Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Consumerism (page 1 of 6)

The pleasure of just staring out the window

Electronic devices, shops, lights, noise.

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. But here I am right in the middle of it. By choice. I’m sitting in Auckland airport waiting for my flight to LA to visit my brother and his family.

I’ve been on my computer for the last hour, oblivious to the sights and sounds around me. But now I just want a break, so I have some dinner with the phone put away, and I stare out the window. Straight away I feel a bit more relaxed.

Why didn’t I do this earlier? The pleasure of just staring out the window, looking at the cloud formation as the sun sets over this land of the long white cloud.

Research shows the benefits to the psyche of just being out in nature, being present instead of bound by the thieves of time. Being in the moment instead of wanting to be anywhere else except where you are.

Other research shows the damage that too much screen time does to us. The loneliness, the anxiety and the depression – the disconnection that ironically comes from being too connected.

The recent shooting in America has links to mental illness. The shooter had a history of depression and behavioural problems. It wasn’t just about guns. It was guns and mental illness. You don’t just go and shoot people if you don’t have a serious psychological issue. And then the easy access to guns just exacerbates the problem.

We could all do with some regular time just daydreaming. It has enormous benefits, and not just for your mental health. I recall a story of a new CEO of a large organisation who was being shown around. He walked past one office where a man was seated at his desk with his feet up just looking out the window. When the new CEO walked past again a few days later, there was the man again, feet up and looking out the window. The CEO asked one of his executives if that guy in there ever does any work. He was quickly told that this guy was paid to do what he does and it was his ideas that had the made the company so successful.

One of the most inspirational talks I ever heard was about the fact that history belongs to the dreamers. In a few days I will be in Washington where, 55 years ago, one man’s dream inspired a nation to take steps to get serious about justice for its African American people.

Take some regular time to stare out the window. We need more dreamers; they are the ones who change the world.

Book review – Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions

Russell Brand is an addict. That doesn’t define him, but it is what he identifies as, and what he has to remind himself of every single day.

Most of us would know Brand as the eccentric comedian and movie star with the slightly annoying Cockney accent. But his new book, Recovery: Freedom from our addictions, tells the story of the real Russell Brand, the man behind the image, and the one whose life was a complete mess until 14 years ago.

Identifying as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, and as having various other addictions, this book reveals Brand as humble, brutally honest and a man revelling in the new life that has resulted from him vigorously living out the !2 Steps every day of his life since he came into recovery in 2002.

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A time to be still

How our culture breeds addiction

I’ve just finished listening to Russell Brand’s new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, and it’s got me thinking.

Russell is a very astute social commentator as well as a quite eccentric comedian, and his take on the influences on our society is quite profound.

What struck me as I listened to his book was the extent to which our culture is a breeding ground for addiction.

Russell Brand would know. He self-defines as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict and as having various other addictions that pretty much wrecked his life. Drugs were his main form of addictive behaviour and he is now 14 years clean.

In his book, Brand talks a lot about how we live in a society that bombards us daily with the message that we can be happy filling our lives with externals, whether they be the more obvious addictions like the ones Brand has struggled with, or the more subtle and acceptable ones like consumerism and the obsession of fitting as many experiences into our lives as possible.

In truth, we all have addictive patterns of thinking and behaviour. We all use externals to fill our lives with things designed to make us feel better. Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr calls these our programs for happiness.

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All the lonely people

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

Navigating these strange days

Mark Sayers has a knack of articulating what many of us deep-down know to be true.

Here is my review of his latest book, Strange Days

On not having a bucket list

Life is more than experiences. The endless chase for the next one won’t fill the ache in your soul…

Why are Australians so angry?

“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.

Movie review – Money Monster

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A movie which has the calibre of actors like George Clooney and Julia Roberts is one that usually gets my attention. And the fact that I am writing a review of it means that my hunches about the quality of this movie were not unfounded.

[pullquote]Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment.[/pullquote]

Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment. Clooney plays TV personality, Lee Gates, the host of a tabloid-style financial advice cum game show called Money Monster.

Gates has recently given advice to his millions of viewers to buy shares in a company called IBIS Clear Capital, whose share price subsequently tanks. As a result, the people who took the advice of the popular Gates lose millions of dollars. One of those people is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who lost his life savings of $60,000 after listening to Gates.

Distraught and seeking answers, Budwell infiltrates the show as it goes live to air, pulling a gun on Gates and holding him and his crew hostage, as millions of viewers around the country watch on.

Stories like this have a tendency to follow a certain script. Generally, the loner feels ripped off, takes someone hostage, and the plot goes back and forth until the “lone nut” is taken out by authorities and normality is restored.

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Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

George Monbiot has written another insightful article, this one on the problem of neoliberalism, and the fact that most people in our neoliberal society don’t know what the term means.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.

Here are my thoughts on some of the points Monbiot makes:

  • “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.”

Just like communism reduced people to cogs in a machine, neoliberalism, or market capitalism, does the same. We become consumers whose value lies in how much we contribute to the ongoing efficiency of the economic machine. We are not seen as having inherent dignity in ourselves.

  • “When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation.” Think Tony Abbott and ‘stop the boats’ in Australia.

The rise of Bernie Sanders is as much a response to the current climate as is the rise of Donald Trump. The failure of the Left has been seen by them and is responding in the rise of Sanders.

“Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed”. I remember when communism fell over in the late 1980s, Jim Wallis said the same would happen to capitalism one day. It might take another generation, but we are seeing it happening now before our eyes.

  • “it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” Perhaps one option (and there may be others along the lines of what people like Bernie Sanders are putting forward) is Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.

The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that it is an amoral system. It doesn’t take into account human nature, the fact that humans are ultimately committed to their own self-interest. That’s why it needs people in poverty to survive.

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