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.
‘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’
(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
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.
So there I was sitting in a coffee shop in Lisburn with one of those silent flat screen TV’s stuck on Sky News and ‘headlines’ scrolling across the bottom minding my own business when my eye caught this headline
‘Subway to Create 6000 Jobs Over the next Three Years’
which I filed away alongside the announcements over the past couple of days of
‘Asda to Create 5000 Jobs in 2012′
‘McDonald’s says 2,500 new jobs a lifeline for young unemployed’
Bloody hell, that’s great news isn’t it?
Well not quite. At the same time I was reading this bit in Colossians Remixed
‘If we want to find abusive language and identify the discourse of violence of our time, we are terribly short-sighted if we don’t look beyond the obscenities of the street or the schoolyard. It is in the double-speak of corporate executives, the spin of politicians, the come-on of the advertisers, the cultural lies of the pharmaceutical companies and the biotech firms…’
That’s just it isn’t it?
We’ve a very short sighted view of what makes abusive language.
For instance a good Christian man or woman will probably not like my use of ‘bloody hell’ a few sentences up and would like it even less if I said ‘shit’ or fuck’. It’s bad,violent, offensive language, unclean and rude and a sin by all accounts so cut it out
It’s also a classic when you’re watching a film at home and your parents walk into the living room just the point the F-bomb is being dropped all over the show during some violent scene.
We don’t like hearing violent language on a personal,intimate level.
Yet so much violent language just slips past our sensors and worse than that is thought of as normal, good language.
I was thinking about this with relation to the ‘_____ create thousands of new jobs in 2012’ headlines from the media and PR departments.
Yes, I’ve no doubt that McDonald’s, Asda and Subway will create new jobs but at what expense?
Are the creation of these jobs an unquestioned good or is there violence in what they say as well?
Is the phrase ‘____ creates a 100o new jobs’ an unquestioned good?
For instance McDonald’s might create loads of new jobs for young people but many of those jobs have been created by young teens eating in McDonald’s. (‘McDonald’s UK does not publish like-for-like revenues, but it posted underlying sales growth in the “low teens” in its fourth quarter after an “outstanding Christmas” – The Independent.’)
Creating new jobs ‘good’.
Younger teens eating junk food more often in McDonald’s maybe not so good?
I’m not saying kids shouldn’t enjoy a McDonald’s every so often like we did,
it’s just the language of ‘creating new jobs’ mightn’t be the unquestioned good it sounds like on Sky News with some politician grinning on a podium saying it’s brilliant news.
What about the types of jobs created? Or is this even worthy of consideration?
Will they be good, healthy jobs or will young people be homogenized and turned into McDrones with some spin coming out about the qualifications they have earned?
My mum works for one of these companies by the way and it hurts me to see the way that she is treated by managers and the systems. You’re really just commodity or a resource to be used to earn maximum profit for the company. But if you’ve worked somewhere like that you probably don’t need me to tell you that.
When you say jobs do you mean full time jobs or do you mean part time, flexible jobs? What kind of jobs do you mean?
Also, what about all the jobs that will be uncreated by one of those three stores moving into a locality?
Do you expect me to believe that if an Asda moves into a community it won’t have knock on effects for other retailers in the area?
Maybe a more accurate headline would be ‘____ creates 1000 new jobs but wipes out ____ old jobs’
What about the uniqueness and character of a community being obliterated under the wheels of ‘well that’s just the way things go..’?
Anyway, that’s the way it goes I guess.
It feels almost pointless mentioning this stuff as I know that I’m very much in the minority and people need jobs and money to work (me included) and part of me wonders if I’m just finding ways to justify laziness or sloth. What I should really be doing is going out and sending my CV to McDonald’s, Asda and Subway and competing to get one of these jobs.
But another part of me doesn’t think it’s pointless at all.
We don’t have to live under the Roman Empire but we not stupid enough the think that there isn’t some type of ‘Empire’ over us and sucking us into it’s hole?
The Bible would probably call it ‘the World’.
A phrase I heard once heard to describe it was ‘corporate evil‘
Why have we assummed for so long that we don’t live under some type of system that blinds us and bind us to the way things really are?
And do we just have to suck it up and get a job with companies we fundamentally disagree with just to earn enough money to put bread on the table?
I’ll finish this later, I’m starving!
I’m sitting here in my study eating a bowl of unsweetened muesli and listening to ‘Thunder Road’. There is a gale brewing up outside and I’ve the blues.
I’ve spent the last few days putting some books online to sell and drawing pictures for them and now I’m trying to tackle a job application form for a job I actually would like to do and think I could do well.
Yet I know that even if I muddle my way through filling in the application from that I’m unlikely to be considered for the post due to missing some of the essential criteria.
This is work, but it’s work that is unseen and unpaid. I thought the same thing peeling some muddy clogged spuds the other night. It took me a good 15mins, unseen in the kitchen to prepare the potatoes for the dinner, then extra time to prepare dinner for the two of us and time cleaning the dishes after, all of it work and all of it unseen and unpaid.
This is the story of millions around the country at the moment, working away but counted as unemployed and in need of finding ‘work’. And this has also been the experience of many a house wife who somehow isn’t classified as a working mum.
It’s madness when you start to thing about it. Work shouldn’t be defined as something that you get money for doing. Especially from a Christian point of view. Yes, everyone is to earn their keep but does that have to equate earning money?
I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m trying to justify my own lack of desire to go out and fight tooth and nail for a job, pitting my wits against my fellow man and out do him just so out two unit family will survive above all other families. Yes, of course I could fight and scrap for a job and then share stuff but do the means justify the ends? That has been the argument from so many sensible people I know but I don’t see how that is the case. You can’t try trample over people just so that you can then be like Jesus when you get to the top.
I see this and any application form as really a battle of wits against all my unseen competitors. And so I have to make sure that I gain an advantage by proving my worth. All those tips about what to say and what not to say to give you the best chance, all those courses and training you should go on to give yourself a better chance, the way you should dress, the impression you should give, the techniques….it’s all a very wordly way of going about things.
Can you imagine if there was a job going in Bethsaida Tesco and the disciples and Jesus really needed the job to mak ends meet?
So there’s the disciple doing good deeds, then going home (or wherever they were staying) and trying their best to sound like they would be better at the job that the other disciples on a piece of paper, then sending it off to the HR Manager?
This doesn’t see to fit in with the kingdom of God and the upside-down kingdom, the first being last and serving your fellow man.Yet this undoing your fellow man and lurching after the one job in town seems to be accepted as just the way things are….well I thought the Gospel was the way things where supposed to be?
Of course the person doing the judging may pick the person best suited to the job but it’s still this competition to prove my worth and be the best that seems anti-Gospel. Especially when the fact is that there just aren’t enough paid jobs for people to do.
Being the husband of rev.Junior means that every so often I end up in a strangers house eating a nice roast and plum pudding due to some invitation received (and accepted) while _____ was out doing her pastoral visits.
This can be hard to play as you are strangers meeting for the first time and don’t know each other.
And maybe because I feel like I’m living in exile up here in an unfamiliar place I can’t accept as home I was a bit nervous about going.
Which is my way of saying that tonight we ended up for dinner at a nice couples home, feeling nervous but eventually settling into conversation with each other, a glass of wine and the nicest roast I’ve had in a long time.
So far, so good.
But eventually, (and you know its coming because these things always come round when you meet for the first time) the question that I had been dreading came up.
Well, technically we moved on a few steps from that as rev.Junior had mentioned the fact that I was looking for work in her previous conversations so the nice couple knew that I was looking for work and that I was classed as ‘unemployed’ and suddenly in my head it was panic stations, all men to the pumps, try to make it sound like you’re not a bum, justify yourself!
Suddenly I started to feel very uncomfortable.
They asked what I would like to do.
Writing here on cyber space I could give a list of things I would like to do. For instance
a) I would like to write and publish little zines and have people subscribe for a year and make some money that way.
b) I would like to publish a little handmade communal zine/books
c) I would like to serve my local community/neighbour here in Lisburn, Belfast, Ireland,(even the world) by designing and making,
graceful objects that encourage sustainable production over unsustainable consumption and use any profit I made (after I had paid myself a fair wage) to support other people who are on the same wavelength.
d) I would like to grow some of my own food.
Thats amongst other things.
But its not easy to explain when in some stranger’s home, chewing a piece of lamb when asked
‘What would you like to do?’
I think part of the problem is that I would basically quite like to be a prophet, but who employs prophets? You don’t see many vacancies for prophets on http://www.jobcentreonline.com, and certainly not in Belfast?
And could/would a prophet work for certain companies anyway?For instance, the other night in bed I read the first few chapters of Ezekiel.
Here was a man who was once told by God to draw a picture of Jerusalem on a brick, then to make a model of a military siege around this brick (with all the trappings)and to personally lay siege against the brick.
Now we’re talking!Get me a job like that!
Or another time he was told to lay on his left side for 390 days, turn over and lay on his right side for 40 days,then to roll up his sleeve, shake his arm, and preach against Jerusalem.
Behind the smile and friendliness of the B&Q door greeter is someone who might hate every moment of it,
who was probably earning minimum wage but who’s larger purpose in all of it is to encourage customers to spend as much as possible,
to keep like-on-like sales growing,
to hit the sales target (which always got bigger),
to make some type of faceless owner(because who actually owns these operations?)richer.
Oh and to ‘Kill Woodies’ as our GM once said.
Our job was to kill of the competition,to work so that the chain would be the first and only place you would think of coming for to get your BBQ’s, plumbing, paint, tiles, garden supplies etc.
Yet at the heart of Christianity is surely things such as grace,or giving away our lives, in serving the poor and treating them fairly, in the gift economy.
Ezekiel is a man I just can’t imagine working in Dobbies Garden World.
Yet how would Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Daniel get on round Lisburn or Belfast at the moment, in this day and age?
Would they go along with the way the economy is at the moment, take whatever work they could get or would they say ‘No, enough is enough. All this greed and over-consumption has to stop.I can’t be part of it. Get back to things like loving your neighbour and walking humbly before your Lord…’
Would they be on the dole?
They would have bills to pay.
How would Jesus fill out his CV?
What about the gaps, what would he say?
Would he always paint himself in the best possible light, give the employers what they would like to hear?
Would he try to compete with his neighbour to get a job?
If I said that I didn’t want to join the Army due to some Christian belief that we shouldn’t engage in violent behaviour against our fellow human that would probably be respected.
If however I say that I don’t want to work for Tesco’s, HMV etc. due to some Christian belief that we shouldn’t fight for over-consumption and PROFIT at cost to the planet Earth and my neighbours who live on that planet then that may be less respected. Some might think I’m being lazy and avoiding work.
There might be a way in which my opinion might be respected but at the end of the day you need a job to earn money and they are scarce on the ground, you can’t afford to be picky so you should take anything you can get.Right?
Yet we know that our Western lifestyles are deeply unsustainable, and if people don’t know that they either haven’t been told, are living a fantasy world or just don’t really care.
We know that we are greedy with too many of the worlds resources (fossil fuels,fresh water,soil,food) and because of that this good (but fallen) planet that God made is being destroyed. From things we’ve heard we know that our present greedy economic system keeps many people poor, but thats a good thing for us as we shop in Asda and it keeps things cheap.
Yet if as Christians we believe in resurrection/New Creation, and that is where we are journeying to in life how could we justify going along with things that ultimately destroy and wreck the place as we go along?
We may know that we should repent/change our wasteful lifestyles yet when push comes to shove you need to get a job, any job and it doesn’t seem to matter what that job is.
“Sure could you not work for _______, earn money and use that money to study for what you really want to do?’
Well I could, but would that be a bit hypocritical and two-faced?
Funnily enough I don’t enjoy the shame of being unemployed or being broke all the time but for me this Christianity business has to add up all week, not just ‘holy’ bits that are relatively easy to tack on.Either there is a Kingdom here,(but not here) or there isn’t. What’s it to be? I can’t just work for things I don’t believe in now to get to closer to where I want to be later on because the now matters.
And surely the world hasn’t changed completely since Biblical times?
Surely there are still empires and kingdoms, emperors and kings out there who demand/expect us to worship them and hang on their every word, to not question their authority and just get on doing what they expect us to do?
How much do we go along with them knowing full well that a different king is on the throne? Do we just face up to the reality that you need a job, any job to look after your loved ones? I don’t know, its hard.
But surely Christians should be subversive and not just go merrily along hand in hand with what those emperors and kings want/expect, whatever that means?