F.S. Michaels’ book, Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, is a small, very accessible, yet profoundly moving description of the impact of the ascendancy of the Economic Story over other stories we have always taken for granted in our society. A resident of B.C., Michaels was succinct and clear enough to be the 2011 winner of the NCTE George Orwell Award for outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse. I mentioned the book in a previous essay and thought it might be helpful to come back to the book more carefully.
A monoculture is the underlying belief structure and values for decision-making that is based on one over-arching master story. Medieval Europe was a monoculture based on religion. Religion determined decisions that affected all areas of life. We now live in a Economic Monoculture that determines everything on the basis of economics.
Michaels surveys the decision-making impact of the Economic Story in six areas of our world - our work, our relationships with others and the environment, our community, our physical and spiritual health, our education, and our creativity. This seems obvious. But the depth of her research and the clarity of her writing becomes a haunting expose of how all areas of life are withering under the domination of Economic Necessity.
Here’s a brief look at one example. Michaels says,
In short the public library didn’t just contribute to the public good; it was the public good. We invested in it with our tax dollars because we believed our society was better off when our citizens were literate and educated…. When the economic story spreads through your community and into the public library, library services become understood as a market….When the library comes to think of itself as a business, it starts being discussed in terms of return on investment. The economic story says libraries should make money by developing their own revenue streams.
This includes library fees. Michaels goes on to report that in Alberta, library user fees were introduced after government cutbacks in the 1980‘s, and even when the province became solvent and debt-free the fees stayed. In Edmonton enrolment and circulation dropped significantly and had not recovered ten years later. When Banff chose to axe its fees library membership soared by 40%. (p. 57-60).
How does this description of an Economic Monoculture affect our prayer? If contemplative prayer is about receiving God’s love rather than achieving our own life, then is concern about an Economic Monoculture a red herring to prayer? Should we not simply open our hearts to God, receive God’s love, and then trust that everything will work out?
It’s true. In contemplative prayer we do open our hearts to receive the loving presence of God. We accept God’s way of life as the over-arching story of our lives, and we seek to discern how God is active in our present circumstances so that we can participate in what God is doing. However, if the story of the Monoculture is the underlying structure that subconsciously frames our values and choices, the Monoculture itself has become God.
Therein lies the root issue of our present Economic Monoculture in relation to contemplative prayer. Who or What is shaping us, creating the policies, and forcing decisions about our very lives and about the life of God’s Creation. Subtly allowing one story to infiltrate and determine the choices of our lives in our day and publically caving to the pressure to confess that “Caesar is lord” in the first century amount to the same thing: IDOLATRY.
Contemplative prayer leads us to open our hearts to the true God and to allow God, in love, to undermine all other myths and false assumptions that claim our allegiance. Are we willing to let God love us enough to open the eyes of our understanding so that we can see how we have become seduced by the overarching story to believe its lies? Are we willing to invite God to strengthen our trust so that we can face the consequences of saying, “NO!” to the Economic Monoculture we are living in?
How then can we pray? Let me suggest a few hints of a process that might be helpful.
1. 1. I would encourage you to read the book. It is not a heavy read. Read it, not so much to grasp the content as to allow the Spirit to talk to you through the book. As you do, invite God to deepen your sense of whether the underlying premise of the book is correct and whether we are indeed living in a time when Economics increasingly determines most of our decisions. If you get through the book, and have a deep sense of trust that the book is basically wrong, then give God thanks and move on!
2 2. If in reading the book you come to a deep sense of YES – that we are increasingly being bound by Economic criteria – then allow God to love you deeply enough to admit to the idolatry. Say YES to the Spirit’s movement in your heart to give you insight and courage to live this as God leads. Enjoy the commitment of being on the same page as God and in the flow of God’s action in our world!
3. 3. Do not respond out of guilt or out of anger! Guilt about our complicity in this system can demoralize and immobilize us. That is just what the Evil One would like to do. Anger can produce the energy to respond in the short term but in the end distorts power in the same twisted ways you are fighting against.
4. 4. There may be one area in the book that spoke most powerfully to you. If so, let God begin to sharpen your awareness in daily life to see how this lie is affecting life around you. Invite God to begin to put small suggestions of choices that you can make to say NO to the Monoculture and it’s idolatry and to say YES to life on God’s terms. Follow those choices only after they have been confirmed in your heart by the Spirit. This essay is one of the choices that I am making in response to God’s action.
5. 5. Offer your heart to God for healing in our world. Offer to God the suffering caused by this oppressive system and pray for the healing of those who wield power as well as those who suffer from its hurtful choices and policies.
6. 6. Seek to find people around you that can share your deepening conviction. Encourage each other to keep your hearts open to God and to let God take the loving initiative as to how God wants you to live in this situation. Trust together that God is loving you into deeper surrender and a freer way to live.
7. 7. Encourage each other to be clear that your eyes are staying focused on what God is doing rather than on the problem itself and its evils. Don’t get consumed by the problem – another of the tricks of the Evil One!Give Thanks and Live in Freedom!