Considering debt, place & incarnation

Last week on Praxis One (a faith and activism course) we spoke about the core themes of the Bible: creation, liberation, incarnation and redemption. 

I am familiar with each, but I am only just realising the implications of incarnation. Incarnation means embodiment: in Christian theology, incarnation is the embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ.

And as people, we live embodied, incarnate, placed lives. Place is important. 

On Wednesday, I went to Theos’ launch event for their report “Forgive Us Our Debts”. I have previously considered debt in light of the theme of liberation, since debt often functions as a form of enslavement (especially when freedom is understood in the positive sense).

However, the Theos report highlights the relational nature of debt, which I think is importantly related to incarnation. Debt is relational because it establishes a debtor and creditor. How, where, why and when such relationships are established, and between who, affects our lived experience and our social reality in a very real way.

As a society we get to choose the structure of debt relationships. The UK policy of austerity has chosen to shift the responsibility of the caring costs from the state onto those in need. Consequently, we are in a situation where the main source of debt for the poorest in our society is often no longer the private sector (credit cards, payday lenders etc.), but the state (DWP loans or debts from overpayments, local authority rental arrears, student loans etc.).

One of the interesting shifts in our debt as a society, is that debt is not local. We do not know the people individually that we owe debt to. Often debt is owed to national, if not global, institutions. What does this mean? I think it means the relationships involved in debt are potentially more harmful. Dislocation and alienation is a greater part of debt.

In a society of reduced ‘social capital’ – where people are less likely to know their neighbours or have family close by, where loneliness is supposedly increasing, and where the institutions we interact with are more often international and global instead of local – I think the idea of incarnation has a lot to say. Incarnation points us towards our situated-ness, our rooted-ness and our need for belonging within a concrete locality.

Someone even suggested to me at the Theos event that Brexit was about a re-assertion of the importance of place. Make of that what you will.

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