This year I, along with many others, decided to throw myself into #God52, A series of weekly challenges, instigated by Martin Saunders, aimed at shaking me out of my little bubble and getting closer to God, and others, in the process. Check it out here.
I was excited to take part. I was excited to see how God might break into my comfortable little world.
Then Martin delivered the first challenge: radical generosity and I got scared. I started thinking of all sorts of excuses that would prevent me from having to give my time or money to other people: I don’t have any time to help people; my wife has just had a new baby and that needs to be my focus; We just have enough money to get by and giving more would put us into the red.
That familiar little voice in my head danced and laughed as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t complete this challenge (and probably not any of the others). I felt defeated. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
What was it that scared me so much? Why was my first reaction to doubt myself and spend time creating excuses not to participate? I realised that generosity scared me because it required me to invest time in others.
I remember being struck a few years ago about a fresh interpretation of the beatitudes.
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
I’d always found that saying odd. Why should anyone be happy when they mourn?
But in order to mourn, you have to have been close to something. If you mourn over someone, it means you invested time in them; you chose to give something of yourself to them. You can only mourn if you’ve chosen to step out of your little world and engage with something bigger than yourself.
It’s the same with generosity. In order to be generous, I have to connect with others. I have to put my interests behind the interests of others.
So I resolve to be radically generous this week. I resolve to enter into the lives of others. I resolve to follow the example of the Triune God: an ever-giving, ever-loving community.
This morning I was reading Martin Saunders blog about “why life is too short to watch The X-Factor“. The X-Factor has become a staple on television sets all over the world and there are many complex reasons as to why people choose to watch it year after year (Martin has given a good overview of some of those reasons).
As I read the post it got me thinking about how TV programmes, like The X-factor,are replacing the common seasons of the church calendar and what this tells us about our culture.
For millennia, civilizations have used calendars to find a rhythm and flow to the year. Whether it be the calendar of the seasons in agriculture or the life of Jesus in the Christian religion, we all use calendars, and their significant dates, to find meaning and purpose in the year. Key dates help to remind us of our place in the world and to look forward to the future.
In the UK, we have largely followed the Christian calendar, with a few extras, for centuries. Advent prepares us for Christmas; New Years Eve helps us take stock of the last year and set our eyes on the coming year; Lent reminds us of our failures and the coming of new life and Easter allows us to celebrate the new hope we have in Christ. The Christian calendar has been the overarching story we have found ourselves in year after year but with shows like the X-Factor, I’m noticing a change in this trend.
Rather than following the environmental seasons or the landmarks in the Christian calendar, we now seem to be using TV shows as our gauge of where we are in the year. I’ve heard it said by several people that when The X-Factor starts you know that the countdown to Christmas has begun and for many the Christmas season officially starts when they see the Coca Cola “holidays are coming” advert. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this a negative thing. Our Christian calendar is made up of a number of pagan festivals that Christianity subverted so it would be disingenuous to say that this is all bad news. A better response would be to see what this change means for our calendar and for our culture.
The seasonal calendar (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is used as a way of survival. It helps those working in agriculture to know when to sow and when to reap. The Jewish calendar reminds Jews of their story and their place in it. The Christian calendar follows a similar structure as it helps us enter into the story of Christ. But what does this new calendar offer us? What story does it tell?
The traditional calendars mentioned above create community. They give us space to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The new calendar, made up of The X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, Big Brother and the Coca Cola Advert also offer these but their foundation is built on consumerism and consumption. This new calendar has been created by corporations with one goal: to get us to spend money. Rather than inspiring and captivating us, the TV calendar restricts our imagination, forcing us to become vapid consumers. Instead of giving us space to to lament and remind us of our connection to the rest of the world, it forces us down the road of individualism.
We are better than this. There is a better story than this. Yes, we can celebrate the fact that The X-Factor at its best brings people together and showcases new talent. But at its worst it turns us into mindless consumers who care more about who goes ‘out’ each week than our neighbour struggling next door.
If we allow this consumerist story to take centre stage of our year; if we allow it to define and control us then we lose the very essence of the core Christian calendar (and the other calendars before it)…
I had a really good morning at church yesterday. I’ve been putting together a 24 hour prayer room for the church in June and there were nine hour slots left for people to sign up for. I spoke during the service about the need to humble ourselves and spoke about how the civil rights movement, the NHS and the modern school system all came out of prayer meetings. I spoke about my excitement and expectancy for what God might lay on our hearts during those 24 hours.
After the service, we are left with just one hour block needing filled. I was happy.
A parent also came up to me and said I must be doing a good job as her son (and two friends) came and asked them their thoughts on a whole bunch of theological issues. She was pleased that they were engaging with faith outside of the ‘normal’ groups. I felt really good.
Ten hours later, I returned from the Sunday night youth fellowship tired, weary and one question swirling around my head: ‘why am i doing this?’
Nothing bad happened last night. The young people didn’t trash the place or anything like that. Nobody attacked me or swore at me or did anything to annoy me. It was worse than that. Nothing happened. I didn’t have any real opportunity to engage with the young people. I was overseeing the night, presenting it from the front and clearing things up at the end.
I guess that’s the problem of being the youth worker of the church. You want to do everything, but you can’t. You want to be the one running the event, getting to know the young people, building relationships, working with the volunteers, helping everyone grow, planning for the future etc.
I’ve been trying to do that for the last nine months. And it’s left me tired and weary.
I can’t do everything. And you know what, I shouldn’t. It’s not all about me, regardless of how much I want it to be.
Does anyone else go through this?
It’s silly. I get jealous of some of the other volunteers who seems to be getting on great with the young people whilst I’m standing about picking up the rubbish. But so what? It’s not about me. I’m just here to facilitate. I can’t be ‘super youth worker’!
It reminds me that I need to centre myself before God again and realize that I am called to do a certain job and that’s the job I need to do. We are a team. The volunteers play their part and I play mine. Sometimes it means I’ll have the night to talk to the young people and sometimes it won’t. My job is to fill the gap. To see what needs to be done and do it. So what if I can be everyone’s friend? So what if I can’t be the one that they all confide in for advice? Can you imagine what my life would be like if that were the case? I’d be enough more weary than I am right now.
I’m also looking forward to a holiday. I’ve been working since August and apart from a few days at Christmas and Easter, I’ve not had a proper holiday. A holiday where I turn off the phone, the laptop, the e-mail and be me again. Where i remember that what is important is my relationship with God and my family. Where I remember that it’s not all about me.
Where I remember that i am created to be. Not do.
- The Life of An Insecure Youth Worker (smoorns.com)