I am not into making new year’s resolutions- I tend not to keep them. However this time of year is the time to take stock, to dream of what might be ahead.
As well as the personal stuff it is a great time to wave some spiritual litmus paper in the stew of culture that we swirl around in. What is there that we can celebrate? What should we protest? How does the life of Jesus within us open us up to new ways of living in this new year?
A year or so ago, I wrote a post reflecting on the relationship between Capitalism and Christianity. This seems even more relevant now as austerity measures hit the poorest and weakest in our economy. Something is wrong– not just at an economic level, but rather in our very ways of being.
There are some encouraging signs that the Church is starting to realise this however- and that we need to be the voice of instability, not conformity. Sometimes it seems that our religion is like smoke blown into a hive while the honey is stolen. The Pope appears to understand this, as does Archbishop Welby.
The problem, it seems to me, is that church often claims to be separate from society (the old sacred/secular duality) at the same time as being indistinguishable from it perhaps in the following ways (as listed in my earlier post but with a few refinements and additions.)
- By emphasising personal, individual salvation above all else. The only useful purpose of mission is to save people from hell after they die. This means that active engagement in any other activities (particularly ‘social issues’) is downgraded, or even downright suspicious. For many these activities are only really acceptable if used as a trojan horse to smuggle in the gospel message.
- By embracing success culture. We use the same corporate structures, we reward our religious successes as we would our CEO’s, we value hard measurable outcomes, we construct programmes about personal empowerment and success.
- We make mission a kind of hostile take over. Business success involves out-performing the opposition, and rejoicing in their bankruptcy. We need to sell more, penetrate all markets, dominate the marketplace, crush to opposition.
- Christianity became a lifestyle choice that required no change to the way we live our economic lives. Yes, I know there is the old ‘tithing’ argument around Evangelical churches, but we drive the same cars, live in the same houses, take the same holidays, fill our lives with the same gadgets- or (and here is the sting) even if we do not have these things, we aspire to them. St Jobs is venerated in many a trendy Christian Church every time people meet.
- We bought into lives characterised by individualism above the collective. The model given to us by the life of Jesus and the early church was all about learning to live in loving community- how we live for one another, how we hold things in common, how we find ways of including the poor, the weak. Can we still hold these things as defining characteristics of church?
- We failed to demonstrate any kind of radical alternative. The best that we have been able to offer is how to live as better Capitalists- more sensible, more responsible, with greater probity. The Protestant Work Ethic lives on- in each one of us who finds comfort in our pews as much as our pension fund (even if both are more sparsely populated than previously.)
- We did not see injustice, inequality, poverty, unfair taxation, usury, over-consumption, environmental destruction, as any of our business. Which relates to point 1.
- Even where there was visible discomfort with Capitalism, we lacked any coherance, we lacked leadership, we did not become a critical movement. Rather we splintered and focused on totemic side shows live homosexuality and women bishops- all of which destroyed our credibility to speak prophetically into our culture anyway.
- Our mission to the poor was conditional on redeeming them to become like us. Difficult one this, but stay with me. There are lots of examples of Christian engagement with the poor, from the good old Salvation Army right through to the new food banks. However, these activities might be seen as cleaning up the edges of Capitalism– but also justifying the dominant ethos. It encourages us to lift people back into becoming productive consumers – just like us. This fails to engage with any idea that we need to become more like them; that the problem is caused by people just like us.
- We forgot that the Church exists not to give us a better life, but to serve the lost and the least. If we are serving the lost and the least, how can we have convinced ourselves that our unsustainable greedy lifestyles are God-given rewards for our moral superiority- which we Brits built an Empire on, and then passed the baton to the USA?
- We failed to form partnerships with other grass movements for change. Because anything outside of the walls of our particular church is suspicious, we are reluctant to engage with all those good ‘holy’ groups whose members are seeking to redeem and restore- the environmentalists, those working for social justice etc.
I am not happy to leave this list just as a set of negatives, so here are my hopes/prayers for the Church in 2014;
- May our evangelical zeal be set free from the tramlines of heaven/hell. May our concept of salvation be much more gracious and generous, and may our evangelists be empowered to be agents of the Kingdom of God.
- May we see success for what it always is- a distraction from our call towards personal weakness, humility and love.
- May we stop competing.
- May we be among the first who chose to live differently- more simply, less driven by crazy consumerism. May we be a new kind of Amish people- not rejecting of technology, but neither enslaved by it.
- May our living draw us together, rather than forcing us apart.
- May our way of living be genuinely different- may we be consumers of less, wasters of less, sharers of more. May we party hard, love greatly, laugh a lot and weep when the time is right for weeping. May we be the first to demand products that last, that are updateable, that do not denude the environment or depend on the slavery of others and the raw materials dug out of some other part of the world for our own benefit.
- May we be angered by injustice, by poverty, by destruction of the beauty all around us, and may we express this anger in protest, in art, in full engagement.
- Rise up people who would show the way- give them a prophetic voice. Lead us out of our concrete wildernesses.
- May we see first the value in the other, not the rightness in ourselves.
- May we see our privilege for what it is; the inverse of the poverty of others.
- May we look for beauty and shine light on it. May we seek out flavour to savour with our salt. May we find out where Jesus is and try to join him there. May we seek partnership and friendship with other groups.
Let this be the year of a different kind of revolution…