Tag Archives: riots

Our Basic Needs (part II)

I think of myself as self aware. I have spent the last two years in an institution that forces you to reflect almost constantly on how you respond to different stimuli, who you are and how you are developing. Increasingly I want to find the strength to cast off all that separates me from others. Personality tests, Psychological profiling, all of them helpful but each one I am forced to ask the question ‘What was Jesus like?” If our Myers Briggs type can change then I want it to change to Christ. There are so many ways people can pretend like they get to know themselves but all is fruitless if our aim is to die to our self and be raised in Christ.

I have used this quote before but I find it helpful in this discussion,

If your life is centered on yourself, on your own desires and ambitions, then asserting those desires and ambitions is the way you try to be true to yourself. So self-assertion becomes the only way of self expression. If you simply assert your own desires, you may have the illusion of being true to yourself. But in fact all your efforts to make yourself more real and more yourself have the opposite effect: they create a more and more false self… people cannot simply assert their true self; they need to pray for the strength to find that self beyond their desires. (Finding Sanctuary – Abbot Christopher Jamison)

And this one too,

Many poets are not poets for the same reason many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get round to being the particular poet or the particular monk that they are intended to be by God.There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular – and too lazy to think of anything better.Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity. In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be. (Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton)

If my aim is to be more like Christ and Christ died to self, then I too must stop focussing on trying to be true to myself (if such a thing were possible). I want, rather, to be true to Christ.

I want to explore briefly the view that life is a performance. I’ve been re-reading ‘Faithful Performances: Enacting Christian Tradition’ and Ivan Khovaks’ cites Shannon Craigo-Snell work on interpretation of Biblical text. It’s an interesting exchange of ideas. What struck me was the move to acknowledge that by seeing life as a performance we are putting on pressure to achieve absolute and static truths all the time. If, however, we view life as a rehearsal we do not deny the possibility of achieving a connection with the character (of Christ) but we are aware that we continue to seek it until the final performance. Craigo-Snell places the Biblical text side by side to a playscript

…to show that although both are complete works, they nevertheless call for an in-the-flesh realization… she conceives of this enfleshed realization as taking place not only at the moment of performance but largely through personal commitment to the rehearsal process.

Khovaks goes on,

For the pilgrim, however, the journey is as important as the destination. Equally, one’s role in Christ, as much as it is given, nonetheless requires apprenticeship for learning to ‘put on Christ’, a life time’s rehearsal that will determine the quality of the end of performance.

Our society is so keen for us to reach the destination of self actualization that we belittle the journey of life. I believe, as a Christian pilgrim, that our destination is the eschatological performance in the resurrection where we will all take on the role of Christ. We will perform the character differently but in order to be faithful to that role we must be prepared to fully deny our own self. We will not achieve this fully until then. Until that point we can rehearse, trying to limit the times we slip out of character or exploring dead ends as we wrestle with what the character is or does.

What the riots have shown is that we are a society who have a fascination with pretending to be something we’re not. We are a society hiding from true reality. Many would say that being a Christian is to be blind to the truth/reality. The very nature of Christianity, for me, is the painful acknowledgement of reality and the hopeful path to living in reality. We have built a false reality and it is so complex and deeply set that we’re lost in it. Our basic need should not be to layer more stuff on us but the opposite of stripping back, allowing all that separates us and segregates us is to die.

The image of baptism is so important here; we are to be wrenched from this dream that we have constructed and look again at the reality outside. Outside our ‘self’ is seen as the statue of sand blown away in the wind of truth. The way to prosper and grow and live in true happiness is to clothe ourselves in Christ and allow that character to embed itself within us.

Believe me, there are several metaphorical cans of worms lined up in front of me but I will resist. Need to find a way to control the worms and structure them into my book… God, help me!

Our Basic Needs (part I)

Having stayed up watching the riots and the consequent responses to the three day looting by young people and ‘opportunists’ it struck me that one of the factors behind this outburst is the concept of identity.

I watched an interview with four of the looters and when asked “Why did you do it?” they all spoke about getting the things they need which they cannot afford. This did not surprise me; of course they think they need trainers, clothes, plasma TVs, because that is what they perceive their culture’s demanding of them to have. Many commentators have talked about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and it’s sad that there is so much truth in that. Zygmunt Bauman wrote,

These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers.

I would disagree with Bauman. These are our culture’s hunger riot because these consumable products have become our basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is collapsing and the second level of his pyramid, which states security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property are all secondary needs to breathing, food, water, etc., is now perceived as the first.

The saddest part of watching the riots and the thing that is making most of us feel upset is the fact we have been forced to stare into a mirror. Our society does place material possession as equally necessary to the basic need of food. We can all pretend that this is mindless violence and greed but in actual fact this is predictable and is as valid as bread rioting.

Before I get misquoted I want to state I don’t think looting a plasma TV is acceptable but what I am suggesting is that for the looters society is communicating that material possession is our basic need; if you do not have these things then you are ill. (It is interesting that David Cameron said he thought parts of our society is ‘ill’) It follows that our society has bred a generation of people who believe that the ability to possess a certain commodity is on the same level as food and water; if they cannot consume then they are starving. In short, if they don’t have these things then they will die.

The riots are not about individual criminals, they are about consequence of a system. The riots are predictable because society has led my generation to believe that in order to discover who you are you must consume, if you cannot then you will die. Think of advertisements stating no less; ‘You need.’ ‘You deserve.’

The destination of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is ‘self actualization’. Here is the issue; we are all seeking identity, to know who we are, what we are for, our purpose. The riots and looting were about grasping for the perceived building blocks of self identity. We have successfully built a social system which believes that our identity and purpose revolves around consuming certain products. Add to this implicit message the belief, that one can know ones self, with the statement, ‘To thine own self be true’ and we begin to see the twisted path we’re on.

The very fact that the purpose for which we need food, love, etc. is to find out about ourselves is dubious to say the least. Is self actualization and self identity really the benchmark for mental health? is this really the purpose of our lives? What I read in Scripture is very different.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…” (Mk 8:34, Lk 14:27)

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)

Do not lie to to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self…according to the image of its creator. (Col 3:9-10)

Without heading into a whole chapter of my book (you’ll have to continue to wait for that!) I believe to be ‘Christian’ is to allow all our self to perish in order that we can be more like Christ. My view of Christ is informed very much by Paul’s letter to the Philippians,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)

What Christ modeled in his death was the total emptying of ‘self’, selfish ambition, desires, basic needs, ‘self’. As a follower of Christ we must become like Christ, emptying ourselves and putting on Christ.

That’ll do for now…

Come back for (part II) for further exploration. Until then find some time to listen to some of the political rhetoric flying around and reflect on what people are trying to achieve. Pray for our society lost in a matrix of problems revolving around self identity and purpose.