thoughts on competition

“That most of us consistently fail to consider the alternatives to competition is a testament to the effectiveness of our socialization. We have been trained not only to compete but to believe in competition. If we are asked about it, we unthinkingly repeat what we have been told. Unfortunately, the case for competition, as most of us have learned it, does not stand up under close scrutiny … Most of all, the case for competition is based on a great deal of misinformation. Specifically, it has been constructed on four central myths … The first myth is that competition is an unavoidable fact of life, part of „human nature.‟ ..The second myth is that competition motivates us to do our best … {The] Third [myth], it is sometimes asserted that contest provide the best, if not the only, way to have a good time. … The last [fourth] myth is that competition builds character, that it is good for self-confidence.”14
Kohn, Alfie, No Contest – The Case Against Competition: Why we lose in Our Race to Win (Revised Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1992), p.


trying to be the brightest

the gentle man said
that you would be ranked
from top to bottom
with the person on top of the pile likely to be offered the job
while the person at the bottom of the pile
the loser (although he was much too polite to put it like that)
the rank outsider
being unlikely to be offered the position

so one job
many applicants
one post
Why do you think you be the best person for the job?’

then the tug of war between what I should say to get the position
on top of the pile
and Jesus, Jesus pulling the other side of the rope saying
wash feet serve others first do unto others
or variants and the general all round craziness of the situation
of trying to finish top of the pile
just to justify that I’m not a layabout or to get extra cash
in a time of austerity

this is madness
a choice of trying my best to finish top of the pile
knowing that other people want the same thing
(or else they wouldn’t have applied)
to win the competition
and people will be happy/relieved for me
Good luck!‘ they wish me
Y9u’re as good as the next man!‘ they reassure me

yet what sort of reassurance is it?
because I’m torn between
two contradictions…

competition,Jesus and pacifism

Forgive me for what I am about to blog (I know not what I do) but I can’t sleep and the sky has brightened up in that gunmetal grey, Ulster way and here I am blogging at 4.37am ( which is guaranteed to lead to an mess of a post ) possibly with things I don’t really mean or sweeping statements that I may regret writing.
Anyway, I’ve thoughts on my mind.
Today I was thinking that if I loose my faith it’s probably going to be one of two things that push me over the edge.

Number One.
Suffering and pain, especially the silence of God in suffering and pain.But I expected that to be challenge.

Number two. What feels like the ‘unworkability’ of  Jesus’ commands in day- to-day life.

I had expected the first threat, the silence and feeling that God wasn’t there or was just a phantom.
But the idea that it might be the voice of God that pushes me over the edge is something that I’d never considered.

It may be the thing that wears me down because unbearable suffering and sorrow doesn’t happen every day,
but the day-to-day, (tomorrow morning when I wake up for example) does happen everyday, and it’s  in that day-to-day that I’m expected to live life,
and it is also in the day-to-day that a Christian is supposed to be living out commands such
‘..turn the other cheek
or ‘..give him your cloak as well
or ‘do to others what you would have them do to you‘. …everyday.

A Christian is called to follow Jesus.

How is a man supposed to mesh  this sort of crazy counter-cultural stuff in the dog eat world streets of Lisburn City?

How a Christian is supposed function in this panicking, worried and fearful atmosphere without compromising and keeping his holy bits for Sunday morning?

Every step seems to scream that life is a competition.
Well not every step, but large and very important segments of life seem based on competition such as the job market.

(Ah, another duel at dawn with my old arch-nemesis ‘the job market’.)

I’m looking for a job at the moment, or paid employment .

But the only way I can effectively obtain a job is by getting more competitive,  by sprucing up my cv and applying for jobs and hoping that I fill in my application form better than someone else,
or that I am more eloquent in an interview,
of competing and hoping that I am a stronger  ‘more suitable’ candidate that someone else.
My hope is to be more alert in spotting an opening or opportunity than someone else and force my way through the merest c rack, thereby proving my worthiness.

Or else what?
Just sit here and hope for a surprise phone call,
or for some kindly benefactor,
or to have a chance conversation with Ireland’s only urban farmer who offers me a chance to learn the trade on the spot,
or to try and risk it on some hair brained scheme?
No,that won’t work, life doesn’t work like that. You have to earn it and prove that you are worthy and better, a hard worker. Don’t sitting on your arse,  get out there and show the world what you are made off.

There might be a job in a very caring charity doing very caring work,
yet you have to compete for that position and prove that you would be a more caring person than someone else. You have to trample and gobble to serve.

Or to become a minister or pastor and tell people about God’s grace  and unmerited favour that you can’t  earn, (‘Only by grace can we enter etc.’)  you must  pass exams to prove that you can do it and earn your way in.
So  only by qualifications and high enough marks can you enter, only by academic gifts can you stand.

But is Christianity compatible with competition and competing?
Is it not something much closer to community and co-operation, with sharing and grace, with gift and service?

For example I might see a job opening and would like that job to earn some money and go on holiday, pay the rent, learn to drive.

But at the same time I also know that x other people would like that job as well so that they can go on holiday, buy the kids Christmas presents, get some dignity from paid employment etc. and that makes things difficult.

So what do I do if I am to  take that whole ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you‘ command literally, that whole bit about loving your neighbour as yourself seriously?

It almost suggests that I should go into the interview with a view to giving up my rights to the job. I might be equally well qualified, even more qualifed but if I am following a God who gave up his rights and majesty does that have implications for job hunting.

Or are there different levels of neighbour?
Like is it OK to compete and strive and fight and trample over your neighbour if you are doing it for the sake of your family?

To even voice that seems dodgy, the perceived wisdom is that of course you should do anything to protect and look after your loved ones, it’s your responsibility to provide. But who are our loved ones? Who is your brother, who is your mother?

I found this article earlier on  and it quotes from someone called Donald Hagner

“Love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds”

I thought it might be the silence of God that would send me over the edge,but it might just as easily be the voice of God, the trying to build your house on the rock and not the sand.

Although he was writing about Gandhi and pacifism George Orwell expressed something of the practicality of Christianity in the real world.

‘In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews?Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question…’

It’s all very well having lofty ideals but how do you propose it working in real life?
Jesus, it’s all very well saying turn the other cheek or do unto others but how do you propose it working in real life?

rainbow at easter

Today has been a strange day.
It’s the day when Christians gather to celebrate the rising and victory of Jesus over the grave, a day for celebration if ever there is a day to celebrate for a Christian.

Yet to put it simply, life still feels shit, the same as it did a few days before, in fact much blacker and horrible than I’ve had in a while. It’s a day of lead feet and an awareness of how ‘off target’ I’ve been with so much of my life, of confusing strength with being proud, of feeling let down by God while being very aware that I’m a let down as well.
In other words, I’m feeling crap and anything like celebrating despite it being Easter Sunday.

It’s hard. But you probably don’t me to tell you that as you’ll know that yourself, life is hard. This was going to turn into  another post about struggles and wrestling but I briefly  looked up from the computer and could see the tail of the rainbow out the study window. Some may put that down as a coincidence, but not me.
It happens on occasions that God whispers to me through creation, rainbows from windows and buzzards at the exact time I would need to see a buzzard, creepy crows and blackbird nests in the garden.

So yes, life is hard and I don’t feel like celebrating much, I often can’t see how the resurrection is going to help me find a job this week, or be a better husband, or why church is like grinding teeth sometimes or why the good news doesn’t seem very much like good news but today I’ll cling to the rainbow out the window, because it’s a whisper in the dark of something bigger, or perhaps it’s creation celebrating it’s future redemption and restoration and telling me it’s all going to be alright.

Useful Work versus Useless Toil

‘It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it – he is “employed,” as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only “industrious” enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself – a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others.’

taken from Useful Work versus Useless Toil
By William Morris

‘I have come to understand that a person that a person can do nothing good oneself, that for a person to be glad, to be well-off even to be able to eat and drink and enjoy oneself in the press and change of daily life – all this is purely a gift of God’
Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13

‘Only when Grace covers the toil, the rising up early, the sitting up late, eating the bread you worried about providing, only under and out of Grace does work find meaning, and can a person go on content’
Calvin Seerveld

hard to make a living vs being lazy (or something like that)

(warning, one of those slightly imbalanced, not sure if what I’m saying is right but I just have to get it out there even if I’m incredibly wrong posts coming up)

This weekend I started to wonder how the early church leaders picked the letters and gospels which end up in what we call The Bible.

So I picked up the first church history book I could find and started reading.
However, the thing that caught my attention was  not a chapter on how the books of the New Testament made it in, it was a chapter on why the early Christians were first persecuted by the Roman Empire.

Basically it seems that they were awkward.

Well awkward in the sense that when someone started living like Jesus in Roman society they didn’t fit in with that culture as their lifestyle was something different.

This bit in particular caught my eye as it does  a better job at explaining some of how I’ve been feeling in our ‘hyper-economic-profit-competition-and-PROFIT-is-king’ society but not been able to express.

‘The Christian fear of idolatry also led to difficulties in making a living. A mason might be involved in building the walls of a heathen temple, a tailor in making robes for a heathen priest, an incense-maker in making incense for the heathen sacrifices…We might think that working with the sick would be a simple act of kindness. But even here early Christians found the pagan hospitals under the protection of the heathen god Aesculapius, and while a sick friend lay in his bed, the priest went down the aisle chanting to the god.
In short, the early Christian was almost bound to divorce himself from the social and economic life of his time -if he wanted to be true to his Lord’
Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley

This is perhaps one of those posts when you try to justify yourself when you’ve been in the wrong, but there is something about those words that struck me.

I’ve found it difficult to make a living as well the last number of years and with that there is a certain amount of shame that you aren’t providing for your family, which is  heightened by various scolding voices in  the New Testament (  “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” )

It’s verses like that one from 1 Timothy which really piss me off as on first reading it’s saying/sounds like it’s saying that my inability to provide a living wage for my wife and extended family is a denial of the faith and worse than unbelieving.

And it’s that scolding of that verse and my inability to articulate things which means  tonight I won’t feel comfortable enough to go to  Men’s Group as the first question someone will ask me (just as they’ve asked me any time I’ve gone before) will be
‘Well Dave, any news on the job front?
because invariably I’ll feel embarrassed and ashamed that I haven’t found work yet, that I haven’t  sent out hundreds of CVs or been trying to best everybody else out there looking for a job for the sake of my family
and basically I will get the feeling from these men (perfectly nice, Christian men who are probably just concerned for me and us) that I’m a hopeless, lazy Christian.

Yet it’s hard because I do want to provide for my family.
I’d love to provide for my family given half the chance.
It’s just that I don’t want to provide for my family using the ways of the world to provide for them or by helping the hyper-consumerist Empire that is destroying the creation that we should be looking after and caring for.

That is a clumsy way of putting things. Maybe a better way is to say ‘The Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven’.

If someone wants to do everything in their power to prove that they’re a more suitable candidate for a job than another person, if they want to compete,win and earn a job that will provide a living wage for their family I understand.
They love their family and want to provide for them. I admire that and many times I wish God had made me more competitive or more of a ‘man’ , that I was less of a walkover.

But for me, as a  Christian I can’t see how this whole competing thing works within the kingdom of God.

I can’t see how scanning the papers and trying to ring in your application before someone else notices the job is particularly Christian. It seems very Darwinian of something.
Why would I be more suitable or worthy of a job than the hundreds of other people who are looking for a job?
Is my family any more important than their family from God’s point of view?

But that’s not the main reason I guess.
The main reason for me is something like the reason the Christian stone mason in the quote above didn’t want to build a heathen temple or the early Christian tailor might have refused to make robes for the temple priests.

In my heart working in somewhere like Tesco or any company where the core purpose  is  to increase the profits of the company at any cost  would be like working in the heathen temple of our age.
I’m not condemning those who do, Christian or otherwise.

Well maybe I am in part. Perhaps I am lazy.
But what if you’re a Christian working hard in Thales Air Defence making missiles?
What if you’re a Christian working for Tesco to grab customers away from local shops?
What if you’re a Christian working for a bank that was more concerned with profits than people?
Does working hard, getting a wage and providing for your family necessarily mean you’re doing the right thing?

It’s just that it my heart I do want to provide for my family but I don’t want to do that by bowing my knee to the great god PROFIT or free market capitalism or whatever way we want to describe our present day Emperor as, or by doing work that is destructive and unloving to my neighbour, my neighbour in our local community or our global neighbour.

Seeing the fear that THE ECONOMY or THE GLOBAL ECONOMY can strike into the hearts of politicians and how that they will do anything to keep it appeased makes me want to run a mile from it as.
Basically it seems to be our Roman Empire or something very similar,
the thing that will bring worldwide peace if we keep it onside by our sacrifice and hard work.

But if the Bible is true, it won’t bring us peace. Jesus brings us peace, not whoever is up the Swiss Alps in Davos deciding that we must do this or that to bring world wide peace.

So Paul if you can help me understand how to provide for my family while  at the same time not depending on false kingdoms for my daily bread I’d love to know.