Posted by: rogermitchell | August 30, 2010

narrative, relational economics and faith

Cheryl makes the following comment on the post below:

“Our individuality is important, I need to be allowed to be who God makes me to be (notice I put that in present tense as God is always making and remaking us) but that can only occur within the collective, within relationship with God, other people and the earth and all its species. That goes back to those relational economics I am going to be working on for a long time (I think that will be a big topic for me in the future) and the design of urban space that supports such collective effort.”

The Jesus story emphasises the individual within the corporate and identifies individual life as the love gift to the whole as in “this is my beloved son, listen to him”. If it is true that “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” then it follows that the Father is also given in love. We are challenged to “love one another as I have loved you,” so being allowed to be who we are becoming in relationship with the Father and Son by the Spirit implies a social world in which we receive God and each other as gifts. For me the core issue is how we receive this. The difference between being passive channels  or agents of the gift of life and being enthusiastic recipients or resevoirs in which we enjoy each other in the creation. If we think in rational unitary terms then what I keep to enjoy is denied to others, but if receiving in love multiplies the gift exponentially then there will always be enough to go round. This is the implication of Paul’s statement “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” (2 Co 9:8) More anon…



  1. This sounds like it might be interesting but I’m not sure I’m understanding it fully. I think this is still part of the discussion on ‘narrative vs system’ and that you’re trying to deal with the problem of the autonomous individual. To my mind, that’s a problem of the Enlightenment that even some radical ways of thinking haven’t escaped. Though others have.

    The very idea of autonomy is nonsense to me. As much as I might claim to have the freedom to make choices (an Enlightenment idolatry?), my thinking and my options are constrained by the ways in which I am formed by what is around me. ‘I’ only exist insofar as I am in relation to others. (incidentally for those who care, this is precisely the position taken by many feminists and poststructuralists)

    I think hospitality is the key here and that’s where I connect with what you’re saying about receiving others as gifts. I need to have (and retain) a measure of ‘sovereignty’ in order to give it away. Giving it away must be more than an exchange or contract with conditions. It breaks the circle of exchange and starts a different one.

  2. I’ve been mulling this around for a bit as I consider the differences between North American lifestyles and what I have found here in Italy.

    First of all – narrative, story is always about a collective and possibly about an individual’s relationship to the collective (positive or negative). Humans are incredibly social beings and we speak our stories to and about one another. I include God in that sociality. So if we are to understand narrative then we must understand how individuality has been skewed by modern life, and how the nation state does all it can to destroy the collective. The family was never a threat to the nation state, it loves the nuclear family. But it really, really hates the collective, the larger group that then can challenge it.

    As far as context goes. . . yup, I’m with you Stephen simply for environmental reasons. Humans are animals like any other species. We act always within a context that includes the physical and the social. I am shaped by that context, my politics and thinking are shaped by that context, and how I relate to others and engage in sharing of narrative is shaped by that context.

    That said, I have been musing on how modern lifestyles with their inherent instability undermines community. If intimacy and community are built around shared history (that becomes the narrative), then having people be so mobile as autonomous individuals is directly counter to the construction of a narrative (other than the one that says I am alone and did it my way) and very conducive to systematic thinking in all spheres of life. The system frees me to be totally mobile and still marginally connect with those who agree with the system I have adopted as my own. I think at some level all of this becomes delusion and fantasy as we are humans who must live in a context which includes others, no matter how distant.

    This relates to everything we do. It includes economics as we have reduced our understanding of resource transactions and relationships between humans and between communities to a system and suffered for it. It affects planning and urban design as rather than building neighbourhoods that, through shared efforts within a physical context create a community, we build new cities and developments based on reductionist systems and a belief in the supremacy of the individual (or individual plus a few people as family for reproduction). It affects education, also based on systems rather than the old community style of mentoring. None of those community approaches were perfect. People suffered under them too but I think humans as social creatues ultimately do better in community, are healthier and happier than living as isolated atoms within a larger system, simply zinging around attempting to make up for the lack of community with earnings and material goods.

    Perhaps our contemporary longing for narrative is a sign what we find ourselves weary of autonomous molibity and a lack of community. c.

  3. Over the period of the last generation or so we have see the rise of the individual encouraged by the state and consumerism.The state took it upon itself to set about breaking the power of the workers unions whcih were a very strong central point for communities.Not only did they stand for workers rights they played a strong role in local communities throught there local working mens clubs.

    Consumerirm holds the individual as king,they promote the idea of the individual in order to increace there profits.Much of modern technoligy is aimed the individuals satisfaction.

    Working with community groups in the East of Glasgow I have seen how dependend they are on the state to achieve even the smallest victories for there area.Trying to get a local community centre built made it possible for me to see this first hand.The state makes things so difficult for people to gather and create that they are worn down before they get started,there are so many hoops to jump through and forms to fill in that people give up.

    So the story we have here and now in the UK is one of dependence on the state in order to be able to achieve anything.So in many ways the Gospel narritive has been replaced by a state narrative held up by consumerism.

    Our soloution has been to show the other story clearly.To say to people that it is part of Gods great plan to achieve there dreams but for these dreams to be interdependent.That whatever they create needs the rest of the community to have a share in it.We have set up a seed fund that is set aside to give money away to those who have dreams that are creative and community centred and these are the only conditions, the money is given in the context of on going relationships and all we ask is to be part of the journey in order to support and encourage no forms or hoops.

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