Open up the cracks!

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

We are living in dark times.

We are reaping the consequences of three-and-a-half decades of neo-liberalism – economic policies which have made a few people extremely rich (in material terms) and many people poorer.

In Britain and many other countries children have been taught little about democracy and the rule of law. They have grown up to be adults who think that “human rights” is a dirty word and who believe that climate change is some sort of con-trick. They are now taking every opportunity to thumb their noses at the elite which has imposed austerity and cut public services to the bone. It is understandable that they should prefer unscrupulous demagogues who promise to help them out of their misery rather than democratic politicians who can only offer more of the same.

So we have Donald Trump soon to be president of the United States of America. I doubt whether he understands the concept of the rule of law. And I fear that he wouldn’t hesitate very long in launching one or two nuclear weapons – at Iran, for example. Just as worrying as the possibility of a conflict going nuclear, is the now more likely prospect of the world’s governments failing to take sufficient action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. This would be a tall order at the best of times.

And we have the United Kingdom heading for a “hard Brexit”. The British people cannot have their cake and eat it, whatever David Davis might think. If Theresa May and her government insist on limiting the free movement of people between the EU and the UK, the UK will have to leave the single market. Most people in Britain are only just beginning to understand the dire economic consequences of leaving the single market. They had better learn quickly. Otherwise they will be in for a rude awakening in a couple of years’ time.

Yesterday I took a Belgian visitor for a walk around Siegburg, the town near Bonn where I live. Our first stop was the Jewish cemetery. Unfortunately the gate was locked, probably to prevent vandalism. But through the gate I could just about read a display board which told the history of the Jewish community in Siegburg. The first documentary evidence of a Jewish presence here dates from the thirteenth century. So far as we know, the first Jewish family settled in Siegburg in 1287. The history of the Jewish community ended with Kristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”) in November 1938, when the synagogue was destroyed by fire, and the deportation of the Jewish population to concentration camps.

This morning in the protestant church around the corner we sang a well-known Advent hymn by Jochen Klepper, a protestant theologian who married a Jew. He composed the hymn, Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen”, in Advent 1937. It is one of my favourite hymns alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben”. Jochen Klepper was inspired by Paul’s words to the Romans: “The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light.” (Romans 13:12) I should dig out my translation of Jochen Klepper’s hymn. I can only remember a couple of lines: “The night is nearly over. The dawn shines from afar. So let us raise our voices to greet the morning star.”

Those were dark times in the thirties, not only in Germany. The Great Depression was brought to an end by massive public spending – on weapons and military infrastructure.

What we need now in these dark times of today is a major programme of public spending, not on weapons, but on new technology and infrastructure to replace fossil-fuel intensive manufacturing and transport. Germany is at the forefront of the transition to a low-carbon economy. New legislation is paving the way for investment in renewable energy and demand reduction through increased efficiency.

There are cracks letting in the light. One such instance is the success of the Liberal Democrat candidate in the recent bye-election in Richmond Park, overturning a Conservative majority of 24,000. This was helped by the Green Party, led by Caroline Lucas, deciding not to field a candidate and encouraging voters to support the Liberal Democrats. Only a broad progressive alliance, including the Labour Party as well as the Lib Dems and the Greens, can stand up against UKIP and the right-wing Tories who are driving Britain towards a hard Brexit.

There is light on the other side of the Atlantic as well. A US-American friend of mine told me a few days ago that he has a nephew who works for a city in North Carolina. The city has a strong policy on combating climate change. Cities, counties, and states across the USA can do what needs to be done to combat climate change regardless of what is going on (or not going on) at the White House. The local and state jurisdictions just need plenty of support and encouragement from all the citizens whose dream is of a democratic, open, tolerant, and sustainable society.

Advent hymns exhort us to “Open up the gates!”, “Open up your doors!” “Open up wide for the new coming king!”

Leonhard Cohen sang:

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Let us open up all the cracks. And let the light into our hearts, our communities, and our nations.

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Thank God for Diversity!

VIELFALT im Augenblick” (“Diversity in a blink of an eye”) is the title of a photography exhibition which my wife, Alexandra Bosbeer, is putting on here in Siegburg, near Bonn, where we live. The exhibition opens on 19 November, so our flat has been a hive of industry with photographs being printed in various sizes and stuck on the wall in the hallway to create a mosaic of pictures of people, trees and other natural “objects”, and views of infrastructure in the modern world in which we live. My wife describes the (carefully selected) assortment of images as a “mosaic of hopes, dreams, experiences, opportunities and disappointments”. It is life as seen through the lens of her camera.

As I left the church after worship this morning, leaves were floating down from the sky, blown over from a large tree in the churchyard. I love the variety of colours in the autumn: yellow, brown, red, green and all shades in between. As a song-writer, I find that autumn (or “fall” as my American friends would say) is as much a source of inspiration as spring. Here are a couple of verses from one of my songs:

In this dark world we rarely see
The beauty of the Earth,
The richly coloured tapestry
Surrounding us from birth.

In these dark times of fear and strife
We need the light to see
The beauty of each human life,
Of all humanity.

Both the natural world and the human race make up a richly coloured tapestry. The rich diversity of living creatures and of human beings is beautiful to behold in every Augenblick, in every present moment. Let us treasure this diversity, not only because it is beautiful, but also because it is essential to our survival on this planet.

Anyone who has any understanding of ecology knows that the more diverse an ecosystem is in terms of the variety of species (biodiversity), the more stable it is. The web of life contains threads of many colours. The greater the diversity, the more resilient the web is. A thread of one colour can be removed without weakening the web significantly. One species may be wiped out by disease, for example, but this does not cause the ecosystem to collapse. On the other hand, an ecological community which has only relatively few species is much more susceptible to collapse, e.g. if one of the species dies out for some reason. A web with threads of only a few different colours is seriously weakened when all the threads of one colour are removed.

Much the same applies to human communities. Multicultural communities in which people respond to change in a variety of ways are more resilient than monocultural communities. When change hits a community, when a harvest fails or a factory closes down, the more diverse the community is in terms of agriculture or industry, the better the community will be able to cope. The resilience of communities and societies in our modern world depends on cultural diversity. We need the wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of lots of different groups in order to tackle the complex problems which communities and nations now face in a globalised world.

At the global level, we need the unfettered wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of every community and group throughout the world in order to manage climate change. So we need to put our energy into building intercultural and international cooperation in all fields of life: scientific, technological, economic, social, and political.

Nine months have passed since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons for this – apart from being busy with other things – is that I have been left speechless by the result of the referendum in the UK. The decision to leave the European Union has left me more sad than I can say and more angry than I like to admit. Outside the European Union, especially if there is a “hard Brexit”, the UK will become impoverished both economically and culturally.

What makes me angry is not only the result of the referendum, but also the degree of hostility towards “foreigners” which has become increasingly evident in recent months. I read in the Guardian yesterday about Germans living in the UK who now feel that they are unwelcome. Neighbours are asking when they are going to leave. If a significant number of these German people leave the UK, this will have a negative impact on the NHS, on universities, and on the companies in which they work. The UK will be poorer both economically and socially. And then what about the Poles, the Portuguese, the Romanians, the Latvians, the Greeks, the Italians, and the Spanish…? Are they all going to feel unwelcome and be encouraged to leave? Is our supposedly Christian nation then going to tell all Muslims and Jews to leave? Heaven forbid!

Thank God for the diversity of the natural world and the diversity of the human race.