Blessed are the Poor? By Laurie Green
It has taken me some time to digest this book and so commend it to others for both reflection and action.
Laurie Green has established a well-deserved reputation for his ministry amongst the poor and voiceless but also for his ability to think theologically. The book took me backwards into my story but also catapulted me forwards ainto imagining what kind of society we are building. Within the tension between history and the future lies the key element in Greens persuasive, compelling and radical arguments in these nine chapters. I shall say more about that in a moment but one point at the outset is worth making. There is a quality to this narrative that is borne out of a life well lived and a text written in ‘retirement’ which leads me to feel that older people reflecting on their experience should have a much more honoured place and voice in our spiritual economy. There is some maturation and deep wisdom present in the way in which Green listens to the cry of the poor. Valuing Age might also mean moving older people voices into the forefront of social action.
Why should such a text take me backwards? Well, in the mid-1980s and after theological education in London and Cambridge I was ordained in the Diocese of Durham to serve my curacy in Consett. You may remember that it one stage in our economic history (1985)Winchester was regarded as the wealthiest place in the country and Consett the poorest – this was the case because of the closure of the steelworks and the catastrophic consequences for thousands of workers across the area. By the time I had arrived many of the more entrepreneurial families had taken their redundancy money and relocated either in different parts of the country or across the north-east in new jobs. Some had resolutely stayed in the town that they were born in and felt inextricably connected with and thereby presenting a real picture of economic, social, cultural and spiritual poverty. It was a cold and bleak place and a living or dying reminder of the results of political policy that devastated huge sections of the industrial north. An example, quite simply, of the power and persuasiveness of economics over individuals and families. Money talks – people should listen!
Green reflects on this and takes us inside many stories of hardship and dismay. Green acts as an advocate for the forgotten residents of Britain’s housing estates and their devaluing marginalisation. At the centre of all of this are the experience and stories of poor people.
And what of the future trajectory? The advantage of having this book on my desk for so long before I dispatch it to the library for wider readership and use is that it has seen and experienced the decision of this country to remove itself as a member of the European Union. We live in uncertain times and it remains to be seen which parts of the community will bear the inevitable (perhaps?) consequences of our post Brexit world. I suspect that it will be the poor again who will pay some of the price of the economic and social uncertainty that faces this democratic position. We are faced again with Greens plea outlined in chapter 5 about how we challenge the present culture by seeking to lead a kingdom orientated life together. This book demands that we explore what are kingdom values might look like and how we challenge those things that contradict and undermine equality, justice, decency, faithfulness and goodness.
This book draws upon what Laurie Green has learnt – in a kind of long meditation on the beatitude ‘bless are you who are poor’. It stands in a noble tradition of Anglican antagonists who long to develop a new tradition that seeks to learn from the poor and so offer a new theology that might enable the merging our past and our future into a more sustainable present. It is nothing short of a tragedy that we continue to tolerate such significant levels of poverty in our country today. While there are churches involved in social action and care of the marginalised and vulnerable we continue to live with an economic system that forces some people to live in the most appalling conditions. Not to keep on articulating the contradictions and paradoxes of this reality is, to return to an earlier analogy, to move Greens book from desk to library. Put another : way what is to be done now? Are we listening to the voices of the Poor? Are they to be our teachers? Perhaps it is the case that as long as we ignore these complex realities we ourselves become poorer as individuals and as communities.
Green is at his most creative in showing his reader how to be confident in theology and how, above all, to put it to work. It should become a core textbook for all those interested in enabling individuals and groups to become reflective practitioners.