There are lots of places that promise the same thing as the Church: your dreams fulfilled. There are lots of places that do it more ‘showily’ than we do because there is money at stake, and more of it to splash around in making a ‘show’, but there is one element about the woman’s cream jug on the show ‘Flog It’ which is exactly the same as the church: hardly any one knows the real value of what we have (a treasure in an earthen vessel). That will only come out on judgement day, either in heaven or when we close down (should we be found wanting before then).
It is well known that television shows reflect the society in which we live. Sometimes they prepare us for the kind of society in which we live. Take ‘Big Brother’ for example. Apart from the name of the show which is taken from the totalitarian world of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984′, the structure of the show gets us used to ever more surveillance and less privacy and the idea of being ‘voted off’. The show itself deadens our hearts to the plight of people who ‘lose’ at the ‘game of life’, so that when it comes to being sacked, or made redundant, we have already been prepared for this kind of a world by the ‘game show’ of ‘Big Brother’. This kind of preparation for the way the world is going to be is also exactly what children do in their ‘play’.
My attention to this structure of things was heightened once again as I was watching ‘Flog It’. This show is one of the many English shows based on the auctioning of antiques in the hope of making lots of money for the person who has brought them. An essential element in the show is that the person selling is not aware of the value of the item. There is the build up phase of the show which consists of of the ‘evaluation’ of the object by several experts. Then comes ‘judgement day’ when the auction is held. Will the reserve be reached? Will the person be happy with the price? Will the expert’s opinion be correct? (another risk is taken). After judgement comes consolation or rejoicing. It seems that human beings are inveterate ‘putters of ourselves on the line’. Perhaps this is because life itself is like that. Each day is a ‘putting ourselves out there’ in the hope of achieving ‘something’.
The second characteristic element in this kind of a show is that the person bringing the item has something which they hope is of great value, but that the value is hidden from them. Some game shows depend upon skill or effort for a person to be a ‘winner’. ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Weakest Link’ or ‘Pointless’ are of this type. But in the ‘Flog It’ game show it is important that the person does not know the value of what they have.
Then the third characteristic element of the show comes in. This is the ‘What will you do with the money?’ phase. Each person is asked ‘Well you have risked this item at auction for something else: money. But what will this money represent for you?’ They reply ‘Re-doing the bathroom’ or ‘Going on a holiday’ or something that represents what they hope to gain by putting their item (a symbol of their life) at risk.
This phase of the game is known in sociological circles as ‘dream building’. It is the hope for something better (a dream) which inspires people to set off on the ‘game show’ (risk) course.
One particular episode which I saw last week had all these elements powerfully bound together. The woman who came onto the show had an 18th century ‘creamier’ (a fancy name for a cream jug) in the shape of a cow. The cream went in the top, and came out of the cow’s mouth! It was quite small, and of course she did not know what it was worth. The show’s host asked her ‘What do you hope to do with the money?’ She said ‘I want to put it toward a trip to New Zealand to see my first grandchild.’
The ‘creamier’ was estimated to be worth about £200.00. But when it went to auction, all her dreams came true. The creamier went for £ 1,800.00 and the woman was able to book her trip to New Zealand there and then.
The powerful thing about this particular episode of the show was the combination of five big themes:
hope (the woman risks something for the sake of realising her dream), judgement (the auction), grace (the value of her object was a surprise to her and she did not have to ‘earn’ it), belonging (the desire to visit her family) and fruitfulness (the desire to see the next generation ‘the fruit of her womb’).
Now you can perhaps see where I am going. I keep making a comparison between the way that these themes are dealt with in the Christian faith (which is not very popular) and television game shows, which deal with the same themes, (but which are very popular.)
The first thing to say is that money is just so concrete. We are a materialist and consumerist society. We really do believe in what we can touch and feel. Money is so flexible in that it represents our hopes and dreams in a highly liquid form. Applying these themes of Hope, Judgement, Grace, Belonging and Fruitfulness to life with God is difficult because as one person at an enquiry group said to me “God is not very ‘in your face’ “. We can be atheists really, because the reality of God’s life does not impinge much on what we do from day to day. Jesus says to us ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break in and steal.’ And there will be a day of judgement when being accountable for our lives will come. We do need God’s grace toward us if we are to survive this judgement. These are the features of a life lived ‘toward God’. We see the way the world is and keep hoping for a better life. But to direct our life toward God, and not money is difficult.
The Church is the place where we truly ‘belong.’ It is the place where family ties are transcended and belonging ‘in Christ’ becomes the main reality of our lives. Our ‘children’ are the ‘children’ in the faith and the question of ‘fruitfulness’ we ask is ‘has this congregation been fruitful, or have we been barren?’ We learn how to be people in our natural families in Church.
The themes of Christian life are exactly the same ones as are played out in secular life, as the game show demonstrates. The difference lies in the direction to which the energy of these human themes is put. It is one thing, in summary to have ‘get up and go’ but the real question is ‘Where does our get up and go go to?’
Some people who have had difficult natural family lives find their belonging in God’s family. Some people who are single find friendship and ‘children’ in the Church. Some Churches bring new ‘children’ to birth in the faith. The task for us as a congregation is to find ways that the reality of God’s life, as less ‘in your face’ but more ‘real’ can be demonstrated. There are lots of places that promise the same thing as the Church: your dreams fulfilled. There are lots of places that do it more ‘showily’ than we do because there is money at stake, and more of it to splash around in making a ‘show’, but there is one element about the woman’s creamier which is exactly the same as the church: hardly any one knows the real value of what we have (a treasure in an earthen vessel). That will only come out on judgement day, either in heaven or when we close down (should we be found wanting before then).