The other side of the bank vault
See the original article as it appeared on the Premier Christian media's website here...
Trust lies at the heart of our transactions, you pay money and trust that you will gain
something in return, from holidays to financial products, trust is key.
The amount of trust we put in our banks is up there with the trust we put in our education
system to teach our children well and our health service to keep our well being in check.
We put our money in banks because we believe that it will be safer than it would be under
the mattress at home, it’s one of the most important trust relationships we enter into. Yet
what do we actually trust our banks to do?
The banks most of us use do a great job of helping us to feel secure in our banking, they
aim to provide excellent customer service , a range of financial products and appealing
interest rates, 24-7 customer help-lines, flexible ways to deposit and access money and
the rest of it. A great deal of effort is put into attracting you into the bank with the promise
of security for your money and more often, to journey with you through life’s challenges,
helping you along the way with a range of products designed to put you first.
At face value, this is great! Just as we expect our schools to put our children first and our
NHS to put patients first, so our banks put customers first. Or so the advertising claims.
It only takes seconds to realise that, of course this isn’t the case. We may put more trust in
our banks than in any other business, but we know that at the end of the day, they are still
businesses that share the common bottom line of all businesses, they exist to make
money. This is what comes first; of course treating customers well is key to turning a profit,
but I’m afraid that yes, you are a means to an end.
If we think about it, all the things we trust our banks to do focus on our side of the bank
vault. Take a peek through the other side however, and a different story emerges.
It can prove incredibly difficult to find out what your bank does with your money, but there
are some who have taken it upon themselves to do just that: investigate and publicise the
nature of the investments made by our most popular (and most trusted) high street banks
and whose money they choose to invest. The findings open a number of ethical cans of
worms, that as followers of Christ, I believe we should be concerned about.
From investments in the arms trade and propping up corrupt regimes to exploitation of the
environment, excessive bonuses for directors to blatant tax avoidance, the picture painted
is not a pretty one.
The independent monitoring body ‘ethical consumer’ rates all of the ‘big 5’ banks
(Barclays, Lloyds group, Santander, RBS and HSBC) no higher than 4.5 out of 20 on their
ethical rating system, with some scoring as low as 0.5 overall. Sites like these give a very
useful break down of where you are inadvertently investing your money.
So what does this have to do with you? In trusting the banks to keep your money safe and
give you a decent rate of interest you are, in quite a direct way, financing a range of
investments that you yourself would perhaps wish to steer clear of, even things that you
might condemn and campaign against in other ways.
Banks can very subtly straddle that divide between the way we think about trusted
institutions that provide important services and the way we perceive big business (in often
less positive terms). This is a call to rethink what we trust our institutions and businesses
There are alternative banks, building societies and credit unions whose purpose is to
invest ethically and locally, to be trusted by customers to work for the common good as
well as to offer competitive services. You can find out more through CSM’s ‘Put your
money where your mouth is’ campaign at www.thecsm.org.uk
Why entrust your money to businesses you cannot trust to hold the same values as you
hold? Why settle for giving a proportionally small sum to good causes whilst the bulk of
your money runs the risk of finding its way into dodgy investments that have damaging
impacts on people and the planet?
Let’s bank on something worth while, in something we can trust.
Sam Buck, 24/04/2012
Hope and Ben Hur
I've only ever watched parts of Ben Hur before, I didn't even watch it in its entirety today, but I did see the longest chunk to date.
Some classic acting and some over dramatic 'ohs' and 'ahs' - brilliant rainy day TV.
I'm glad I took a bit of time to really watch it and empathise with the main character Judah who has been through so many ups and downs in his life, he has come close to death so many times and has lost so much on the way. He stands in the crowd as Jesus is being crucified. Another man, Balthazaar is there. He's an old man, his character is supposed to be one of the wise men who came to see Jesus at his birth and has followed him through to his death. At this point There's a bit of dialogue between the two men in which Judah is basically saying 'look where your hope has got you'.
He says this to the old man out of a place of experience. He has seen how hard life can be, even his last ounce of hope, that Jesus might heal his family from leprosy has been taken away from him; he is full of anger and disillusionment and who could blame him!?
And yet this old man, distressed though he is at all that is happening, clings on to hope, a faith that this is all for something greater, deeper than one man's death, that there is something going on beneath the surface.
This seems, in my experience, to be how God loves to work. When all seems hopeless, when despair is at its height and there just seems no point trying to hold on to anything... that's when God acts. It's a theme you can see time and time again in the Bible narrative whether you look at Moses, Esther, Daniel, David etc... It seems that God just waits... until the very last minute... every... time.
So why? does God just like playing with us? is it some kind of sick game, to see how long He can keep us on the edge? I would suggest not.
I think it's got something to do with resurrection actually.
All these characters in God's story I've mentioned and more came to the end of themselves. Often there was physically nothing they could do in their situations except rely on something bigger, deeper, stronger than themselves and they threw themselves onto God's grace and strength whole heartedly. That's where their heart was, by that point there was little else left that they could put their trust in. And in many of these stories, it's interesting to observe that once they've been in that place of desperation and complete reliance on God, next time they're in trouble, He is their first port of call (if they learnt the lesson).
Old Balthazaar and those with him in the crowd were party to the greatest example of this in all of God's story. It was one of those situations again, where, if God was going to act, He was going to be characteristically late (thus taking those hopers to the edge of themselves and showing His power more brilliantly). There was still hope, even as some taunted him, wondering if Elijah will come and save him.
But that moment came... and it went.
Not this time.
Judah Ben Hur is proven right, life is tough, death trumps everything, what's the point in hope?
What's the point in hope?
Why even hold out that something can be done about injustice that brings poverty to billions in our world?
Why hope that caring about our planet and tackling climate change will make the blindest bit of difference?
Why hope that people in crippling debt or broken and abusive families or caught in a cycle of depression or self hatred will be able to experience real joy and genuinely smile again?
What's the point?
You know, things might not change, not even at the last minute, billions more may fall into poverty, the planet will change irreversibly with catastrophic repercussions for our eco-systems and all life that relies on them (especially those already in poverty). Maybe those estranged family members will never build bridges or speak to each other again, maybe that child will always feel abandoned.
There's still something worth hoping for.
Old Balthazaar knew something was going on beneath the surface, God was being even sneakier than usual.
And he was right.
Jesus dies, but not for long.
Resurrection has a promise in it.
The redemption of all things is coming, it's being fought for around the world by people who have this crazy hope, even in the face of impossible odds, in the face of insatiable greed and malice and corruption and selfishness. There's something going on, beneath the surface.
That thing is resurrection.
Springing up here and there in hopeful stories of God pulling through at the last minute, and sometimes not. But even in those times, God has shown what He's about.
He has shown us in Jesus' death and resurrection that regardless of results, hope is still worth holding onto, more than ever.
Because we hope for something unmatchable, unbeatable and immovable - resurrection life.
You can see it around you, if you look. Just God bringing life, just bubbling beneath the surface.
Judah Ben Hur finds this life at the end of the film and what was once a life bereft and hopeless is transformed into one of wholeness, hope and resurrection life.
Sam Buck, 10/04/2012
Introduction to Sam's Blog
Welcome to my CSM blog!
My name is Sam and this year I’m spending some time interning at The CSM.
A little intro to me:
I am a recent theology graduate and have spent time working in churches, schools and the odd stint working in retail. I currently spend half my week with CSM and the other half as a youth worker at my local church.
I am passionate about the Church taking both our message of hope seriously and the state of our world seriously.
For me, the connection between my Christian faith and political engagement is a very natural one to make. As people of faith, we have a narrative and a hope that must be a source of energy in the cause of progressive political action and political reform.
In the course of my time with CSM I intend to learn as much as possible and contribute what ever I can to encouraging Christians to make that leap into bridging the apparent gap between our faith and our politics.
In order to do that effectively I know I have much to learn about the workings of government and the political process, and also about economics. So much of political debate centres on economic issues, especially at present. This blog is intended to be a window into my learning experience with the CSM.
I hope you will join me on my journey and I hope it will prove useful for others on similar journeys.
Sam Buck, 15/11/2011
The Elephant in the Room
As I begin to look at and try to make sense of the world of economics - how the system works and what all the jargon means - I sense that my overall reaction to our economic system is a foregone conclusion. With all this talk of economic recovery, renewed growth versus austerity measures to nurse this sickly economy back to health, I can’t help but feel distinctly uncomfortable with the notion that growth = good.
I am a passionate believer in the need for serious global action on climate change; I believe that the single greatest threat to our civilisation is ourselves. Our insistence on maintaining a certain standard of living in the West at the expense of those in developing nations, and the myth that general economic growth in its current form is an indefinite possibility is the equivalent of shutting our eyes to the reality of our situation and hoping for the best.
Some of the core aims of socialist movements throughout the years have placed economic growth as a central aspect of policy and ‘revolutions’, some through working inside a capitalist system, like our own Labour Party, or in an attempt to bring about a new economic system altogether. In either case, the overriding drive towards economic growth from a socialist perspective has been striving to provide jobs, wage increases and better living conditions for those on the bottom rung of the societal ladder in an attempt to create a more egalitarian society.
These motivations are honourable ones and should, without a doubt be behind much of what we do as Christian Socialists. However, the mode through which greater equality is achieved cannot be sustainably sought through increased production and economic growth.
The basic and obvious road block to economic growth as we know it today, is of course the finite resources available on planet Earth to continue current levels of production, let alone ever increasing productivity. As we continue to dig up and drill down into the planet that we stand on, that sustains the processes that enable us to live, in order to sell them to others as commodities for monetary return, I would suggest that humanity does not ‘grow’ but is threatened all the more.
Green campaign groups, climate scientists and others have, over the past 50 years or so, managed to get environmental issues on the agenda of governments across the globe who are now constructing and implementing ‘green policies’ to meet certain CO2 reduction targets and the like. These are important steps forward, and hopefully continued pressure on governments and businesses will ensure this progress is maintained. But that isn’t where the story ends.
Successive governments have tried to oil the economic machine, provide more jobs, and lure industries and investment into the country whilst keeping up the ‘green’ rhetoric. You don’t have to do a lot of thinking to realise that these two priorities inevitably clash, usually to the detriment of our environment. I recently posted an article on the CSM website about the work of the Jubilee Debt Campaign focusing on their battle with the Export Credit Guarantee Department, part of the Business dept. The campaign highlights not only the massive amounts of ‘global south’ debt owed to the ECGD but also its bias in encouraging businesses that specialise in producing and selling high carbon emitting products and services, because they are in high demand and create swift returns on investment.
This is the perceived battle: between short term financial gain to keep the economy afloat and long term action to restructure our economy in ways that ensure the survival of our species and the Earth for generations to come.
I for one am fed up, day after day, of reading statistics about over population, increasing carbon emissions, melting ice caps and expanding deserts, starving people and depleted carbon sinks, whilst simultaneously hearing politicians and others, probably with the greatest vested interests, defending and making the case for ever increasing levels of growth. Global Climate change is a present and deadly reality, as species of plants and animals are wiped out to create space for development, vital links in the life sustaining processes on our planet are put under increased pressure, threatening to sever altogether. The problem is not purely a matter of fitting more people onto the planet, as a UN spokesperson seemed to suggest on News-night recently. The problem lies with the rate of resources each person consumes; the rate is increasing as the population continues to grow unsustainably. For example, the ecological footprint of those living in London is over 200 times the size of the city itself.
If we are to have economic growth, in my opinion it must be focused on developing sustainable energy resources, transforming the way we go about business and life to leave as small a mark on our shared planet as possible. I am no expert, but there must be scope and plenty of jobs to be created in rolling out mass adaptations to properties, transport networks and energy production to improve the way we interact with the planet. Sure, it would cost a lot of money to initiate many reforms, but like any job creating industry, it has the scope to make money and boost the economy.
The other option, too radical for the majority to consider, is to start doing things another way. I’m not entirely sure what this other way would look like, many thinkers and activists have proposed alternative models of economics and society more sympathetic to the delicate balance of the environment, and each have their pros and cons.
One thing in my view is inevitable though. As long as our society is built on an economics of excessive consumption and living beyond our means, our medium to long term future hangs in the balance.
People have become, to some extent, numb to the predictions of green campaigners and scientists prophesying doom if we don’t recycle more. We are generally more eager to hear about our rights and opportunities than our responsibilities to each other and the planet, but the truth is, we are all integrally connected to each other through our common environment. The sooner we can develop a discussion around the underlying systems that exacerbate our collective situation, the better.
No one is going to win elections whilst admitting that we will need to accept a relatively lower standard of living in the UK in order to advance social and climate justice. But the more people who see the folly of carrying on in the same way as always can raise their voices on this issue, the more that we can actively engage in the political processes that can make that difference and the greater chance there is of producing real change.
 Newman, Socialism, A very short introduction, p109-111.
Sam Buck, 31/10/2011