It’s a tedious cliché to say we live in a consumer society but in the next room to me, Nigel Farage is telling the nation that the only thing that matters is control – control in this case of over the number of immigrants allowed through our borders. We want to keep some people away so we have more things for ourselves – we become like children who don’t want to share their lego.
We want to be in control of how much we earn, who visits us when, how we spend our time and who lives near us – perhaps to be sure that our things aren’t threatened and our cycle of acquiring and consuming is never interrupted or questioned.
Controlling, acquiring and consuming are quite possibly the trinity of our materialistic and individualistic society. Giving, receiving and risking are the equivalent interactions that happen in community and acknowledge our inter-dependence. I know which is more fulfilling – just think how much nicer it is to eat a meal together that someone has cooked for you than one that you have cooked for yourself and will eat alone.
I have been reading a fantastic book by Walter Brueggemann called Sabbath As Resistance – saying No to the culture of now. In the preface he says:
“In our contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods…..But Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our “rest time.” The alternative on offer is the awareness that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God. To be so situated is a staggering option because we are accustomed to being on the initiating end of all things.”
Initiating things, controlling their execution and having our way is part of the reward bought by material wealth, good physical health and social advantage. But perhaps we fear being on the receiving end so much that we fill our life with activity and have little time or space to be “situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”
When I am not knee deep in acquiring and consuming (the Boden sale was irresistible) I am immersed in a dissertation about deacons and one of the ideas that has leapt out at me is that the priest may be the person ordained to offer the bread and wine and the deacon is ordained to help people receive the bread and wine – the gifts of God.
This symbolic role at the altar is then mirrored in the day-to-day role of the deacon as the facilitator of the people of God in the world, encouraging lived discipleship in numerous and diverse settings.
It seems daft that we need to learn to receive but I know the compliments and gifts can make me embarrassed and criticism can be equally hard to take.
Prayer too can be dominated by our wanting to initiate, be productive and possibly consume. My prayers can quite often be far more ‘my will be done’, than ‘your kingdom come.’ I am trying to develop a practice of silent prayer too and turn off the constant giving of my concerns, my fears, my desires and even my gratitude to take time simply to receive – to be “situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”
The debate around immigration is deeply depressing. I find it incredible that people on my street are displaying UKIP posters and I wonder how that feels to friends with roots in different continents. The life of my church has been deeply enriched when it has been able to receive the gifts of God brought to it by people described as ‘immigrants.’ What would tonight’s debate look like if receiving, giving and taking a few risks replaced the self-serving and fear-inducing trinity of acquisition, consumption and control?