Crushed by capitalism? Consider the ravens

Weighed down by capitalism’s incessant demands? Consider the ravens and discover a renewed way of life. (Listen.)

Once upon a time, there was a village. The people in the village had a life that was simple, and good. They hunted; they tended their fish traps; they grew yams. They wove baskets, and stitched and decorated fur cloaks. They walked to the coast and feasted on shellfish; they walked to the grassy plains, lit controlled fires, and waited for the big game to come hopping in. Most people worked about four hours a day; beyond that, they hung out. They kicked a footy around; they considered the ravens and other creatures; they told stories; they pondered the landscape; they traded songs with visitors from other villages and other towns.

One day, a strange man came to stay. He wasn’t interested in their songs or stories; he wasn’t interested in eels or yams. Instead, he told them that life was different now: that the land would be carved up into privately owned smallholdings; that interdependent villages must reorganise into self-sufficient households; that the animals and plants all had monetary value, or no value at all; and that underneath the soil lay mineral resources, which must be mined and purified and sold.

Thanks to guns, germs and steel, the people of the village were forced into this new system — or they died. And so here we are now, more than two hundred years later, and the flora and fauna are rapidly disappearing, and the soils are depleted, and the waterways are filled with chemicals, and the oceans are dying, and the weather is changing, and the people are suffering an epidemic of loneliness and depression — and for what?

So we can sit in our cars, and ferry our children to countless activities, and shoot down to Melbourne for entertainment, and collapse in front of a screen every night. For we seem to have very little time and energy for simply hanging out with others and chatting, for meaning-making, for eating together, for observing the ravens, for story, or for song.

Daniel Berrigan once said, ‘Your faith is rarely where your head is at and rarely where your heart is at. Your faith is where your ass is at! Inside what commitments are you sitting? Within what reality do you anchor yourself?’ And some weeks as I look around this city, it feels like most of our asses are sitting in our cars: for we have great faith in middle class aspirations; our lives are deeply anchored in capitalism.

As middle class people, capitalism tells us that good work is everything, and an important job requiring frequent travel and separation from family and community is a better way to spend a life than an unimportant local job. Capitalism tells us that we are all worth spoiling with six-hour return drives to watch professional football or theatre; or with long flights to holiday destinations. Capitalism tells us that raising children in a nuclear family is natural, despite the independent nuclear family being an historical anomaly, and despite all the evidence pointing to the necessity of much larger and bustling caregiving networks for infant, parent and community health.

Capitalism tells us that our children need to be given every opportunity, and that means an iPad each, and Netflix, and hauling them round to activities every night. Capitalism tells us that we have a moral duty to be self-sufficient: that each of us needs to manage our lives independently; that each of us should own everything we need to clean, garden and maintain all our buildings, land and possessions: and we need to clean, garden and maintain all those things all by ourselves.

And for the most part, we are obedient to these myths. We have become a nation of individuals who work long hours far from home; a nation divided into small independent household units of lonely struggling parents and over-equipped over-scheduled children; a nation of households which don’t know how to practice interdependence or giving or accepting help; and thus we have become a nation of rapacious consumers who place a monetary value on everything, and who keep the economy ticking over at the cost of the sea, the sky, the land, the plants, the animals, and, of course, at the cost of true human flourishing.

But all this is shuddering to a halt. Last week, analysts predicted that thousands of shopping malls in the US will close in the next twelve months; already in that country, an area the size of the city of Boston is covered by dead malls. Until now, largely thanks to the mining boom, Australia has been sheltered from this collapse, but it’s on the horizon: catastrophic climate change will take care of that.

So a new way is looming, and we have a choice. We can keep with the current way; we can keep living our helter-skelter lives. We can remain wedded to our cars, even as we protest deep water drilling in the Bight; we can remain wedded to our consumption, even as we frantically Kondo our overstocked homes; we can remain wedded to our work, even as we wonder when we’ll have the time and energy to really enjoy our children and our lives.

Or we can ‘consider the ravens.’ We can stop striving for food, drink, and the markers of middle class success, and instead strive for God’s kingdom-culture: a culture shaped by justice and wholeness and care for all people and all things; an economy founded on generosity, sharing, and a priority for the poor; a culture with a focus on children and others who are marginalised; a way of life which, like Jesus, makes plenty of time for eating with others, friendship and rest; a world in which we no longer need to worry or strive; a world in which we no longer need to protect our exhausted overstretched selves.

And we can do this. For we are people of imagination and intelligence. We have the resources to join together and make a difference; we have the narrative – the gospel – to reject the pressures and lies of capitalism; we have the mandate to heal its devastating effects on landscape and communities; we have the wit to dream, to collaborate, and to bring about signs of a new economy and a new way of being today.

Rooted in the stories of the past, learning from the people of this place, we can be God’s future people here and now. We can choose people over petrol, connection over consumption, God over money: and when we do, we can trust Jesus’ promise: God will provide everything we need.

In this economy, God’s economy, the food is probably not super fancy; the clothes are probably so last season; the trappings of life will be simple. But they will be nourishing, community-building, connecting. They will be modest, sustainable, earth-friendly, and they will probably be slow.

Like the people of the village, we can consider the ravens and many other creatures, and we can learn from them. We might notice that all things are interconnected; we might learn to trust in God’s provision, not our own; we might learn to be grateful for enough.

And as we consider, and as we learn, we might discover what it is to be a creature among other creatures, and find renewed ways of communicating and praying and being. And one day we will be able to look back at our lives, in all their beauty and freedom and wildness and joy, and we will know this: Life in God’s kingdom is indeed simple, and it is indeed good, very good. In the name of the one who is the author of all life, Jesus Christ, our Lord: Amen. Ω

A reflection on Luke 12:22-31 given to Sanctuary, 8 September 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Image credit: Peter Lloyd on Unsplash.

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