Tag Archives: consumer

Walking the Lord’s Prayer in the winter sales

Bon Accord Centre

Image by jj_judes via Flickr

I made obeisance at the altar of Mammon by visiting the winter sales in Aberdeen. I slouched my way up one side of Union Street, and down the other in search of a jacket that wouldn’t fit. The jackets at massive discounts were in 44L or 38S and I’m a regular sort of guy. When I pounced on a cool jacket I was politely informed “Oh, this one’s not in the sale, Sir.” Thirsty and hungry, I came in sight of the St Nicholas shopping centre which drew me in.  Eventually I arrived at its sister shopping centre which, as it name says, was ‘happy to meet me.’ I rested my very sorry frame on a seat in the gallery area, to be nourished with coffee and a pastry. Food for thought….

Our Father in heaven – in whose temple am I sitting? The tiled floors and walls, and the moving ladders to where? Two escalators up into shopping heaven and John Lewis, one escalator down, casting the shopper into the outer darkness of George Street. Meanwhile the ever watchful eyes of the CCTV and uniformed ‘vergers’ observed me closely.

Hallowed be your name – “Style and Substance” boasts the centre, Currys, Disney Store, Dorothy Perkins, Ernest Jones, H&M, Laura Ashley, Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Next, Swarovski, The Body Shop, Tie Rack, Topman, Warehouse, holy names, sacred, consecrated, sanctified, blessed and revered.

Your kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as in heaven – already present in our midst, though not yet revealed. Is God’s kingdom to be found in this sacred space? Sacred to the cult of consumerism? Who are these high priests serving us with our material needs as we strive to glamorise our lifestyles, in remembrance of the pages of the glossy magazines?

Give us this day our daily bread – all our earthly needs are met. From a quick snack to a leisurely lunch, we are enticed by the trends and the best buys, a ‘fabulous’ frock, lotions and potions for her and the phones and up-to-the-minute technology for him. Even an Aladdin’s cave of radio controlled helicopters, trains, with collectables from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dr. Who and Star Trek.  All for the child within us.

Do not bring us to the time of trial – is this about owning up to our acquisitiveness, our greed, the growing gulf between rich and poor? How much do we need for a sustainable lifestyle? What does living lightly mean? How will we manage our debt burden in 2012?

But deliver us from evil. Is this really an evil place? Bon Accord and St Nicholas and other shopping centres in the city are large employers, major contributors to the local economy, some working with the local community and supporting many local and national charities. Most of Aberdeen’s wealth is from the oil industry, a depleting source of energy supply, but as the oil industry declines opportunities will arise to use its skills, supply chains and technologies to develop alternative forms of sustainable energy and carbon capture, to try to reverse the effect of global warming. In this moral crisis there is yet hope.

Life is not easy. It is a daily battle. Trials can crush our spirits. False values and easy promises endanger our souls. We need to recognise that we need the earth more than it needs us.  Our ‘transcendence’ is a fiction.  More than ever before we need to restore our impaired relationship.  And so we ask God to keep us from failing when we are tested, to help us to know the right thing to do, to avoid the evil which waits to ensnare us.

Back home, I switch on my iMac, search the virtual stores of Aberdeen.  I find the jacket I have been looking for, in a size that will fit and at half-price! I click and collect….Oh dear!  Lord have mercy.

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Dogs in the borderlands

In the story of Jesus’ borderlands meeting with the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) there seems to be a trade in insults with references being made to dogs. We have to accept that Christ is truly present in this text, apparently being very rude towards a Canaanite woman. How do we respond to his words?

When Jesus referred to dogs, the image in the minds of his disciples at least, would have been the dogs that licked the wounds of Lazarus, the semi-wild, stray dogs of Jewish culture. But he is rebuffed by the Canaanite woman who refers to the household dogs of the Gentiles, treated more like household pets; that would gobbled up any titbits falling from the master’s table; or would have been fed leftovers. Jesus is so challenged by her response that he promises that her daughter will be healed. For Matthew this is a story about faith and the power of faith to transcend those things that divide us. To belong to the people of God requires us to be a channel for God’s inclusive love. Are there any parts of our society, or kinds of people who we perceive are beyond the redemptive help of the Gospel of Christ? I thought of this when watching the TV reports of the recent violence in the centres of some of the major cities in England, and have reflected further on the many newspaper reports and commentaries.

The truth of today’s consumerist society, or at any rate a partial representation of it, is being played out here in these violent scenes. Of course we may react that the rioters are behaving like the feral, stray dogs in Jewish culture, engaged in an extreme form of mugging. Or does our compassion suggest that perhaps they are they are more like the Greek ‘puppy dogs’ who should be indulged with leftovers from the rich man’s table. Should we beat them with sticks and cleanse them from our streets with water cannon or should we give them a cuddle like a mischievous puppy dog, ‘hug a hoodie’ as the saying goes? Of course mob violence must always be condemned. But the people terrorising and trashing our major cities are also a symptom of a wider malaise. What kind of demonic has entered our society? There is a very complex narrative being played out here.

We may lay some of the blame at the door of inadequate parenting but blaming a lack of discipline conveniently ignores the causes of the breakdown in family relationships which are rooted in the realities of economic and social injustice. The gap between the richest and poorest has got gradually worse over the last forty years and Britain is now more unequal than almost any other western country. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect at the heart of what has become defined as our consumerist society, where a sense of social worth is measured in terms how successful we are in gathering possessions and personal status.

Our culture is changing rapidly in other ways too. Social media has been used to both fuel and condemn the riots. Rioters have posted messages bragging about their spoils and encouraged their online ‘friends’ to join in on the rampage. Interestingly, they have fearlessly gazed into the cameras recording their actions. Meanwhile others were ‘tweeting’ more positive ways about how to clear up the mess and restore some sort of order. There is a huge shift in society from ‘real world’ to ‘virtual world’ through the medium of social networks and people are utterly open about what they will document about themselves. We are seeing this self-publicity at home and we have witnessed a more noble version of this in the unrest in the countries of the Middle East.

So how should we respond? I suggest that this is not a time for moral outrage.  Those who are guilty of riot and theft will receive the punishment due to them.   Instead we need to reach out to those who choose to be disconnected or are prevented from behaving in a responsible way by ignorance, fear and poverty, because all these factors impede people’s ability to engage fully with civil society. The encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman was a pre-Easter story. We are a post-Easter people. Each of us has a role to play in exorcising these demons. Every time we reach out with understanding and compassion to our neighbour, however we define this term, we help to reverse the ways of the world and enable God to build the kingdom.

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