I often hear talk, amongst Christians, of the desire to “be countercultural”, articulating an attempt to live differently in a world that is, in the West at least, marked by individualism, independence and financial aspiration.
And yet, the more I think about it, the more clearly I see: how little difference there is – in terms of every-day, nitty-gritty living – between those of faith and those of none.
For many middle-class Christians have embraced a middle-class faith.
A faith that allows for upward mobility, financial security and “confort zone living”.
A faith that, it would seem, talks about “going the extra mile” – yet rarely leads to worn out shoes.
A faith that ticks the “giving box” through impersonal direct debits, and avoids the command to “give away an extra coat”.
A faith exhibiting a reluctance to give-til-it-hurts.
A faith that has failed to truly cross the boundaries of wealth, class and background – so the rich get richer, the poor stay poor and we inhabit two separate worlds.
I write this not to judge, but as a confession. An admission that I, a fully signed-up Christian, am comfortable in my comfort zone. I make choices that benefit me (and those I love) and I get caught up – day by day, week by week – in an aspirational, “upwards” mindset – bigger salary, bigger house, bigger cupboards. More. More. More.
Recently, though, my hubster and I made a different choice. You could, I guess, call it a “downward decision”. We had to move house – and so we left our lovely home with a big garden and moved into our friend’s spare room. We stepped off the up escalator and started exploring a different path. We are students of an alternative trail.
I know that some of our friends find it weird. After all – who would choose shared space instead of privacy? Which married couple would move in with others, except in an emergency? In a country obsessed with land ownership, why would anyone aspire to “shared space” over “my space”?
Then, this morning, I read these words:
“The rampant individualism of Western society is a relatively new thing, and its emptiness is increasingly evident … We are wealthy and lonely…”
We are lonely. We live in a world that is more “connected” than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, BBM. Instant access to others. And – if the phone doesn’t buzz or beep – instant loneliness.
We are wealthy. And the more money we have, the more we isolate ourselves from others.
We are strangers. We bump into others, for we share the same public space, yet we rarely know each other’s names.
We are upwardly mobile, educated, financially secure and full of aspiration. We are middle-class Christians.
And we are missing out.
Missing out on the wonder of hearing the life-stories of those with journeys very different to ours, and the indescribable joy of the friendships that can emerge. Missing out on the laughter, and tears, of living-entwined-lives, and not solely with “people like us”. Missing out on the reward and challenge inherent in a risky “no” to cultural norms and a “yes” to downward mobility.
A guy called Shane Claiborne said, “we live in community and among the suffering because it is what we are made for”.
I love that. For it is truly counter-cultural. And it doesn’t sound very middle-class to me.