In tech terms I’m a bit late to the party, but I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 10 a few days ago. For someone who really doesn’t like change (I nearly cried when I came home from university one day to find our kitchen bin had been replaced without warning), I was surprised by quite how much I’ve enjoyed the upgrade.
In stark contrast to iOS 10, however, my world has been turned upside down this past fortnight with news that the Great British Bake Off (GBBO to its fans) is moving from BBC1 to Channel 4, and taking only one out of four presenters with it. The internet backlash to this unprecedented TV move could not be more different from the virtual sighs and eye-rolls which accompanied Apple’s yearly announcement of the new iPhone model and operating system.
The iPhone has developed annually since its first release in 2007. We have come to expect upgrade after upgrade, improvement upon improvement. But for GBBO, the format has remained the same for half a decade; it is well-loved as it is, and we watch secure in the knowledge that we know what’s happening next. Signature, technical, showstopper: some days I know it better than I know my own name.
It’s a strange contradiction, isn’t it? The difference between the changes we expect and the ones we don’t, and the opposing reactions they elicit. We want the programmes we watch to stay the same, but the devices we watch them on to be ever improving.
Our culture presents to us both an appetite for change and a deep love of predictability. There is a pressing need to upgrade, to be bigger, better, faster, slimmer and more wireless at every opportunity, mixed up with a love of the known, a longing for comfort and routine – for feel-good, easily digestible information and entertainment.
Something in the gospel responds to both these cultural desires. The good news of Jesus hasn’t changed for over 2000 years; he remains the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). This is soothing for those of us who dislike change and long for comfort and routine. And those who live for the upgrade culture and the desire for improvement at every opportunity can rest assured in the knowledge that ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion’ (Philippians 1:6).
Nell is Culture Projects Leader at LICC
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? … And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Luke 12:25-26, 29-31
‘The modern Western world is built on anxiety. You see it on the faces of people hurrying to work. You see it even more as they travel home … The faces are weary, puzzled, living with the unanswerable question as to what it all means.’ So reads Tom Wright’s reflection on this passage in Luke for Everyone.
Whether or not we fully identify with this description, there will always be situations that cause us concern, be they workplace pressures, relationship difficulties, health issues or loss. But concern need not lead to worry. In fact, Jesus commands us not to worry – not to allow concern to become anxiety. So why is worry both dangerous and ineffective? Worry involves rehearsing negative thoughts, images and emotions. The more we dwell on potential negative outcomes the more, at a subconscious level, we come into agreement with the lies of the enemy whose job description is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10).
Jesus directs us to choose a different mind-set – one that is based on trust in the love and care of our heavenly father. We are also to choose a different focus: God’s kingdom. No longer are we to act like ‘pagans’, worrying about making things happen in the way we want. Nor do we need to strive to achieve the outcomes that, with our limited knowledge, we have decided are best. Instead, our goal becomes pleasing God and seeking to cooperate with him in whatever he is doing in the situations that concern us. This requires us to come to him in vulnerability, abandoning the illusion of our own control.
In October, we launch our next prayer journey: ‘Resilience’. Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity or significant sources of stress. Resilience is not an inbuilt trait; it involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that are learned and developed. Resilience comes through connection – with ourselves, with others, with God and with our work.
Join us as we learn together what it means to be people whose focus is the kingdom and who do not worry. Be re-energised as we adopt simple spiritual practices that help us, throughout the day, to connect with ourselves, with others, with our work and with God. Be encouraged as we share answers to our prayers. Join this renewing prayer journey!
Bev Shepherd is the PrayerWorks project leader and an LICC associate speaker. As a management trainer and coach she specialises in the areas of leadership, team dynamics and stress, and is the author of Insight into Stress published by CWR.
Let me level with you: I’m a dog person. In the age-old dog/cat debate, I will forever be cheering for dogs. I am the person who stops dog owners in the street in order to pet them (the dogs, not their owners); the girl who actively struggles to maintain adult conversation when there is a dog nearby.
The flip side of that, of course, is that I don’t really like cats. I find them to be aloof, haughty, and disconcertingly mysterious. They pale in comparison to the ever-loyal, cuddly, affectionate dog.
And yet, last weekend, at Clapham Common tube station, I found myself face-to-face with 68 adverts made up entirely of cat pictures. Unsure what to think? So was I. So I did what any reasonable person would do in such a situation, and googled it. Turns out that, thanks to a kick-starter campaign by Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS, in case you missed that), £23,000 was raised to take over a tube station with pictures of rescue cats.
There’s so much that could be said about this: the people power behind the movement; the desire for change in advertising it represents; London’s borderline-obsession with cats… But the thing that really struck me was the power of adverts. I guess being confronted with 68 large pictures of cats will do that to you.
Even as I walked past all these cat pictures, you see, I found myself thinking that some of the cats were actually quite cute. This is not a thing I often consider, and I almost felt as if I was betraying my trusty Labrador back home. But if this short walk through one tube station had even slightly changed my perception of cats, what are the thousands of adverts I see every day doing to my perception of myself, my life and my consumer habits?
Jesus tells us that what we look at affects the health of our entire beings (Luke 11:34). In a culture which daily bombards us with thousands of adverts, how can we live distinctively in a way which doesn’t involve raising £23,000 and taking pictures of cats? There’s no denying that it’s a tricky line to tread. But imagine the powerful witness of acknowledging the effects of the consumerist, overly-sexualised and individualistic advertisements whilst also living out the better story of the gospel, which works itself out – at least in part – through contentment, community and grace.
Nell is Culture Projects Leader at LICC
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
I have written to you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
As Paul moves beyond what we know as chapter 12 of his letter to the Christians at Rome, he continues to write about their relationships with others – in submitting to the governing authorities (13:1-7) and in loving neighbours (13:8-14). Such submission and love is forged in the community of faith where Jews and Gentiles learn – in spite of ethnic and cultural differences – to ‘accept one another… in order to bring praise to God’ (15:7).
Then, as he moves towards the end of the letter, Paul discloses something of his own role as ‘a minister of Christ Jesus’. Even without the phrase ‘priestly duty’, he uses several words which carry priestly associations – ‘minister’, ‘offering’, ‘acceptable’, ‘sanctified’ – taking us back to the ‘living sacrifice’ of 12:1. Paul pictures himself as a priest presiding over the offering of the Gentiles. Through his proclamation of the gospel, he seeks to ensure they are ‘acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’.
The language might remind us of the constitution of Israel as God’s covenant people in Exodus 19:4-6. It’s there that Israel’s identity as ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ is established. Amazingly, Gentiles too can now be included as members of God’s people – through the preaching of the gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It would be an unusual mixture of people gathering together in first-century Rome – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, elites and non-elites, children and slaves. Yet, strange though it would seem to anyone looking in, these are the ones in whom God’s age-old purpose for all things has come to pass.
But their existence, like that of Israel, is for the sake of others.
That mandate remains ours today. As Paul lays it out in Romans 12, sacrifice is now relocated in offered bodies and renewed minds which bear witness to the transforming work of the Spirit. Our life together and our love for each other testify to God’s desire to reconcile all people in Christ. How we’re shaped in our relationships within the community of faith then spills out in our interactions with others – in counter-cultural ways, in love which overcomes evil with good.
In all these ways, we are not merely passive recipients of the gospel but those who embody it and proclaim it, extending to others the mercies of our great God.
Earlier this month, the giant online retailer Amazon launched its latest innovation in ‘smart shopping’ – Amazon Dash. With just the push of a button, you or I can order any one of 40 basic household items and have it on our doorstep 24 hours later.
Dash is just the latest in an increasing number of products and services offered by retailers to satiate our every need, whim or desire in eye-wateringly fast times. At the click of our online fingers, we can have our favourite restaurant meal on our table within 30 minutes, or that iPad that little Jonny wants by bedtime. Yes, really.
So how do we respond to this reality of shopping becoming an on-demand, instant gratification experience? As with all new technologies, the benefits are undoubted – imagine the joy of never running out of loo roll! But below the surface are potentially negative impacts that are deeply challenging to the fabric of society, which go beyond the obvious costs to the environment and smaller retailers.
Are we becoming a society that is losing the ability to wait, rely on our neighbours, or simply to ‘do without’? Run out of gourmet coffee? No need to go next door, just click here and you can have it before your next cuppa. And who needs to improvise or think creatively if it’s all available at the click of a button?
If we never have to wait for goods and services, how will that affect our ability to sit and listen to each other, to work through difficult relationships, to listen to our own thoughts, and especially to hear God? For those of us who have children, how will they learn these essential life skills? The implications are profound.
As Christians, this is a particularly pertinent challenge as there is no doubting the value God places on patience and waiting. The Bible is brimming with stories of people who had to wait for God to move – think of Abraham, Moses, or Anna. Patience and its close cousin self-control are two fruits of the Spirit.
Countering this ‘culture of now’ requires self-awareness, self-discipline and healthy boundaries. If we can pursue these, tough though it may be, they will not only keep us healthy, but might also serve as a witness to others that God’s ways are indeed good – even if not always as fast as we would like!
Siobhan O’Reilly Calthrop
Siobhan is a freelance writer, author and blogger, with a background in international development, who now writes about parenting, faith and mid-life issues. Her personal blog is www.everyoneelseisnormal.com.
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