Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Modern Life is Rubbish

I have spent most of my adult life feeling removed form the world around me. I looked at the messages and expectations of the dominant society within United Kingdom and I just said to myself, “no thanks”. Apart from a very sad period of about 2 years when I was seduced by the idea of wealth and success (and failed fairly spectacularly!), I found the whole way of living in the modern world so removed from what I see in the gospels.

The thing is, I don’t want to make peace with the world because, as Damon Albarn so eloquently put it, Modern Life is Rubbish. If my life is based around the concept of get a job, get a house, get married/live together, get a bigger house, get a conservatory, get a new kitchen, remortgage to pay off the credit cards, get a pension, retire, die, then kill me now – I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE LIKE THAT. I have tried to reason through some of this and find a balance, but in the last four years it has got even more clear that balance can be enemy of change, that balance can just be a synonym for accommodation – I do not want to accommodate the corrupt, selfish, blinkered, shallow and debauched value system that I see around me. So – here are the things I am working through:

What’s the big deal with property and consumerism?

Because of a whole series of circumstances, we do not own a house. This used to freak me out – I bought into the idea that I needed to own property (or actually rent it from a bank until I hoped my endowment could pay it off in my 50’s), and that I was in trouble because I didn’t. About 2 years ago (just as house prices were going through the roof), my bank begged me to take out a £220,000 mortgage – they even sat me down and offered it to me without me asking them. Looking back, the payments and house value would have left us in a terrible situation, adn I am thankful I didn't take up their offer. I would have been working to pay the mortgage and bound to it – not free to make the right decision for my family. Everything would have been coloured by the need to pay the mortgage.

The problem is that our economy is based upon the need for continual consumer spending, and the main driver of wealth creation for the last 16 years has been property. People would find equity in their house and either see it as a pension and put less into a plan, or release it to enable spending directly. Either way, our economy is now seizing up because of the lack of house sales.

I do not accept the premise of the consumer economy. If our society needs retail spending to grow then the system is wrong. I’ll repeat that – THE SYSTEM IS WRONG. I do not want to accommodate the consumer society – I want to change it. I want to live differently, and to raise my children to live differently as well. I will not conform to this. I will find a better way to live – one more in harmony with the teaching of Jesus – principles of justice, mercy, righteousness, truthfulness, generosity, sacrifice and mutuality.

But won’t you look a bit weird if you try and not live like the rest of society?


End of paragraph.

But seriously – SO WHAT. Since when has ‘fitting in’ ever convinced anybody that there is a better way to live. If I can learn from others who are exploring this, and if I can start to live in a way that embraces the value above, I have to. I feel an imperative not to let these feelings drift until I get to my old age and regret living in-between worlds, feeling the tension of rejecting one set of values but not fully embracing another.

I know that the logical end of what I am suggesting looks very different from the individualistic way that we live now, and that it challenges the roots of our society. That both repels and attracts me in equal measure.

So what does it look like?

I don’t know. I look at some of the excellent examples that have found a different way to live, such as The Simple Way in Philadelphia, USA and the Northumbria Community in the UK and rejoice in what they do. But I want something that works here and now in Shrewsbury, Shopshire, with the people I know. I want something that I can do now.

This is just the start of my conversation, but I will continue to blog and work this out.


  1. Ian, the number of people who think like this is growing daily, even those in the Christian book trade like you ( and me!), so tell me how do you balance (and Mr Whitall) balance the "sales & marketing" work that you do with this post.

    I ask not as an accusation but as a fellow traveller asking the same questions.

  2. Hi Iago

    It is a great question, and one I ponder all the time. I don't think that 'sales & marketing' are inherently bad - they are things that have been done as long as a farmer had something to sell. It is about how it is done, and what is being contributed to the good of the world around us.

    I remember being told that any marketing had to be 'honest, decent, lawful and truthful', and I think this still holds true today concerning how I want to conduct myself.

    There are two things that I think about a lot when I think through these things. I think about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the court of the Persian king. They were employed by the occupying empire, working for the prosperity of that empire. Yet, they were placed there by God. However, they never pretended that the Empire was anything but what it was, they refused to eat what was forbidden and, when push came to shove, they refused to bow down to the idol.

    Secondly, I remember hearing Michael Card speak about this very issue. He talked about the tension he felt at the 'product table' and sales of CDs, tapes (in those days!) and books. He thought about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, and wondered if one day he would hear the voice of God telling him to do the same thing with his own products.

    I hope I can have the courage of the 'Hebrew Children' and not bow down on the day that my integrity and faith is tested. I hope I can have the courage to say 'enough' when that time comes.


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