The other night I had dinner with a group of friends after church.
I wasn’t too keen on going at first. The introvert in me wanted to go home and get on my laptop, scroll through Facebook for a bit and generally just be on my own. But after being with my friends for couple of hours, discussing all sorts of things from life to ethics to travel, I went home marvelling at how much I had enjoyed my time with them.
As I drove home thinking to myself about how much I had enjoyed the evening, I started thinking about how our society encourages isolation and individualism, and what that breeds. Australia has some of the worst sets of social statistics in the world. Our rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. One person takes their life every three hours in this country. It’s a staggering and sobering statistic.
At the same time, Australians have never been better off materially. We live in the richest time in history. According to financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia was the second richest country in the world, per capita, last year. We have been in the top three for the last few years.
In a culture where we are told that happiness is just a lotto win away, where freedom is getting away from your loved ones and being out on the open road in your new car, and where life would be perfect if we just had that next promotion, the promises are not delivering.
I remember some years ago speaking to a work colleague who is from Kenya. She had recently come to Australia to live and she couldn’t believe how many people live alone in this country. In many African cultures, community is just a way of life.
I have long been fascinated by the African concept of Ubuntu. It is the idea that we gain our identity by being part of a group. In most Western cultures, we see our identity as individuals; we are very ‘I’ centred. Ubuntu, on the other hand, says, ‘because we are, I am’. I get my sense of who I am from being part of a group. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
There is a story of an anthropologist who conducted an experiment with some African children. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”
There is something deeply biblical about this. We have been created for relationship, for community. However in our churches we talk about our faith in an individualised sense. We talk about our own personal relationship with God as if that is the only way we relate to God. The early church saw things differently. They saw life as lived in community. In Acts we are told that the believers had no private ownership of their possessions. They shared everything, and as a result, no one was in need. Apparently it was so important that it is mentioned twice, in Acts chapter two and chapter four.
The church needs to rediscover its prophetic counter-cultural stance. We are just as consumeristic as the rest of the culture. Meanwhile, Jesus whispers down through the ages, “’What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?’ and ‘Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’”.
In Mark chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus says that no one who has left everything for him will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields. This verse can often be taken as a justification of some sort of prosperity thinking, but that just shows how our consumer culture has shaped us to think individually. What Jesus is referring to is just what the early church lived out: living together in kingdom reality, where people relate to each other in love. It is a taste of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.
We live in a culture that sows the seeds of its own destruction. And Christians largely go along for the ride. Let’s ask for the courage and love to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so we can be part of God’s work of renewal and not add to the problem.
This article first appeared on Christian Today on 24 August, 2017
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 can tear down the walls of division that divide this broken world.
Read more in my latest article for Christian Today. Thanks also to The Gippsland Anglican for republishing it.
We’re one but we’re not the sameWe get to carry each other- U2, OneIn John chapter 17, verse 1, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as he and the Father are one. It was a prayer of boldness and, on the surface at least, impossibly naïve and unrealistic.But the fact that this prayer …
“Why are Australians so angry? We’re one of the richest nations on Earth, with one of the highest standards of living. We live in a free and democratic society where political views can be expressed without fear of being jailed or gagged.”
This article starts by comparing a trip to Bali with life in Australia. As I’m currently in Bali, this really resonates. Why aren’t our enormous riches making us happy? Why do we feel so entitled to everything being done our way? Aren’t our riches and freedom enough for us?
Living life for others is what makes us happy. The pursuit of happiness in itself is a pursuit without a destination. Happiness is a by-product of living a life of service for others. Loving our neighbour, even our enemy, gives us a joy that is not dependent on circumstances.
In a materialistic society we look to externals to give us our sense of wellbeing. Externals can and do give us a level of satisfaction (like being on holiday in Bali), but they will never give us what we really desire. There is always a level of dissatisfaction with life just under the surface. Acknowledging that is a sign of emotional health.
Emptiness, including boredom at times, is a gift. It is not healthy to always seek to fill the emptiness inside us. Until we realise that, we will remain angry and seek to act it out rather than choose the more healthy option of acknowledging it and seeing how we can choose to love our neighbours. Nothing less than the survival of the planet depends on it.
Australians are among the luckiest people on earth. What are we so angry about? | Brigid Delaney’s diary
I’m driving to Denpasar airport in Bali (or rather being driven, I am still learning to drive) and it’s a nightmare. I see three near-collisions. Yet no one is honking their horn. There are hundreds of cars and motorbikes jammed into a terrible road yet the streets are actually kind of quiet.
Hi, my name is Nils and I’m an addict. And so are you.
Most of us don’t have the obvious addictions like drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex. But we all have attachments, certain beliefs about ourselves and the world. Everyone of us is addicted to certain patterns of thinking. If you’re not sure about that, a great book to read about it is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May.
We live in a society that places way too high a value on feeling good. When that happens, especially at the expense of relationship and connection, addiction thrives and shame eventually sets in. We substitute feeling good about ourselves for feeling good.
In our culture, addictions take many forms. We are addicted to our smart phones, to shopping, to making more money, and it is killing our souls. If you don’t think you are addicted, try stopping for a few weeks and see how you feel.
Research is now showing that there is a definite link between the lack of connection in our society and addiction. As the above TED talk points out, in the United States, the number of people who can say they have close friends to call on in a crisis has been diminishing since the 1950s. The same would be true in Australia, as we are a very similar culture which is enormously influenced by the US.
Johann Hari, in the above talk, also says this:
The recent tragedy in Charleston highlights again the tragedy of mental illness and the darkness that envelops much of people’s lives. The media feeds us with fear and stories of despair, but we rarely hear the stories of hope and goodness in the world.
John Mellencamp wrote this song more than 20 years ago, and it seems more relevant than ever in 2015. I’ve been listening to this song a bit recently. Some of the lyrics have been sticking in my mind, and they are even moreso after the tragedy of Charleston.
In particular, the second half of the second verse strikes me as prophetic to this time in our lives:
Great but tragic article from George Monbiot on this age in our existence being known as the age of loneliness. Check out some of these startling quotes:
I’ve just been reading a bit of Larry Crabb’s book, Understanding People, again. It’s a book I got in 1987 and it has made a huge impact on me.
The sections I read today discussed maturity and what that looks like. The fact is that much of what looks like maturity in people is actually a commitment to self-protection.
Here are some quotes from the book that have really struck and challenged me. The fact that I find a lot of these quotes so uncomfortable is a sure sign that they apply to me.
This is a wonderful article on the realities and false security that social media can bring if we let it.
This issue has been discussed before but it’s always good to be reminded. This author raises some great points.
It reminds me of CS Lewis’ quote about love:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
You don’t get this on social media when you can hide behind your online persona. No technology will ever remove our need for relational intimacy.