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We can't have it all

Premier received some media attention this week, courtesy of the Bishop of London. Dr Chartres delivered the annual Premier Lecture entitled “Building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”. 

His aim was to identify changes necessary to make the Church confident in the gospel, compassionate in community service and creative in proclaiming the gospel to a generation under-represented in the Church today.

Three newspapers and the Today programme took out one point and headlined “Take less, Bishop tells baby boomers”. What Dr Chartres actually said was that public expenditure had grown massively and “Much is absorbed by the fortunate generation to which I belong in ways that raise questions of intergenerational equity”  Without foreknowledge of the lecture content I made the same point in last week’s blog. Individually and nationally we have been living beyond our means and the economy is heading for a crisis. To prevent this and avoid leaving our children a wretched inheritance we have to moderate our expectations and demands. The Bible has much to say about this. In Proverbs Agur prays “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.”[i] When God gave the Israelites manna they were told to gather only enough for that day.[ii]

Jesus taught us to pray, ’give us our daily bread’.[iii] The first Christians sold their possessions and gave to anyone in need[iv] and St Paul urged believers who had plenty to share with those who are needy. [v] Thus Dr Chartres was thoroughly biblical but probably at odds with a materialistic culture which ‘wants it all now’ without regard for the consequences for today’s poor or the wellbeing of future generations. Evidence of this is seen in the way people drive gas guzzling vehicles careless of damage they do to the environment. It is seen in families in which parents work all the hours they can to sustain an affluent lifestyle leaving inadequate time for their children. It is seen in demand for cosmetic surgery to offset the effects of ageing taking resources from those with more urgent needs. It is seen in the clothing industry which make wearing last season’s fashions a faux pas. I saw it this week in a seminar about protecting children from the harm done by watching hard core pornography. Reform measures were opposed on the grounds that they deny adult consumer rights. For many reasons, then, we cannot have it all. 

We have to make choices and take our ‘neighbours’ needs into account as well as our own. The churches have an obvious responsibility to teach this but so do PSHE teachers in schools and politicians trying to manage the economy away from impending crisis. Agur got it right, who is my Lord?

[i] Proverbs 30:8-9
[ii] Exodus 16:4
[iii] Matthew 6:11
[iv] Acts 2:45; 4:34
[v] 2 Corinthians 8:13-15