some thoughts on our society by e. f. schumacher

[SSU has been developing an increasing interest in learning about sustainability or resiliency – here is the first of some excerpts from Schumacher’s book, Good Work, which shares some wisdom related to those themes:]

Maybe a type of industrial society could be developed which was organized in much smaller units, with an almost infinite decentralization of authority and responsibility. From the point of view of the Gospels, a hierarchical structure, i.e., authority as such, is not an evil. But it must be of a size compatible, so to say, with the size of the human being. Structures made up of, say, a hundred people can still be fully democratic without falling into disorder. But structures employing many hundreds or even thousands of people cannot possibly preserve order without authoritarianism, no matter how great the wish for democracy might be….

There are four main characteristics of modern industrial society which, in the light of the Gospels, must be accounted four great and grievous evils:

1. Its vastly complicated nature.

2. Its continuous stimulation of, and reliance on, the deadly sins of greed, envy, and avarice.

3. Its destruction of the content and dignity of most forms of work.

4. Its authoritarian character, owing to organization in excessively large units.

– E. F. Schumacher, Good Work (free ecopy available here)

on hope through hard times

Hope… is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.… It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as our do, here and now.

– Vaclav Havel, (Czech playwright and dissident, originally published in Czech in 1986, this excerpt from Disturbing the Peace is included in the chapter “An Orientation of the Heart” from The Impossible Will Take a Little While.)

an early quote suggesting you can’t take it with you…

“Do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you
give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give
others.”

– St. Peter Chrysologus (406-450)

On the nature of truth in the midst of dialogue between Christians

[This is an excerpt from Patriarch Athenagoras I who led the Orthodox church in its steps toward dialogue with the Roman Catholic church in 1964:]

I am trying to change the spiritual atmosphere. The restoration of mutual love will enable us to see the questions in a totally different light. We must express the truth which is dear to us – because it protects and celebrates the immensity of the life which is in Christ – we must express it, not so as to repulse the other, so as to force him to admit that he is beaten, but so as to share it with him; and also for its own sake, for its beauty, as a celebration of truth to which we invite our brothers. At the same time we must be ready to listen. For Christians, truth is not opposed to life or love; it expresses their fullness. First of all, we must free these words, these words which tend to collide, from the evil past, from all political, national and cultural hatreds which have nothing to do with Christ. Then we must root them in the deep life of the Church, in the experience of the Resurrection which it is their mission to serve. We must always weigh our words in the balance of life and death and Resurrection.

Those who accuse me of sacrificing Orthodoxy to a blind obsession with love, have a very poor conception of the truth. They make it into a system which they possess, which reassures them, when what it really is, is the living glorification of the living God, with all the risks involved in creative life. And we don’t possess God; it is He who holds us and fills us with His presence in proportion to our humility and love. Only by love can we glorify the God of love, only by giving and sharing and sacrificing oneself can one glorify the God who, to save us, sacrificed himself and went to death, the death of the cross.

But I would go further. Those who reproach me with sacrificing truth to love have no confidence in the truth. They shut it up, they lock it up like an unfaithful woman. But I say, if the truth is the truth, we must not be afraid for it; let us give it, let us share it, let us show it in its fullness, let us welcome all that there is of light and love in the experience of our brethren. If we continue in this attitude, then truth will become clear of itself, it will conquer all limitations and inadequacies from within, on the basis of the common mystery of the Church. Let us enlarge our hearts, “let each one of us, as the apostle says, look not to our own things, but rather to the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). We have a sure criterion – life in Christ. Faced with a partial expression of the truth, let us ask in what measure it conveys the life in Christ, or in what measure it is liable to compromise it.

– Athenagoras, Patriarch of Constantinople

(You can read more here.)

Some Advent thoughts from Jean Vanier

[these words from Jean Vanier were not particularly addressed to the advent season, but they seemed very relevant to me]

Do we understand God’s vision for humanity or are we just closed up in our own little worlds? Can peace come? Is there hope for Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Iraq or Northern Ireland? Is there hope in this world where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing daily? Is there hope? Yes, there is hope! There is hope because God is. God is! And though there is the silence of God, there is also the mystery of God working in the hearts of people doing beautiful things. They don’t hit the headlines. The headlines are frequently things of pain – catastrophes, death. We don’t see all the peace-loving people breaking down the barriers to work together and to love each other. All of us can understand the reaction of Peter. Maybe if we found Jesus kneeling at our feet we would react in the same way. We want a big God who fixes our problems. We don’t want a little God saying, ‘I need you and I’ll come and live in you. I’ll give you a new strength, a new spirit and you shall work so people become free and loving and peace-making: We always want a God who is going to fix our problems, but God is saying, ‘I’ll give you the strength so you become one of those who work with others to bring peace to our world.’

– Jean Vanier, Encountering ‘the Other’