The potential of ‘the promised land’ if we trust in the Lord - Joshua 1: 5-9

Without vision the people perish’

 - Proverbs 29: 18

 

In the context of this paper, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22,23) could also be described as our Values:

 

Love - means to love the unlovely and seek the welfare of others.

 

Joy - an essential social value based on spiritual and eternal circumstances.

 

Peace – not just the absence of discord, but positive well-being.

 

Patience - ‘God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision. It is in the valley that so many of us give up and faint. Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience.’ - Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest)

 

Kindness and Goodness - Look at this as Justice for all (not ‘just-me’). A concept biased in favour of the disadvantaged.

 

Faithfulness - the means to real depth in relationships of all kinds. It’s about being trustworthy.

 

Gentleness/Meekness - this is showing grace in our lives. Giving people more than they deserve.


Self control - life is found in service rather than self-centredness

These values are foundational to the vision and mission outlined. We want to make an impact in this world, making it a better place by caring for it and caring for the disadvantaged in it. We make decisions based on our values. Our mission prioritises that business must focus on profit that impacts positively in our world. We don’t ask why we do these things but we ask ‘why not?’ It’s a vision of a world that can be.

 

These are our values.

 

Translations used are as follows:- NIV (UK version); The Message (Eugene Peterson)

 

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Angello Development Foundation is registered as a charity with the Northern Ireland Charity Commission. (Registered Charity Number NIC101440)