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Wisdom and Anti-Capitalist Protesters

It is such a treat to hear words from the “Wisdom of Solomon” this morning, it rarely comes up in the set passages yet it is a book that seeks to get to the heart of things. “Wisdom is radiant and unfading and she is easily discerned by those who love her and found by those who seek her.” The first half of this book, which by the way was not written by Solomon at all but by a Greek speaking and writing Jew in the first century, deals with the nature of Wisdom herself (yes she is personified as a lady): “Wisdom is to be prized above all things”, “She is with God from eternity, the sharer of His thoughts and gives to all men the virtues which they need in every station and condition of life” or as put in our reading “she graciously appears to them in their paths and meets them in every thought.”

Well that is so if we seek wisdom and the book of Wisdom is at one and the same time a poem of the beauty and quality, of being wise and a warning against ignoring or neglecting it.

Which I am afraid brings me to bankers! Now I have nothing particularly against individual bankers, I have rather a nice one over there in Hitchin but it does seem to me that the banking industry has lost direction. Surely it used to be simple.  Some people would have a little more money than they needed at a particular moment and so they wanted to employ it usefully (rather like the parable of the talents) and I imagine that in the beginning they would look around for a family member, or a local business entrepreneur or farmer who could use it wisely, who would return the money in the agreed time and with an agreed share of the profits to the lender. It was, you see, quite simple and the banks were established to be brokers in these transactions.

I got a taste of how this used to be when I visited, a year or two ago now, the depths of Minnesota, a state renowned for thousands of lakes and hectares and hectares of farmland. The taxi driver who took me both from and to the airport on that trip had retired, so it turned out, from being the bank manager in Red Wing, a smallish town some hundred or so miles south of Minneapolis.  As we passed farmhouses, homesteads, barns and even individual fields he would tell me their stories:

“Old Joe who lived there used to grow only maize but one day he came to see me to borrow money to buy the field up there on the hill to keep a few head of dairy cattle.”

He knew everything about the area we were travelling through and in his retelling you sensed the deep wisdom accumulated over the years.  He had a sense of what worked and what didn’t and much more importantly he cared, he wouldn’t lend money to enterprises he knew would not work, he did not want the people around him to fail, never mind how much security he had on their property.

Of course it is different today (or so it seems). There are sharply honed and clever computer programmers from Harvard and MIT dreaming up ever more imaginative ways of exercising leverage, maximising arbitrage, inventing derivatives of derivatives. There are credit companies begging the almost already insolvent to borrow their money so that later when we default they can impose obscene levels of interest.

Where I ask is the Wisdom in all this?

And so I am thankful for the change in the stance of St Paul’s Cathedral towards those who are camped in their courtyard. Even if you do not approve of the way that they are saying it, the protesters nonetheless have something to say against the present system and structures, something that strikes chords with Jesus’ teachings and our beliefs. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, writing in this week’s Church Times says this:

“(The church) can help to give complex technical debates a wider moral and spiritual context which puts focus on the human and societies flourishing over and above the bottom line”   

Wisdom you see shining through with radiance.


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