Thursday, December 1, 2011

You better be good or Santa won't come: what we are teaching our children about possessions and worth

For the next four weeks, children all over the world will be hearing those words, "If you're not good, Santa won't come." I doubt it makes any difference to behaviour. The problem with threats like these is they're rarely (if ever) carried out. But it might just be making a difference to how people think about possessions and worth.

Imagine a child called Trudy. At the ripe old age of 7, Trudy has learnt that, no matter how badly behaved she is, those presents from Santa still arrive on Christmas Day. Furthermore, she knows that Jenny from next-door (also aged 7) usually gets less presents even though Jenny is a very well-behaved child and Trudy can be quite naughty at times. What is Trudy to make of this?

Or let's look at it from Jenny's perspective. She is told that the same Santa Claus brings presents to everyone. Furthermore, she is told that he only gives presents to the good girls or boys. So why is it that Trudy gets more presents than her? I doubt she would say it to herself in these terms, but on some subconscious level, might she not be wondering whether she is less worthy than Trudy in some unknown way? If she believes the Santa rhetoric, what else is she to think?

Let's fast-forward six years. Trudy and Jenny are now 13. Their belief in Santa has gone, but the messages they heard about Santa are still there. As any psychologist or counsellor knows, the messages we hear in childhood can affect us long after we have grown up - even if we recognise that those messages were false to begin with.

If you haven't already guessed, Trudy comes from a wealthier family than Jenny. So while they may not be coming from Santa, Trudy still has more and better possessions than Jenny does. Jenny knows it's not because Santa has placed Trudy on the "good list". But maybe, deep down, she still connects possessions to worth. Maybe she still feels like Trudy owns more things because she is more deserving.

Jump another 10 years. Trudy and Jenny have moved out of home and are sharing a flat together. Trudy finished uni and got a well-paid job. Jenny also has a job, but it's not nearly as well-paid as Trudy's is. By now, they've not only internalised the Santa message, but the many advertising messages they have heard through their lives that tell them, either implicitly or explicitly, that they should buy something because they deserve it.

Despite the fact that Trudy earns enough to save a little money and use her money to help others and give to charities, she spends it all on herself. Many of the things she buys, she will never even use. But that's okay (in Trudy's mind). It makes her feel good. She's become her own Santa, rewarding herself with possessions. The more things she owns, the more deserving she feels.

Jenny also buys lots of things. But because she doesn't earn as much money as Trudy, she puts it on credit. She is sliding further and further into debt. But she considers it a small price to pay for the sense of self-worth it gives her. She has finally made it onto Santa's "good list".

Jenny was never any less worthy than Trudy. She only felt that way because of what society told her. As adults we know that the amount of presents Santa brings says nothing about how "good" that child is. So how about we stop telling our children that. And how about we recognise the Santa messages we ourselves have internalised - and do our very best to get rid of them.

Our thinking about possessions and worth is damaging not just to ourselves, but to the earth. In order for this to change (and it does need to be changed) we first need to recognise how the messages we hear have influenced the way we think about possessions and worth. It's only then that we can get rid of them and replace them with something else. We need to come up with a new message, one where Santa doesn't reward the "good" kids, where we don't own things because we "deserve" them, but where a life well-lived is its own reward.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Kyle has taught us about the power of consumers

I didn't really pay much attention when I heard that Kyle Sandilands had made some disparaging comments about a journalist. It's not the first time he's said something stupid. I'm sure it won't be the last. I don't like Kyle Sandilands anyway. I didn't think anything he has said would change my opinion about him. And I'm not the kind of person who goes, ooh, someone's said something really terrible so I have to go and find out what it is, just to make sure I don't miss out on any terrible comments he made.

When I did start to pay attention though was when news started coming in about all the companies that had pulled their sponsorship from Kyle and Jackie's radio show. In fact, it was the Blackmores page on Facebook that really caught my attention. If you're interested, take a look here: Not only does this page show that Blackmore's have pulled their sponsorship, but it's quite obvious that it was a response to the feedback they were getting from their customers. Furthermore, this page shows that some customers at least felt they could not continue to buy from Blackmores if they continued supporting the show. It also shows that Blackmores took notice of what their customers were telling them.

It's so easy to believe that we have no power. We are tiny little consumers swimming in a sea of very big corporations that have the power to change the water anyway they please. And I admit that when I've boycotted certain goods, at the back of my mind I can't help thinking, is this really making any difference?

Maybe it's not. In all honestly, it's probably not. While I'm quite good at writing to politicians and telling them when I think they should be doing something, when I'm annoyed at a company I just stop buying their goods. No letter of explanation. And I'm sure the meagre amount I spend with their company isn't missed.

But the Kyle episode shows that when people get really annoyed about something and let their feelings be known to the companies involved, things can happen. Companies are willing to change things if the backlash is strong enough. Consumers can make a difference.

While I am encouraged by this, I also think there's a lot we simply accept in consumer world without even questioning. We don't complain. We don't withdraw our support. We simply accept that is the way businesses do business. Or at the very least, we quietly take our business elsewhere and fail to cause a ripple in the water.

Imagine a day when any bad environmental practices cause the kind of reaction that Kyle's comments did. While Kyle's comments were certainly awful (yes, I have read them now), why are we so willing to speak up when it comes to comments about a journalist and yet we fail to speak up when it comes to destruction of our earth? And yes, there are people constantly telling companies they need to change their bad environmental practices. And often it brings results. But it does seem like consumers are less willing to accept horrible comments about someone they've never met than they are to accept practices that hurt the world we live in.

In all honesty, I think capitalism needs to be changed. It's bad for humans and it's bad for the planet. But if it is to survive relatively unchanged, I would at least like to see companies having to toe the environmental line, knowing that if they participate in any practices that hurt the earth, the backlash would be terrible.

But in order for that to happen, we (the consumers) need to keep speaking out. We need to not just take our businesses elsewhere, but explain why we are taking it elsewhere. We may not feel like we have much power, but we do have a voice. And we need to use that voice not just to speak to companies, but to raise awareness amongst everyone, so that more and more voices are added to the mix.

The Old Testament prophets spent their time telling the rulers or the people where they had gone wrong. They didn't devote a lot of time criticising companies - but that's because there were none around. But I think anyone who has read some of those prophetic books in the bible would realise that a lot of their criticisms seem almost to be describing the big corporations of today. I'm sure that if the OT prophets had been alive now, they'd be talking to CEOs as well. And undoubtedly the CEOs would be dismissive of them. And the people would think they were mad.

But the prophets would keep making their voices heard anyway. Why? Because that's what prophets do. They speak up when they see things that don't align with God's will.

I believe Christians today also have a responsibility to speak up when people, rulers or companies are doing the wrong thing. And if enough people do speak up, companies will change things. They have to. They rely on consumers for their existence. If enough consumers care, the company will soon realise it has to care as well. However, it won't realise that people do care about what it's doing if people don't speak up.

We need to be informed. We need to care. But we also need to speak. And it can make a difference.

If you're interested in knowing more about the social and environmental record of different companies, check out:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feeding on Good Pasture - Ezekiel 34:18-19

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:18-19)

Whenever I read this bible passage, I think of pollution. I think of rivers that used to be fine to swim in, but now are not. I think of natural places that are so littered with rubbish, cigarette butts and plastic bags that their original beauty is almost completely lost. And I think of how our production methods often are destructive to the natural world.

And I think that all of us living in the western world are feeding on the good pasture. And I don't believe there is anything wrong with eating and living well - in and of itself. Where it becomes a problem though is when we not only take what is good for ourselves, but ruin what is left.

The 21st century equivalent of this passage would have to be a huge factory that doesn’t just produce good food, but that completely alters the land, produces more food than what is needed (much of it going into people's bins) and creates a lot of waste that ends up polluting our natural areas.

I think of land-grabbing in developing countries, where large areas of land are bought by corporations, while the people who relied on that land go hungry.

I think of places like Nigeria, where an oil spill covered forestry and farmland and ruined drinking water. One of the village leaders, Otuegwe, said: "This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest." (

I think of companies like Monsanto, who patent their seeds and make it more and more difficult for farmers. An article in GRAIN said: "Corporations have used their power to expand monoculture crop production, undermine farmers’ seed systems and cut into local markets. They are making it much more difficult for small farmers to stay on the land and feed their families and communities." (

Now some people might say that passage in Ezekiel is metaphorical - and undoubtedly they would be right. But it seems to me that Christians who are the biggest advocates for a literal reading of the bible (especially when it comes to places like the creation story in Genesis) seem to forget all about literalism when it comes to passages like this.

I was having a conversation with someone recently about a God who wants to bless people. I said I find it hard to believe that God wants to bless me (and all other western Christians) by giving them good jobs and lots of money and possessions, while seeing others in the world starve. I was told that the most blessed countries in the world were predominately Christian countries - as though that made it all okay.

I think it makes it worse.

I'm used to hearing statements like, if everyone lived like Americans, we would need 4.5 earths. Although it's staggering, it doesn't even make me blink. Same too with statements that the world's wealthiest 16 per cent use 80 per cent of the world's resources. (

But it was a seemingly tame statement that made me really stop and think: Americans use more resources than they have in their country. I use Americans because that's the country that is used most in these kinds of statements. But I think all western countries need to bear some responsibility for the kind of attitude that says we western countries deserve more than our fair share of the world's resources.

If rich countries are predominately Christian, then we shouldn't just be thinking, well, we're blessed because we're Christian. We should be thinking seriously about what the bible has to say about our actions.

The tenth commandment says ' “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:17).

As I've heard many people say before, they're the ten commandments not the ten suggestions. But are they only commandments for individuals? Certainly this commandment seems to be discussing the actions of an individual. But if we are really to take them seriously, then shouldn't they apply to countries and corporations as well?

If I had a neighbour who decided that they wanted more land and my walnut tree looked pretty good, so paid the council to move his fence so that it took over half my backyard, I'd be understandably upset. Similarly, despite the good cherries on my neighbour's tree, I'm not allowed to move my fence so that that tree now belongs to me. According to the tenth commandment, I'm not even allowed to look at it and want it for myself.

So why is it that we can see so clearly that this is wrong when it comes to individuals, but not be greatly concerned when it's done by corporations or countries? If people want to call certain countries Christian countries, then the country itself should be acting Christian, not just the individuals within it - especially when those individuals benefit from a system that is acting in decidedly unchristian ways.

It would be nice to think that western countries are more blessed because they're Christian? But I'm afraid it simply isn't true.

I think we're blessed because so often we fail to take the bible seriously. We quote the tenth commandment when we think that those poorer than us may be eyeing off our possessions. We take a metaphorical approach to Ezekiel 34:18-19, because the alternative may ruin our lifestyle. But we're quite happy to ignore the bible when it suits our interests to do so.

If we really are a Christian nation, then let's stop benefitting from systems that aren't Christian at all. And if we actually started to behave like Christian countries, maybe we would find that the world's resources can be distributed far more justly after all. Maybe some other countries deserve to be blessed for a change.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Evacuate Christmas-decorated shopping centres

We have a new Christmas tradition in our family. It's called criticising shopping centres for putting their Christmas decorations up too early. I do it. My kids have started doing it. And I noticed the other day on Facebook that my mum is doing it. It's great to have an activity the whole family can participate in together at Christmastime.

But then today I thought why are the early Christmas decorations in shopping centres such a big deal that I feel the need to have a whinge about it every year? I mean, it's just one place. There are no Christmas decorations at school, or at church, or in the street, or in the park, or at the bus-stop, or in my neighbourhood or in my house. I could go on. The list of areas where there aren't Christmas decorations at the moment is far bigger than the places where there are Christmas decorations. Surely, I could put up with them for just that one place.

I suspect one of the reasons why they annoy me so much is because I see them as a sign of the commercialisation of Christmas. And that bothers me. It does. And when I see those Christmas decorations go up, I inwardly fume about the shopping centres attempt to (shock, horror) sell more goods.

And yes, I think that's a legitimate thing to complain about. We buy enough stuff as it is. We don't need a holiday that is meant to commemorate Jesus' birth turned into not only an excuse for buying things, but the trigger for a guilt trip because we're not buying enough.

But it's a shopping centre's purpose to sell as much stuff as they can. That's why they're there. They're not there to make Christmas a joyful, peaceful, faith-filled holiday. Well not unless they can find a way to make money out of it.

But maybe another reason why it annoys me so much is because I spend so much time in shopping centres. Truth be told, I spend more time in shopping centres than I do walking around the neighbourhood or enjoying the local park. So I see those Christmas decorations all the time.

But if I really objected to the commercialisation of Christmas and those early Christmas decorations, I could always avoid the shopping centres instead of whinging. I could spend more time in those places that don't have Christmas decorations up yet. I could sit and home and make my Christmas gifts instead of buying "love" at a Target counter.

Because if it's what those early Christmas decorations stand for than annoy me, then I have to look at my own participation in the commercialisation of Christmas. It's easy to whinge. But whinging doesn't change anything. The shopping centres are not going to start putting their decorations up in December, just because I complain about it. If I really want change, it's easier to change myself than it is to change an entity whose very purpose is to sell stuff. Shopping centres want Christmas commercialised. That way they make more money. If I don't want Christmas commercialised, then I need to look at my own actions.

Occupy is the buzzword of the moment. It seems everyone wants to use that word for their own purposes. The latest one I saw today was occupy roofs. It was trying to get people to put solar panels on their roofs. I'm supportive of the occupy movement but it does feel like the word is being used a little too often now.

So I'm not about to ask everyone to occupy shopping centres. That's just what the shopping centres want. Instead, how about we evacuate them. If the Christmas decorations and the Christmas selling and the commercialisation of Christmas annoy you (as they do me) then find somewhere else to go. There are plenty of places that aren't covered in Christmas decorations and that aren't trying to make money out of a religious holiday. Go there instead. Or stay home. There's no rule that says we have to constantly be surrounded by Christmas decorations in November. We only see them if we choose to be in places that have them up. 

And if we do choose to evacuate shopping centres in November, we buy less things - which is better on our pocket and better on the planet. And if the shopping centres lose money out of it, maybe they'll have less money to spend on Christmas decorations next year. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween as a Christian who cares about the environment - or why I'm still trick or treating despite the good reasons not to

As a Christian who cares about the environment, I have very good reasons for not participating in any Halloween activities.

From a Christian perspective, Halloween is not exactly a godly festival. Many people have suggested that Christians should have nothing to do with it. While I don't think we need to be legalistic about these things, I can understand the warnings. Furthermore, I find it quite sad that the religious day of All Saints Day (or All Hallows) has been reduced to an emphasis on Halloween (Hallow E'en or the day before All Hallows Day). So many of our religious days have been commercialised, losing the original religious purpose of them.

Halloween also isn't good from an environmentalist perspective. Even if we ignore the problem of so much non fair trade chocolate being given out, the high packaging of much Halloween goodies is terrible. Yet while the environmentalist in me shudders at bags of goodies that seem to have more plastic than sweets, the mother in me realises the practicality of having individual packaged goods, especially when children might be receiving sweets from people they don't know. And then there's all the various Halloween paraphernalia, most of it made from cheap plastic that is designed to be used just once and then thrown away. Halloween is not an environmentally-friendly time.

However, despite these very good reasons for not having anything to do with Halloween, my boys will be trick or treating and I will be handing out sweets to the kids that knock on my door. And the reason basically boils down to connecting with the neighbours. And there's very good reasons, from both a Christian perspective and an environmentalist perspective, for investing in neighbourly relationships.

From a Christian perspective, we are to love our neighbours. Now while I do believe Jesus expanded our concept of neighbour to be much broader than just the people living next door to us, it starts with the people who live around us. How am I to love my neighbours if I don't know them? How am I to show care and concern for them if I never speak to them?

From an environmentalist perspective, there's also good reasons for getting along well with the neighbours. When you know your neighbours, you have more opportunities for using less of the world's resources. You can borrow garden tools and other items, instead of going out and buying your own. You can share trips to the shops or carpool to work. You can ask for an egg, instead of driving down to the shops and buying a whole carton for the cake you have already started making.

In today's western society, we seem to be less and less connected to our neighbours. I am lucky that I do know my neighbours. (Living in the same place for 15 years and walking everywhere helps.) But still, I tend to see them when I run into them, rather than actually making the effort. And part of me wonders whether it will always be this way. Some of my neighbours have lived here for 50 years. Eventually, they will either move or die, maybe to be replaced with people who have no neighbourly sentiments at all.

Trick or treating provides my children with the opportunity (and the motivation) to talk to these neighbours while they still can. They can knock on their door, walk around the neighbourhood. For some of my neighbours, it's the only time when my children will actually speak to them. It also gives me the opportunity to show my generosity to the other kids in the neighbourhood who knock on my door.

And some of you may have already realised that I don't need Halloween to talk to the neighbours. I could take around Christmas goodies. I could go door-knocking for a charity. Or I could just make more of the effort to knock on their door and say 'Hi'.

But you know what? Halloween is fun. I love seeing all the children dressed up. I love looking at the street and seeing all the children talking together and comparing goodies. I love the fact that my boys are having fun without a Playstation. And I love seeing their excitement when they come back and tell me what they've received (and often the conversations they've had).

And sometimes we need to have fun. I think a view that people often hold about both Christians and environmentalists is that they're the people with a lot of rules. And rules are good. They help remind us of what's important. But sometimes I think we need to relax those rules. And sometimes those rules stop us doing things that are equally as important.

So my kids will go trick or treating and I'll hand lollies out - and I'll probably feel a little bit guilty, both as a Christian and an environmentalist. But I'll do it anway and I'll remind myself that neighbours are important too.

Happy Halloween (whether you agree with it or not).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Praying for mountains even when we seem to lack the kind of faith that moves mountains

            One question I often ask myself, and I'm sure many Christians ask themselves the same thing (even if they don't admit it) is 'Is there any point to prayer?'
            I know many people who seem to have the kind of faith that can move mountains. They pray and they believe that God will answer their prayers. I can't pray like that. Maybe I just need more faith. However, it's hard to believe in prayers that move mountains when I've seen so many mountains unmoved.
            I have friends who are believing God for things and who constantly pray for those things with faith - and yet those things haven't eventuated. Recently, the whole church was praying for someone's healing. Sadly she died. And no matter how many times people tell me that she's gone to a better place, I still find myself asking 'Why?' 'Why didn't God answer our prayers?' And then 'Why bother praying at all?' While I do have friends who have strong faith that their prayers will be answered, I've also seen the opposite where people completely lose faith in God when he doesn't answer their prayers. To be honest, I've sometimes come close to that myself.
            I believe there is a point to prayer. There must be. Jesus told us to do it. So while I don't always believe in the efficacy of prayer, I never doubt its necessity. Therefore, I pray. Even when the situation seems hopeless, even when I don't understand exactly what prayer is meant to do, even when I think prayer is pointless - I still pray. And I believe that any situation in which we want God to work demands our prayer.

            One of the things we must be praying for at the moment is the environment. Not only are we in the midst of an ecological crisis, but we are continuing on with the practices and lifestyles that are destroying our planet. Furthermore, issues relating to the environment, such as climate change and, in Australia, the carbon tax are not just causing anxiety, but division and even hostility. As Christians we must also be aware (and therefore pray for) the plight of all the many people who are and who will be adversely affected by climate change and environmental destruction.
            So I strongly believe this is something we need to pray about. However, my doubts and questions about prayer in general often stop me praying with faith even as small as a mustard seed. While Jesus told us that faith can move mountains, the environment is so much more than one mountain - literally and figuratively. The situation seems hopeless. If prayers don't seem to change little things, how on earth are they meant to have any influence over this very big thing? And so yet again, I am faced with the question of 'Is there any point to praying at all?'
            One thing I do believe prayer does is change the people who are praying. Often our actions and our attitudes help prevent the thing we are praying for. And when it comes to the environment, we all have actions and attitudes that need changing. Praying gives God permission to work in our lives. It also empowers us to do what we can to achieve what we are praying for. Christians are God's hands, feets and voices in this world. If change is going to occur, then people need to be involved. We can't just pray that we avoid ecological crisis and that people are saved from the negative effects of climate change. We need to do all we can to ensure that happens. And I believe prayer empowers us to do that.
            And yet prayer has to do more than this. Because some problems are too big for the people who are praying to solve alone. If everyone praying for the environment was changed and empowered to take action, it still would not be enough. If any kind of real change is to happen in our treatment of the environment, prayers have to do more than simply change the people who are praying.  
            But I don't know what and I don't know how. Maybe I'm not meant to know. Jesus didn't tell us to figure out how prayer works. He just told us to pray. And when you start trying to 'figure out' prayer it becomes a method of getting what you want, rather than a relationship and a way of participating in the work God is already doing.
            While there's lots of things in this world that I can 'figure out', prayer isn't one of them. I can't pull it apart and see how it all connects together. There are hundreds of books I can read on prayer, but none of them will give the kind of account of prayer that you might find in a say a manual on a car. I send my prayers up to heaven, unsure if they're heard or whether they accomplish anything. Ultimately, prayer means doing something that I don't understand. It's about having enough faith to pray anyway.
            Furthermore, when we try to work out how to get our prayers answered, the focus is on getting God to do what we want. Then when God doesn't do what we want, we think our prayers haven't been answered. But maybe prayer should rather be about letting God into the situation. God is God. He knows the best thing to do, far more than we do. Maybe the best thing is to simply invite him in and let God take over. And when it comes to the environment, I don't really see we have any other choice. For I certainly can't work out what God should do. I can see lots of problems but very few solutions. If I'm praying for particular things to happen, I may well be limiting God. He has a much bigger picture of what can be done than I do.
            It's not our job to give God a detailed action plan of the steps we think he should take. And it's not our job to work out exactly what prayer does and how we can get our prayers answered. Our job is to simply pray.
            I don't know if I have the kind of faith that can move mountains. But I will keep praying for mountains - and trees and seas and animals and plants and all the many wonderful things that make up God's creation. And I have enough faith to believe that God will take my doubt-filled prayers and do something with them. Maybe that's the type of faith that's as small as a mustard seed. But God can do marvellous things with mountains when all you have is mustard-seed-sized faith.

If you are interested in praying for the environment, you might want to take a look at Hope for Creation. On 6 November, Christians all around the world will be praying for climate change. For more information about Hope for Creation in Australia, go to

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Keeping the Sabbath: allowing ourselves and the earth to just 'be'

Once upon a time, in a land far different to where we live today, people didn't go shopping on Sundays. None of the shops were open. They didn't go on the internet. The internet didn't exist. Instead they ate dinner or lunch around something called a dining room table and participated in the strange custom of enjoying each other's company. And this didn't involve Facebook or Twitter or text messages or Skype. Instead, they enjoyed each other's company face-to-face.

While we may laugh at these strange customs of people long ago and far different to ourselves, they actually had a reason for this Sunday behaviour. They found that reason in the bible, more specifically in the Ten Commandments. They actually took the fourth commandment, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, seriously.

Of course we realise now how silly that was. Because who wants to obey one of God's commandments when you can shop?

But would our lives really be any worse if we got back to the fourth commandment? I suggest they would be much better. The Ten Commandments aren't there just because God felt like making a few rules up. They are for our own good. And that includes the fourth commandment, arguably the most neglected commandment of the lot.

Our lives are filled with so much 'doing'. The Sabbath gives us permission to simply 'be', to enjoy each moment as it comes instead of racing off to check the next item off the to-do list. You are more present for the people around you, rather than seeing them as a distraction or an obstacle. You are also more present to what's around you. You are free to enjoy the trees and the birds and the sun and the flowers when they're more than just scenery on the way to your next appointment. These moments of just 'being' are important for our souls.

Keeping a Sabbath day also gives us time to reconnect with the family and those that are important to us. Today more than ever, many of us spend most of our time away from other members of the household. We work in different places. We fill up our leisure time with various activities. A family needs more than just blood ties and a common roof. It needs time of connection and communication. It needs time to just 'be' in each other's presence.

Furthermore, ignoring the Sabbath is bad for the earth. One more day where we can shop is one more day where we're likely to buy things that we don't need. Is there anything that important that it can't wait until Monday before we purchase it? Is the world really going to fall apart if there's one day when we can't shop? I would love to see all shops close again on Sundays. It seems ridiculous, when we know the ecological damage our lifestyles cause, to stick to this idea of having the shops open as long and as often as possible. If we went back to no Sunday trading, not only would it enable a lot of people to spend time at home with their family instead of at work, but it would cut down 'boredom-spending'. I'm sure that most of the things that are bought on Sundays are only purchased because people want something to 'do'. They've lost the ability to simply 'be'.

It's interesting that the fourth commandment tells us not only to rest ourselves on the Sabbath, but that all of our family, all of our workers, the stranger within our gates and even the cattle are to rest. The commandment is not just for us. It's for everyone - including the animals. I would suggest that the Sabbath is also for the earth.

The earth needs a chance to just 'be' as well. And when we let the earth just 'be' and let ourselves just 'be' in the earth, we gain something that can never be gained by 'doing' things and by 'using' the earth.

The bible is full of verses that tell us that the earth shows us something of God. Just one instance of this is Romans 1:20, where Paul tells us that men have no excuse for not knowing God, for he can be seen in the things he has made. And yet I think we miss out on a lot of that. Creation may be telling us about God. But we're not hearing it because we're too busy to pay attention. Just 'being' in nature gives us the space and the opportunity to really listen to what it has to say.

We make such huge demands on the earth's resources all the time. Imagine if we used the Sabbath to actually give the earth a break. Switch off the mobile phone and the computer. Use as least electricity as possible. Don't drive and don't shop. If everybody did this for just one day a week, it would reduce our impact on the earth.

And it would actually improve our lives in the process. Without technology and the malls demanding our attention, we would be free to give our attention to what really matters - our God, our family, our earth and our souls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Consumerism doesn't just harm the environment

The damage that western lifestyles are doing to the environment is only part of the problem. If some technological fix does appear, meaning that western consumerism can carry on as usual, then those other problems will still be there. While we are at a crisis point at the moment, it is often in time of crises that new solutions and ways of living can be found. Instead of just looking at one particular result of western consumerism and trying to fix that, we need to look at all the ways that our lifestyles are causing harm. They all need to be addressed together. Now is the time that we need to be searching for new ways of doing things, new ways of living and new values and belief systems that are beneficial rather than detrimental, to the world and ALL the people that live in it.

Most people realise that our western lifestyles are causing the environment harm. Many of us also realise that those lifestyles are having a negative effect on people in developing countries. There is also a realisation that the way wealth and resources are distributed is unjust and must be changed. Then there is the issue of many people being paid slave wages so that western consumers can buy their goods more cheaply. A technological environmental fix is not going to resolve these issues - and they need to be resolved.

Another issue is the way people in western countries are negatively affected by consumerism. To be constantly bombarded by messages telling us we need to buy something or that we have certain problems that need to be fixed or that our lives will somehow be meaningless if we don't have a certain item - none of this is good for us. I believe it harms our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth. We try to find meaning and fulfilment and in products - and then wonder why we are left feeling like our lives are still meaningless and unfulfilled. It makes us think our worth is somehow based in what we earn or what we own. A technological environmental fix isn't going to fix any of these problems either - and again, they need to be resolved.

A third way that consumerism harms people is by making some people in western countries feel excluded. In Hard Work, Polly Toynbee gives an account of her attempt to live as the working poor in the UK. One of the saddest passages in the book comes near the end, when she is reflecting on her experiences:

'Wherever I walked, everything I passed was out of bounds, things belonging to other people but not to me. No Starbucks sofas beckoned anymore, no Borders bookshop, no restaurants, not even the most humble café. This is what 'exclusion' means, if you ever wondered at this modern wider definition of poverty. It is a large No Entry sign on every ordinary pleasure. No entry to the consumer society where the rest of us live. It is a harsh apartheid. Exclusion makes the urban landscape a forbidding place where every bright lit shop doorway designed to welcome you in to buy, buy, buy is slammed shut to one-third of the population. Shopping for the meanest food staples under rigorous cost-control is no fun, and it becomes less so every time.' (1)

Toynbee is not criticising consumerism as such. She freely admits that she likes to shop. Her main point is that living wages needs to be increased. But this passage, to me, is a sad reflection on how consumerism excludes people. While people in the western world may like to go shopping and buy lots of consumer goods, it will always create people who can't afford those goods. And while I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to be excluded from Starbucks or other stores, in a world where are told constantly that shopping brings fulfilment and improves their lives, it does leave people with a sense that they are somehow missing out on something important. Furthermore, it is consumerism that often ensures that many people are working for low wages. If we demand certain clothes, food or services at reasonably low prices, what happens to the wages of the people who help to provide those clothes, food or services - especially when the people employing them are trying to make as much profit as possible?

A technological environmental fix is not going to change anything for the working poor. In fact, in some cases it may end up leaving them worse off than before. For instance, solar panels reduce people's use of electricity. But the working poor cannot afford solar panels. If we use technology to reduce our use of electricity, is this technology going to be denied to people who can't afford it? Or will they have to purchase it anyway, leaving them even less money for the goods (and luxuries) that are considered such a normal part of daily life in a western country?

While I believe the damage we are doing to the environment is extremely important, it cannot be considered in isolation. We need to look at all the ways our lifestyles and structures are causing harm. And they all need to be addressed.

However, I am, at heart, an optimist. And I do believe that this time gives us an opportunity to critically look at our lifestyles and make changes that improve things for everybody. If consumer lifestyles cause so much harm - to the environment, to developing countries, to the working poor and to everyone living in western countries - then changing those lifestyles or reassessing them can also bring benefits to everyone as well.  At this point of ecological crisis, we have the motivation to look for other alternatives - not just alternative energy supplies, but alternatives ways of living. It is now that we are most likely to change. And while change is often scary, it often brings rewards that we never imagined.  

1. Toynbee, P. Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

'Us' and 'them' - becoming the one 'we'

When people write a book, they write for an intended audience. That becomes the 'we'. When they speak about 'we do this' and 'we do that' or 'we can do this', it is their intended audience that supposedly does or can do those things. For books that discuss the environment, the 'we' is sometimes American, usually from a western country and usually relatively wealthy And to a certain extent, this understandable. If authors tried to include everyone who might possible read their books, they may end up being able to say nothing about all.

But the 'we' or 'us' also has a 'them'. The 'us' is rich people in the western world. The 'them' is people living in developing and third world countries. And that is a very real 'us' and 'them'. The way we (you see, it's impossible to avoid it) live in the western world is vastly different to the way 'they' live in developing countries. That needs to be discussed and the differences need to be highlighted.

However, there are also problems with having an 'us' and 'them' division. The first is that the 'us' they describe is not just westerners, but wealthy westerners. I know myself that I am very definitely part of the 'us' group. And yet the 'us' they talk about seems to have lifestyles very different from my own. And I think the 'us' and 'them' idea can lead to the idea that all people living in the western world are wealthy, have enough to eat, a variety of clothes to wear and live in spacious homes with thermostats.

And yet that's not the case at all. Many people living in western countries, even (gasp) America, are struggling financially. Read Nickel and Dimed, for an example of the difficult situation many Americans find themselves in. And the problem is not just limited to America. There are people struggling in Australia too.  When we talk about 'us' and 'them' we must not fall into the trap of believing that everyone included in that 'us' is doing fine and it's only the 'them' that have problems. The 'us' includes some people who find it hard to afford food, clothing and shelter. They must not be forgotten somewhere between the 'us' and the 'them'.

Another problem with the 'us' and 'them' is that it creates a divide. The problems faced by those living in developing countries can be seen as 'their' problem, not ours. Yes, we may change our lifestyle, donate money and do a variety of other things to help them. But there is often the sense that we are helping 'them', not helping 'us' as a human race. It is seen as 'generosity' not 'responsibility'.  We lose sight of the fact that we are all human beings together. That 'us' and 'them' make up the same 'we'.

And imagine if we broadened the 'us' out even further. Humans often tend to think of a division in the world we live in. There is the 'us' of human beings and then there is the 'they' of all non-human elements of this earth. But imagine if we got rid of the 'us' and 'them' and started thinking mainly in terms of 'we'. The tree outside my house belong to the same 'we' that I belong to, for we are all part of the earth community. It is not 'other' but 'us'.

We live in a very individualistic society. And again, who is the we I am speaking of here? Obviously human. Presumably westerners. And even then, western countries encompass a wide range of different cultural groups. Are they all individualistic? I suspect not.

Let's just say that I have a very individualistic worldview. Forget about the 'us', I tend mainly to think in terms of 'me'. It's very hard to lose sight of that 'me' and concentrate on any 'us'. To remove the focus from myself and place it on the greater whole sometimes makes me feel like my head is about to explode.

Sometimes, but not always. For instance, my family is an 'us'. When people ask me how my family is doing, I don't try to separate each person out. I may talk about problems or joys that the whole family has had together. Or I might speak about problems or joys that belong to one particular person in the family. But it is still an 'us'. When my son is going through something, in a way, the whole family is going through that same something. We all share in it together.  

Another time when I forget about the 'me' is when I am out in nature. Being out in nature often makes me forget about myself. The 'me' disappears. Instead, I become part of the 'we' of everything I see around me. I think one reason why spending time in nature is so relaxing is because it does change our focus from the 'me' to the 'us'. And losing sight of the 'me' is good for our souls.      

But if we are to embrace the 'us', then it must include everyone. That's not just the people you like or the people you have compassion for. It includes climate change deniers, wealthy capitalists and polluters.

One of my favourite parts of the bible is when Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he intends to visit his house. As a tax-collector, Zacchaeus was like the person who today pays his employees slave wages and dumps all his pollutants into the river. You can just imagine the disciples thinking, no, Jesus, you've got it wrong. He's not one of 'us', he's one of 'them'.

But Jesus doesn't let there be a 'them'. There is only 'us' with Jesus. Yes, we have our differences. It is not only the tree outside my house or the climate change sceptic that is different to me, it is only my son who has inherited many of my (good and not so good) characteristics. But we have been focused on those differences for so long that we have forgotten we are all part of the greater whole. We need to stop thinking about 'me' or even a narrowly defined 'us' and think of a 'us' that encompasses everyone.

It is this 'us' that needs to live together. It is the good of this greater 'us' that we should be aiming for. And it is this 'us' that Jesus came to save.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Feeding of the multitude: where everyone eats the same, regardless of status, wealth or location

For I was hungry and you gave me food. -- Matthew 25:35

They all ate and were satisfied -- Matthew 14:20

I've heard the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitude discounted by saying it was not a multiplication of food as such. Rather, as Jesus took out food and began to feed people, others felt guilty and took out their own food to share.

Now I do believe in miracles and I do believe there was an actual multiplication of food. But I also think that seeing the feeding of the crowds as a miracle kind of lets us off the hook.

The traditional way of reading this story sees Jesus as the person who gives us what we need. Our role is simply to sit there, hands out, waiting for him to feed us. While everyone is connected to Jesus and He cares about everyone's needs, we see little connection between the different people he is feeding. Jesus is the sole provider.

When Jesus is seen as the sole provider, it can encourage an attitude where we don't feel responsibility for our neighbour. If our role is simply to get fed and Jesus is ensuring that those next to us get fed, then it's not our responsibility to make sure they have enough food. If someone isn't being provided for, we may presume that they failed to ask Jesus for what they needed. That is if we even notice. With Jesus in charge, we don't even need to pretend to care.

The de-miracalised version of the feeding of the multitude tells a different story, though, one that doesn't let us off the hook so easily. If people felt guilty and began sharing their food, then surely we too should share our food with those around us. Jesus begins the feeding, but it is our job to continue it. And if we fail to do our bit, those around us go without. We can't just wait for Jesus to feed people. We need to do our part.

Whether we see the feeding of the multitude as a true multiplication of food or not, it is still a miracle - one that we very rarely see today. A world in which not only everybody gets to eat, but everyone eats their fill is truly miraculous.

Even in church, we rarely get this. We're coming up to Christmas season and it's time for the Christmas parties to start. But does anyone think about ensuring that everybody can afford to go? Does anybody wonder whether the price put on the Christmas parties means some people are left out? Or what about going somewhere after church for a meal? Do they realise that there are people who can't go because they can't afford it? Or that there are people who have to eat something cheap, while those around them eat food they could never afford? Jesus told us to invite people to dinner who could not pay us back. And yet I wonder how many people miss out on ever getting invited to dinner (or get invited only the once) because they can't afford to have people over their house for dinner in return.

Yes, churches sometimes do a good job of providing "poor" people with free food. They can turn up at church, say they need food, fill out a form, answer some embarrassing personal questions and get some bags of nearly out-of-date food to take away with them. But that's not the kind of feeding that Jesus does. Jesus feeds everyone. He doesn't ask if they need the food or whether they can afford to buy their own. He doesn't make them admit to their poverty. He just feeds them. Everyone is fed the same. Everyone gets their fill.

And when it comes to the world stage, it's even worse. Instead of Jesus feeding the crowds, we have a small percentage of the crowds eating more than their fill and throwing away huge amounts of food, while others in the crowd are dying of starvation. It's almost like baskets are handed to each end of long lines of people for them to eat and then pass on. But instead of eating and passing on, they're taking half for themselves and throwing the rest on the ground. Doesn't seem at all like the kind of picture we are given in the Gospels.

Perhaps the closest we get to everyone being fed the same, regardless of status or wealth or geographical location, is a wedding. You go to a wedding and you eat the same food as everyone else. Nobody needs to know that this is actually the best food you've eaten for five years. Nobody needs to be left out because they can't afford it. Everyone eats. Maybe that's why Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a wedding banquet.

But the Kingdom of God is coming and is now here. And Christians are meant to be working towards the Kingdom of God. It's not good enough to simply sit there, hands out, waiting for Jesus to feed us. We are God's hands in the world. We need to be feeding other people. And while the idea of everyone having the same access to food and everyone eating their fill may sound like something you could only get it heaven, we still need to be doing all that we can to ensure that it's as much like that now as it can be.

When we pray for God's kingdom to come to earth, do we really mean it? Do we see it as something that God just does for us or something we are meant to be doing for others? And is it something we are just praying for, or something we are working towards? For if we do seriously want God's kingdom to come on earth, we need to be thinking about whether there is justice in terms of the food we eat. And if there isn't, we need to be doing all we can to change this.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Buying Beauty

Many, if not most, woman long to be beautiful. That may seem like a very politically incorrect statement. After all, we're strong, independent women. We don't need to be beautiful. But just because we don't need to be beautiful doesn't mean we don't long to be beautiful.

I know I do. I'm definitely not the kind of woman that spends a lot of time on my looks. And I'm much rather be thought intelligent than beautiful. And yet I long to be beautiful.

I think partly that has to do with the fact that so many of the magazines, adverts and television programs tell women we should be beautiful. And yet it's those same magazines, adverts and television programs that stop so many women from feeling like they are beautiful.

For they all combine to make women feel completely inadequate about the way they look. It is this feeling of inadequacy that makes them go out and buy products that will help them feel better about their appearance. Or at least, they might feel better until the next ad comes along telling them to do something about their grey hair, cellulite, pimples, wrinkles, stained teeth, rough hands, et cetera. Because the ads don't actually want anyone to feel beautiful. When a woman already feels beautiful she doesn't need to buy anything to make her feel that way.

Now I don't think there is anything wrong in women buying certain things to improve their appearance. Women have been trying using various substances and items for thousands of years in order to try and look more beautiful. I don't think they are going to stop now. A new dress, a bit of make-up, a wrinkle cream, a new pair of shoes - none of these are necessarily bad.

Where I do see a problem though is the expectation that women will be addressing all the many issues they see on the advertisements. So if a woman has grey hair, it's seen as something wrong with her. Here's news. We're meant to have grey hair when we get older. And again, if people want to try and cover up their grey hair, that's fine. But there shouldn't be the expectation that all women will try and 'remove the grey' - or get rid of wrinkles or buy this season's fashions or wear heaps of make-up.

I've heard more than one Christian say women should wear make-up for their husbands. And it annoys me each time I hear it. Women should feel beautiful the way God made them. And that's the message they read in Christian books. And yet the other message they're hearing (particularly in books or shows on marriage) is that the way God made them is not good enough for their husbands. Why else would they need to wear make-up? If God's pleased with how he made a woman, then their husbands should be too.

And this idea that women must be doing and buying all these various products just to be beautiful 'enough' leads to other problems. Firstly, it's a drain on the environment. If all women stopped buying beauty or fashion products for a year, what difference would that make to this planet? Think about the resources we pull from the earth to make those products, the transport that's needed, the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere, not to mention the various chemicals that we are dumping on the earth and placing on our bodies.

Today's beauty expectations are not good for the earth. In trying to create a beauty that is 'better' than what God has made, are we destroying the very beautiful earth that he has made?

Another problem I see with current beauty ideas is that it leaves women who are struggling financially like they will have enough money to be beautiful. If the adverts tell you that you need this product and that product and the latest fashions just to be acceptable in the looks department, how do you feel when you don't have the money to spend on this product and that product and the latest fashions? You feel like beauty, like no many other things, is something that is completely beyond your grasp.

And I don't think it's just a matter of women feeling like they can't be beautiful. I think society's expectation is that a woman will spend a lot of money on their looks. Beauty is expensive. Many women spend a great deal of money on their looks. And, in a lot of cases, the money spent does help them look fantastic. But where does it leave those people who can't spend the same money? Looking and feeling like everyone around them is much closer to the 'magazine beauty ideal' than they are.

And speaking of the 'magazine beauty ideal', have you ever noticed how so many of them are white? Yes, you do get the odd woman who's Asian or coloured. But mostly, it's white, white, white, white, white. I am white, so I have no idea how it feels to have the ideal beautiful woman always presented in skin of a different colour. But I imagine that for some women, particularly young women, it would feed into the idea that they can never reach that standard of beauty.

I remember very clearly my Asian friend in high school telling me one day that all the white girls were pretty. I was shocked, mostly because I didn't think all the white girls were pretty at all. And of course, white girls aren't any prettier than Asian girls. But I guess, for her, being confronted with these images of beautiful white woman all the time, she had linked pretty to white in her mind.

I think it's fine that women want to be beautiful - and even that they do things to improve their looks. But I really wish we could get rid of this false, artificial, magazine-created idea of beauty. I wish we could stop telling women that they need to get rid of their grey hair or their wrinkles or their daggy clothes before they can even think of being beautiful. When we continually tell women that certain products and items will make them beautiful, we are just reinforcing the message that they're not okay the way they are. And we're holding out an ideal that some women can't even hope to attain.

And I really wish that we could learn to appreciate true beauty in women, beauty the way God made it, beauty that doesn't need to be fixed up, covered up or dressed up to be acceptable. And I also wish that women could learn to see that beauty in themselves.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Special attachments to nature

Today I read an article that told me that the koala is highly vulnerable to climate change. This is according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Today and places it in a list of only 10 species in the world.

Koalas, people and climate change: not a good mix by Christine Adams-Hosking

I visit a lot of environmental sites and read a lot of environmental newsletters. So I'm used to hearing bad news. But this article hit me in a way few other articles have.

My son loves koalas. He has about 10 stuffed toy koalas, along with a variety of other koala-related items. We pray for koalas quite often in our bed-time prayers. When he hears about koalas that are hurt or injured, he gets upset. He even once wrote a letter to Peter Garrett asking him to protect koalas. If you've ever wondered why there's a koala on this page, it's not just because it's an Australian animal. It's because my son loves koalas. In fact, he chose the picture.

I've always liked koalas. They're cute. They look cuddly. They're Australian. What's not to love? But I care about them a lot more now than I used to. My love for my son means I care about what he cares about. I consider koalas valuable because my son places value on them. He calls koalas good and I agree.

Just as I love my son, I also love God. And just as I value those things that are my son cares about, I should also value those things that God cares about. God wasn't just looking at koalas when he saw that they were good. He was looking at the whole of Creation. My care for nature must not stop with the koalas that my son calls good, but must extend to every part of the Creation that God calls good.

In saying that, though, we are finite creatures and cannot care for the whole of Creation in the way that God does. I'm afraid I'm never going to be able to look at a rat the same way I look at a koala. And my dog has far more worth in my eyes than any fleas or ticks that might attack him.

Therefore, I think having a special attachment to a something in nature (whether that be an animal, a plant, a pet or a place) is a good thing. We can never come close to the love God has for all Creation. But in developing a special attachment to one part of nature, we may feel a tiny part of what God feels for all of nature. We may care about all nature, we may even love many parts of nature. But that special attachment to one part of nature takes that care and love to a new level - a level that cannot be sustained on a worldwide level. The picture on the TV screen of one individual hurting animal often impacts us in a way that statistics about the entire species cannot. When we have a special attachment for that specific animal, we are impacted even more.

I suspect that there are a few Australians who may not care at all about the polar bears, but who will care about the koalas. It's part of human nature to care most about those things that are closest to us. While we must not limit our care for nature to only those things that are close to us, I don't think caring more for specific parts of nature is necessarily a bad thing. It is through caring deeply about something specific that we often learn to extend that care out towards all of nature.

None of us loves every person in the world the same way God does. While we try to love all human beings and believe that all human beings have value, we naturally care more about the people that are closest to us. I love my sons, my family and my friends more than I love the person I pass on the street and just say hello to. And I care for that person more than I care for someone living in France who I've never met. And yet loving these people that I do know helps me to feel love and empathy for those that I don't know.

If someone told me that they loved all human beings, but had no one human being that they particularly loved, I would wonder how well they really loved human beings. And yet often I think we talk about care of nature in very general terms, without delving deeper into the specific relationships people have with parts of nature. And I would say that our highly mobile society means we are less likely to form those attachments to nature in terms of place. It is when we become familiar with a particular place, that we often develop an attachment for the birds, the animals and the plants that belong to that place.

Yes, God calls all of Creation good. And yes, God cares for it all. And as we seek to follow God, we must recognise the intrinsic value of all of nature, as opposed to only seeing the value of things that provide benefits to humans. However, I don't believe this means we need to try and care for each part of nature exactly the same way. Nor does it mean that we should avoid cultivating a special attachment to certain parts of nature. It is through those attachments, that our love for nature may most closely mirror God's own.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Healing the Division on Climate Change

The recent Four Corners episode about the carbon tax showed just how divisive this issue has become in Australia. They interviewed people who both supported and were against the carbon price. What they didn't show were many people in the middle. Partly, this is because you don't make a good documentary by interviewing lots of people who don't care either way. But I suspect that most people who have an opinion on the carbon price are firmly on one side or the other of the debate. It seems to have become one of those polarising issues that everyone needs to answer yes or no to. 

Now who's to blame for this polarisation probably depends on which side you're coming from. Those who support a carbon price tend to blame Tony Abbott and possibly the media. Those who are against probably blame Julia Gillard for bringing in a carbon tax that people don't want. But whoever's to blame, the fact is that polarisation is there. And polarisation is never good.

People often try to prove their point by telling the other side how wrong they are. However, rarely does this actually convince anyone. Instead, it often leads to antagonism and people getting more firmly entrenched in their views. The divide between the two sides grows larger and the accusations and criticisms grow louder.

Because this is an issue that people care deeply about, the focus is probably more on resolving the issue the way we want it resolved, rather than healing that divide. If we think about the divisiveness at all, it's probably hoped that resolving it our way will fix the problem. Those who are against the carbon tax are hoping that if an election is forced, the carbon tax will go away, never to rear it's head again. Those who support the carbon price are hoping that, once it goes through, everyone will realise what a fantastic idea it is and will learn to accept it.

I honestly don't see any of those things happening. The carbon price is not going to go away - and nor is the antagonism towards it. We are so firmly entrenched in our views now that, whatever happens, we're going to keep pushing for the outcome we want. I myself do firmly support a carbon price. If there was an election and Tony Abbott got rid of the carbon price, I'd keep pushing for there to be one. But I know that there are those on the other side who would keep fighting against one too.

I care deeply about doing something about climate change. I believe the God of compassion demands it. We need do something about climate change, because, if we don't, then this world, the people in it, particularly those who are poor, will suffer. However, I know that other Christians who also believe in a God of compassion believe the carbon tax will hurt Australians and families. We both claim to follow a God of compassion and to base our decisions on that. What we need to do is realise that we (whoever our side might be) is not the only side with compassion. And secondly, we need to extend our compassion not just to those who will suffer either because of climate change or because of a carbon price, but to those people who have a different opinion to us. 

Our God is not just a God of compassion, but reconciliation. Anyone who claims to follow Christ must not only care about "winning the debate" but healing the relationships that have been damaged because of it.

It's very easy to tell the other side that they're wrong. But what we must do is try to understand why the other side believe that they are right. And we must recognise that both sides believe they have valid reasons for either supporting or not supporting a carbon price. We need to stop arguing and start listening. We need to validate people's fears and concerns, instead of just brushing them aside as 'not based on facts'.  We need less antagonism and more understanding, less anger and more love.

A couple of months ago, I prayed about the carbon tax in a bible study. As someone who supports the carbon price, I was definitely in a minority. Most people there don't like it at all. But we can still pray together, not for a certain outcome, but for God's will to be done. And I think that's a start. When we pray with people who we disagree with, we are forced to come to God in humility, realising that His will may not be our will. We are forced to leave our own agenda aside, at least for a few minutes. We also stand together, before God, both imperfect, both sinful, yet both in need of God's grace, mercy and love.    

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How is that working for you? Creation and Human meet Dr Phil

I'm not a big Dr Phil fan. I think I watched five minutes of him on Oprah once. So forgive me if I get some of this wrong. But even though I don't watch much Dr Phil, I do know there's a saying he's very fond of. 'How is that working for you?' As he's the 'relationship guru', I'm fairly sure he uses it to discuss people's behaviours in terms of the relationships in their lives. So you yell at your kid every time he does the wrong thing. How is that working for you? You ignore your wife every time she cries. How is that working for you? Something like that, I suppose.

I don't like Dr Phil too much, but I like the line. It's a good way to show people that what they are doing just isn't working. And once you realise it's not working, you're open to the possibility of doing something new.  

Well, this isn't about relationships. But it's also a good line to use about the things we do to try and feel fulfilled, happy and important.

So you buy a new dress every time you want to feel special. How is that working for you? So you're working long hours to pay off a mortgage for a house you see only at night. How is that working for you? So you go shopping to take your mind off your depression. How is that working for you? So you're spending less time with your children, but buying them heaps of presents to compensate for it. How is that working for you? So you feel unattractive, but you're spending a fortune on wrinkle creams, make-up and exercise machines. How is that working for you?

The truth is it's not working for us. We've been told that buying products will make us happier and solve our problems. But it just doesn't work. No matter what we buy or what we own, we're still left wanting more. Trying to find fulfilment in consumer products is like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No matter how far you travel, you still have further to go.

That's because there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - or the end of a clearance sale queue.

I believe there is a yearning deep in the heart of all of us. And I believe that that yearning is often used to sell more products. Advertisements play on our fears, our insecurities, our sense of powerless and meaningless - and that yearning for something. Often we don't know what that something is. So we see an advertisement and we think, maybe, if I just bought that one thing, that yearning would disappear. But it never does. Because that yearning was never meant to be satisfied through stuff.

In my opinion, that yearning is for God. And I also believe that that yearning never completely disappears. No matter what we have, no matter what we do, we live with the yearning. Like Creation, we are groaning as we wait for our redemption. Only we have twisted our eager expectation for God into an eager expectation for the next new product on the market. We are trying to stop our groaning by buying so many things that we hurt the Creation that is groaning with us.

            Humans and Creation are in a relationship, whether we like it or not. It's a pity Human and Creation can't go and see the relationship guru, Dr Phil, together. They would tell Dr Phil all their problems, about how they're both groaning, waiting in eager anticipation for liberation and redemption.
            Creation would then complain about Human, saying, 'I'm groaning too, but I also have to suffer because he takes his groaning out on me.'
            Dr Phil would turn to Human and say, 'Is this true?'
            Human would say, 'Well I need to do something to try and stop this feeling inside me. The only way I know how to cope with this is to buy lots of stuff.'
            And then Dr Phil says, 'And how is that working for you?'
            And if Human answers honestly, he would be forced to say, 'Not very well at all.'