Some of you who follow this blog may not yet have had a chance to visit the Market. The pictures are below and I must say that as a financial enterprise it looks as if it will be something that ‘pays its way’ and helps in small part to fund the church and give to Christian Aid and that is wonderful.
It has also been a wonderful place to meet, share and enjoy each others company after the lock down and it has been such a blessing to meet so many lovely and talented people who are making a difference in the world. It has also been truly ‘local’, and I hope will be more so, and I have found it lovely to get to know people in Brading better.
BUT it is also a huge challenge and the challenge is an odd one…. how do we stop it from being a SHOP!!!
The problem is all about ‘economy’, not THE economy; but about transactions, deals, value, bargains, acquisitions….. it is about worth, pricing, subject/object transactions, power and control…. it is about how we respond to each other as human beings. Here in the Market, as we ‘trade in the temple’, or next to the temple! So we enact our economy. My early training in the observation of power and of economy was gathered from reading the radical educationalist Paulo Freire; I was introduced to the idea of a subject and an object in education. The teacher is the subject and has the power in the room; has the knowledge, the discipline and the ability to keep the students , or objects, sitting at desks. The object is passive, the receiver of the information and the consumer of the facts.
In the Market we are developing rules of trading that I am convinced Jesus subverted at every turn as he broke down all ‘economies’ in human transactions, and as I see how deeply rooted they are I wonder if we can ever break free.
An example….. In the Market I am the merchant, I have the goods that you need. I have bought them from the growers, crafts-people and traders and lay them before you. I have what you want so I am the subject and have the power. But then the game begins, as the object you are now in a less powerful position and try to gain control by using the power that a consumer has, to buy or not to buy and to get a bargain. A bargain is a deal where you win, isn’t that what a bargain feels like; like a WIN. In the end it comes down to that anecdotal, but very real line from the jumble sale ‘they wanted 20p for that but I got it for a bargain at 10p’!!!!!
But there is also the ‘Good Trade’ (a phrase borrowed from the film Dances with wolves!)
In the market we have beautiful field fresh organic vegetables straight from young growers who are more passionate about the land than they are making money; but do need to feed their families and pay the rent. We have fairly traded and organic food from around the world, from growers in similar circumstances, our brothers and sisters who grow the coffee, tea and cocoa for us. We have soap products from a family business that are passionate about zero waste and healthy earth friendly production. We take this gift of other peoples labour and make it accessible to the community for enough mark up in price to keep the building and the lights on and help Christian Aid …. but how do we stop this from being a transaction within an economy?
I want to say this to each person who comes to get the things they need…. ‘pay what you can, what you think is fair. Pay what it is worth to you and what you think the grower, crafts-person deserves’. I don’t want to have to price things, to tell others what something is worth. If you have a bag of vegetables, enough for a week, what will you pay for that? I want to be honest to tell you all exactly what I paid for the item so you can decide how much to pay and to let you know that whatever I get for veg in the week is divided up between the growers and we take 20%. Maybe you will go for the bargain and I or the grower will loose out, or maybe you will pay cost because it has been a tough week, or maybe you want the convenience of the Market to continue or you have been blessed with wealth you want to share, so you can pay a little more this week. Does that all sound strange?…. that is because it is, it is totally counterculture, but it is only as strange as the teachings of Jesus.
Economies are as old as farming human culture and are certainly the trading culture that Jesus lived in. However, at every turn he subverted transactional human relationships. In his teaching we never ‘get what we deserve’, the giver is the one who receives and generosity is rewarded. There is abundance without limit and giving without return; there is forgiveness, thankfulness….. there is unconditional free GIFT.
I began planning the Market with all this in mind and it so quickly becomes tangled in the old human game of commerce. It is absolutely fascinating and I realise that there is so much to learn here and so much that Jesus can teach us. There are so many nuances of our humanity at play and it wont be easy, but that is the one thing that Jesus was absolutely clear about, it isn’t going to be easy! (I recently watched a program about a closed religious community that had decided that living in the world was too hard, they lived as people without trading transactions, no wages or shopping…. I think that they looked for the simple option; living in the world and trying to live differently seems more like the crazy Jesus way to me!!!)
It begins with our awareness of the tiny things …. if you say ‘keep the change’ one week because it has been an easy week, will you feel obliged to keep doing so even though you have had a week of bills and are at the end of the month and the overdraft the next week. Will it just be to much hassle to have to think and decide the worth of a cucumber (at Tesco’s there is no need to have a moral relationship with a grower and a crisis over the price of coffee) that you go elsewhere for your harvest.
This I am sure about; St Mary’s Market is not a shop. It is not a place to play power games, or win a bargain. It is a place to exchange money for goods, to receive the things that we need and to fuel our creativity and moral growth as we live more simply and honestly in the world. It is going to be great fun playing ……
I would love your comment on this, it is the beginning of an idea no more.