Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street. –William Blake
With this quote from the English mystic poet, we were welcomed this weekend to a ‘salon meeting’ in Mountain House in Caux, high above Montreux, with a breathtaking view of Lake Leman and the French Alps on the other shore.
Our host from Initiatives of Change, the movement which transformed this once derelict luxury hotel into a Centre for the Reconciliation of the Nations after World War Two, told stories of men and women who dared to dream big dreams for the future of Europe as they dialogued and discussed in the lounges, meeting rooms, corridors and dining room of the six-storey palace.
Among them were the Lutheran evangelist, Frank Buchman, founder of the Moral Re-Armament Movement, recently renamed Initiatives of Change; Konrad Adenauer, considered by some to be ‘over the hill’ when he began attending conferences there after the war, yet went on to lead West Germany back into the democratic community of nations as chancellor, inspired by the message he heard at Caux; Irene Laure, the French socialist resistance worker who hated the Germans until she came to Caux, and spent the rest of her life working for reconcilation in Europe; and Robert Schuman, who was urged by Buchman to work towards French-German reconciliation with Adenauer, the fruit of which was what we now know as the European Union.
Caux continues to make a global impact by promoting apology, forgiveness, dialogue and reconciliation–in other words, putting relationships right.
The ‘salon meeting’ this past weekend sought to tap into this rich legacy, recognising that Europe two generations later is again in great need of an alternative vision for society. The financial crisis is a symptom of a deeper cultural crisis producing a long term malaise. Youth unemployment, high suicides rates, ageing population, declining birth rates, weakened extended families, growing extremism and the collapse of the centre in politics, distrust of politicians, nostaligia for communism in some regions and the upsurge of fascism in others, low voting turnouts, all suggest that Europe needs more than simply a bailout.
The four ‘big ideas’ driving Europe culture–individualism, consumerism, capitalism and statism–have shaped the hidden ecology of European society, undermining civil society and sustainability, creating a sense of rootless-ness, neglect and fragmentation of families for the sake of careers, an entitlement culture, a welfare state discouraging the work ethic and widespread addiction to debt at all levels.
Dr Michael Schluter and staff of the Jubilee Centre he founded in Cambridge (www.jubilee-centre.org) believe there is an alternative social paradigm based on a renewed ethic of relational responsibility. Life is all about relationships, they stress. Over the past three decades, they have developed a framework for social reform called Relational Thinking, a social philosophy seeking close and just relationships in public and private life for social harmony and economic well-being. This is based on Judaeo-Christian relational values yet is applicable for people of all faiths and none.
Supported by other partner organisations, the Jubilee Centre invited thirty European dialogue participants to Caux to seek God’s inspiration in the beauty of his handiwork as to how to encourage a broad and influential movement in Europe promoting an ethic of Relational Responsibility in every aspect of life. From Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal backgrounds, the group ranged from theologians and academics, politicians and activists to economists and entrepreneurs.
They came to strategise how to present the relational narrative as an alternative to relationally impoverished narratives of ‘democracy and human rights’ demanding more freedom, or of ‘liberal free-market’ aiming for more growth. These needed to be replaced by a more attractive option leading to a Europe where the welfare of a society was not measured in terms of Gross National Product. Rather, enriched relationships, increased social capital, simpler lifestyles, debt avoidance, strengthened nuclear and extended families, increased marriage and birth rates, support for the elderly and sick, a business culture delivering benefits to all stakeholders as well as investors, would all be part of a Copernican revolution replacing economics by healthy relationships at the centre of society.
Utopian? Maybe, but mountain-tops have birthed world-changing movements before.
Till next week,