shrinking your camel

15 11 2011

A turn of the page couldn’t reveal two more different approaches to the good news. I was reading the latest edition of Christianity Magazine and p18 had an article about the so-called Machine Gun Preacher, a hard-core Christian who uses machine guns to rescue stolen African children in Uganda/Sudan in the name of Jesus, and is the subject of a recent film of that name. Controversial, obviously.

The previous page had a simple interview with an ‘ordinary’ person with an even more controversial theology yet one that slips under the radar of respectability.

The interview was with the top man in RK Capital Management LLP, which runs one of the biggest industrial metals hedge funds in the world. He is known as Mr Copper because of the fund’s significant role in the copper market. He attends St Helen’s Bishopsgate. All fine so far.

© 2011 Thomas Lekfeldt/Moment/Redux

It is well-known that conditions in Zambian copper mines are not good; many are run by Chinese-state companies that routinely flout labour laws, according to Human Rights Watch. So he was asked whether, as one of the biggest buyers of copper in the world, he could influence conditions of workers in the mines in a country where copper is 75% of the country’s exports and 2/3 of Government revenue. Surely the workers would be pleased to have a Jesus-following Bible-believing man of influence on their side?


He washed his hands of any responsibility for their working conditions, saying that if he were to do anything, it would be to import “God-fearing gospel-believing ministers into Zambia, because once hearts are changed, improvements are made.”

Unless it means him, of course. Has his heart been changed, so improvements can be made?

Perhaps even more distressing was the fact he made claim to Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler as a way of reconciling his wealth and inaction. Somehow he came to the conclusion that money is neutral.  He has completely missed the point. This is an extremely wealthy man who makes his money, in part, gambling on the future of copper mined in extremely dangerous circumstances. Were people like him to have a direct encounter with Jesus in the manner of the rich young ruler, I do not think they would get away with claiming their wealth was neutral and their hands clean.

There is a problem with City of London ghetto theology that justifies turning blind eyes, washing of hands and hiding behind claims to “preach gospel” before improving living conditions for copper slaves . I’m sure we can guess which one the workers would call good news. “Thinking of the cross at the beginning of the day”, as he says he does, makes no difference to their lives. Few can influence copper mines. When you are one of the few who can, yet hide behind “the gospel” as an excuse for inaction, the Jesus movement  is in a sorry place.

Money is not neutral. Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  This is a challenge to little me, but surely a massive challenge to to Mr Copper and the many who work in the City and think like that: shrink your camel.

Because that needle is gonna hurt.


comedy hedge fun(d)

23 06 2011

I have a heavily suppressed competitive streak. People who rarely win tend to suppress it. Even deny it. I support Liverpool, so I guess that’s understandable. Now I am a regular runner the competitive streak peeps out a little more… though hopefully any (small) victories I have are tempered by the knowledge of what it is to regularly lose. I said hopefully.

going supersonic...

Recently I took part in some leadership training. Part of this was a day run by someone from an unfamiliar world to mine. As an inverted snob I have to make a special effort with the office-based chinos-and-polo shirt chaps, especially when you think they might actually play polo. Anyway, this friendly man with an elusive job description led us in a series of (admittedly great fun!) outdoor puzzles and games in order to stimulate our team-working brains and teach us lots of things that were quite obvious.

That many of us are not primarily motivated by winning. That competition doesn’t always work.

This wasn’t his aim.


He put us in boys & girls teams and set us the task of completing a jumbo jigsaw puzzle as quick as we could. He was very excited by the thought of a competition. We, on the other hand, were excited by the fact he had included “fun” on his list of essential factors in a team. So we decided to include in our timed puzzle challenge a comedy run from the nearby hedge. It was a sunny day after all.

This bothered him. But it will slow you down, he said.

Yes, we replied, but think what fun we’ll have!

We were both right. The girls team figured out a more efficient way of building the puzzle. It seems working in silence and the absence of a comedy run makes building quicker. But they looked so serious! We were actually not far behind them, and yet seemed to have a lot more fun. And winding up polo-man far outweighed the cost of not winning a little made-up competition.

We could draw many tenuous sweeping conclusions from this experience. I just throw it into the current political obsession with competition and market-forces being the solution to all problems. Competition may be the core motivation for a certain type of human in a certain type of environment. Like the ones in power. Wealthy successful white men love a competition especially when the dice is loaded so they always win. See banks. See Serco. See power companies. See privatisation.

Competition is not everyone’s motivating factor. Plain efficiency is not everyone’s aim. Think of farming – when efficiency becomes the primary motivation over love, care and time then the land starts falling apart and needing artificial help to stay productive. Like over-used fields many of us are needing artificial help to stay productive, in the form of tablets or alcohol or therapy. This is not  life in balance. This is not how we are meant to be.

Let’s not get drawn into constant competition to generate the mirage of perfect efficiency. We are all humans after all. There is no such thing as an economy, just humans relating to each other. So if you are a boss, if it is up to you, I invite you to lead by example and institute the comedy run today.

You may even find people work harder. I’m sure they’ll be happier.

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