Beware the Shopping Centre

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship, And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess of the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” – David Foster Wallace

Beware shopping centres…seriously
We must be a people that see and realise the deeply liturgical and formative nature of the shopping centre or the ‘mall’. If we are spending time in shopping malls, our minds and hearts are inevitably being shifted towards a picture of the life that is being portrayed in these places. It is well known that marketing and advertising companies employ powerful psychology to sell their products, to influence the consumer in ways deeper than the conscious.

Spending time doing these activities (shopping, watching movies and TV) will inevitably lead to them shaping our desires (some of these intentionally, some not). In so doing, our identities are shaped. Ultimately they are after nothing less than our hearts, and they want to determine what we ultimately love. Which would be okay if it were good things we are taught to love, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Shopping malls are an integral cog in the capitalist world machine that says life is about consuming and having. It’s a world-view that values above all else what you have and how you look. It is a machine that is built upon manipulating people to buy what they do not need to keep a system going that is fundamentally selfish, unsustainable, wasteful and superficial and ultimately meaningless. I’m not exaggerating, the second part of that statement is my own observation, but the first is fact and history (just watch ‘The Century of Self‘ – parts 1 and 2). The capitalist machine is an all consuming, top down system, that forces itself upon the disadvantaged. It imposes itself horribly in a system of privilege and exploitation, and it does so blindly and hypocritically. We live in society already insane with an uncontrollable lust for things and status, very quickly descending into depression and suicide because of the loss of meaning. All the while deeply insecure because it draws its identity from sources wholly external to who a person is.

There is less and less room for neutrality in today’s society. And I actually have great respect for people who claim to not believe in God and yet maintain a life of integrity and selflessness in today’s world. They are much better people than I. Much, much better.

‘Salt’ and ‘Light’
As people of the Kingdom, called to be “in but not of the world”, this perspective does not lead to an interaction with the world that is lofty and removed. It is definitely not aceticism. The incarnation couldn’t be further from acetic in nature. But it is a beautiful, earthy embrace of acceptance and then redemption.

Practically, all of us will find that being ‘radical’ can alienate you from people who are not –  Christian or otherwise. And this is a matter in which we must be incredibly clear. The zeal of the Pharisees and scribes was alienating. It was a form of religion born of a pride and legalism that judges others to feel good about itself. Whereas Jesus’ taught a zeal/lifestyle that was ‘radically’ different and yet overwhelmingly embracing and accepting of those who didn’t live the same way. Jesus demonstrates to us ‘radical’ Christianity in it’s purest – a form of religion born of humility and selfless love.

And I think ‘radical’ looks like a lifestyle that is remarkably simple and incredibly generous. It has an extravagant abundance that is not based on having or doing, but being and loving and being loved. A reality that is based upon the internal and the earthy. I believe that this is what it means to be a beautiful society, and beautiful people, a kingdom people. A people called to bring the two realities of heaven and earth closer and closer together.

The reality is…
To some extent we all get sucked in to the capitalist world machine
. No one is completely free, but there is a way forward. And we have a way forward to being a beautiful people. And it involves spending less and less time in shopping malls, less and less time watching TV and movies. We need to redefine and reboot the way we view ‘entertainment’. And begin to fill our vision with one who sits on the throne, not television. To cause our minds to be filled with the word of God, instead what we are going to consume next. This needs to happen not over an afternoon, but over a much longer period of time.

I’m not saying that we must avoid shopping centres altogether, but to begin to have the perspective of purchasing things out of function rather than aesthetics or consumption. Not so focused on the external we become internally and deeply beautiful people, instead of empty glamorous shells.

The Bridegroom is coming!
And Jesus will not come back to find a distracted, apathetic and adulterous bride
, insecure in who she is and what she is getting herself into. She will have prepared herself, and will be wearing a spotless white wedding-gown.

She will be equally-yoked in love, her eyes fixed on one thing, and one thing alone. The man with the eyes of fire will look upon his beloved and find her eyes ablaze, they will marked with desire. Her heart will be marked with a spotless purity, and her hands found clean.

Of only such a perfect bride, our bridegroom is worthy. And He will do it.

P.S. – This post is an amalgamation of ideas that have sources in a few different fantastic books I would recommend heartily: “Desiring the Kingdom” and “Imagining the Kingdom” both by James KA Smith and “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

P.P.S – This post is part of a series on what it means to be ‘radical

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Radical

“The heart is a “love pump” or a desire factory. It never stops producing or pumping out desire. But it cannot just land. You cannot just desire. You must desire something. What distinguishes us is not whether we love, but what we love.” – James Smith in ‘Desiring the Kingdom’

For every human being, life must be lived from a fountain of our choosing. Just as we must choose the kind of food to put into our bodies for a physical daily refueling, we must choose daily the kind of fountain we live our lives from. We must choose daily from where will we draw meaning, and for what reality are we living for.

If we do not answer this question, then the default answer and the default fountain we drink from will be that of our surroundings – the western world, until we get consumed by its selfishness, superficiality and meaninglessness. Or worse yet, we will live for ourselves, continually inflating our empty egos, until we are unapproachable and unlikeable, blind and narrow-minded, critical and miserable. There is no neutral ground for the human being.

And so from this perspective the seemingly far-flung statements of Jesus to “lose your life” and to “sell everything and give to the poor” are actually simple calls to freedom, to life, and to meaning.

Radical Christianity is actually a simple issue of life and death. Critically, we fail to see this because we fail to see the radical depravity of our hearts and of the world in which we live, so accustomed are we to our own cesspool. Am I being too dramatic? Not according David Foster Wallace, an atheist writer who perhaps understood human nature better than many of us who call ourselves Christians:

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such this as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship, And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess of the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” -David Foster Wallace

 

And If this all sounds rather daunting, then let’s remember that call for everything is given by the one who has given his all to us. He is the most generous and gracious man alive, and he only asks for one step at a time. So go ahead, bargain with God.  Talk with him about it, don’t run in fear because you feel you can’t live up to a standard. We misunderstand anyway because it was never about the standard, it’s about relationship – and that’s all that matters. But be warned, it’s a relationship in which you may be stripped of everything, lovingly. And in that place of ‘poverty’, where every fickle and empty thing you once had placed your hope in has been taken away, you will stand empty-handed before the throne, naked.

In that place, he gives you himself.

And all of a sudden, nothing matters anymore. Not the doubts in your mind, or the darkness of your heart, not the thoughts of people around you, not the size of your bank account, not the roof over your head, not your job or your vocation, not your health or your situation. Because you are his, and he is yours.

And for the first time perhaps, you feel truly alive. And for the first time perhaps, you are free.

Another ‘radical’ post: Redefining ‘Entertainment’