Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Consumerism (page 1 of 5)

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.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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Why you need to chill out more

 

 

This little clip from ABC News 24 speaks to the common disease of our over-stressed age.

A common comment we ask people when we greet them is “Are you busy?” I do it myself sometimes. It also goes to something I have mentioned before: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

We live in a culture where we have so many options that attract us, where advertising is designed to make us perpetually unhappy by creating felt needs in us to the point where we are never satisfied until we have that next product.

A culture which is built around the god of economic growth, where the economy is king, is a culture that will quickly become addicted to making money and getting ahead.

And speaking of addiction, when we have so many options available to us, so many options to titillate us and satiate our insatiable appetites for more, addiction will be rife.

Long may we remember what is really important to our psyches, to what Christians have often called our souls (though we have incorrectly understood our souls to be that which will go to heaven when we die. Jesus never meant the term “soul” to be understood in that way).

Indeed, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process? In a culture that is fixated on the self as number one, the old wisdom of denying yourself, embracing life on life’s terms and following in the footsteps of Jesus is not popular, including in our success-oriented churches.

What is central to being human is relationship and connection. In a word, love. Loving connection with a Source of Love outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves is what the soul needs. And when that love is then directed in connection towards others, humanity lives at peace.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It is much more interesting than that. The words of God in the flesh 2,000 years ago ring true in our over-busy and over-stressed 21st century culture.

How to overcome your addiction (yes, yours)

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:

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