Am I fiddling while Rome burns?

I have encountered a lot of discussion about gun crime in the last two weeks, partly through my own choice (going to listen to a panel discussion at Greenbelt – Gun and Knives and Bleeding Hearts), partly because our new vicar has come from an inner city parish in Manchester and partly because the part of London I live in has seen a lot of killings recently.

It made me think seriously about the things I write about here. Are they relevant? How can you talk about play in such circumstances? Is this just navel gazing on a decadent society or is there a way that a spirituality of play can relate to the inequality of our society or the horrors of a warzone for instance?

I did think long and hard. And here are a couple of thoughts that emerged.

Thought 1
The fact that we don’t have an evolved spirituality that understands play and puts in the right relation to our day-to-day lives contributes to the grinding realisation of the inequalities of our society. Our pleasure/play media are so well developed, but few have any sense of their own responsbilities. I can give you a classic example – about 3 years ago Channel 4 took a young man from an inner city estate and sent him to one of the top public schools in the country for a television programme. Would he make good? Nature or Nurture? etc. The end of the story was not surprising – he was expelled. This is not surprising for the following reasons –

  • He was dumped into a privelleged environment when he had very little of the same at home. I have been in this situation but with more resource, it is actually pretty stressful. You are marked out as different and if you are intelligent (and he was) you are likely to play up to this situation.
  • However supportive his mother was (and she was incredibly supportive) his home and his friends were in a deprived area of town, during the holidays he would, of course, want to fit back in. He has now been placed outside both his home and his school social environment and the easiest way is to retain loyalty to what he knows and to rebel against the school system to prove to his friends that he is still one of them.

Little support was given to the family, no understanding was attempted of the complexity of his situation, we were entertained and his life was wholly disrupted for our pleasure.

That is not an ethical or spiritual approach to enterntainment. It was exploitative in the extreme. Where was the Church when this programme went out?

Thought 2
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the gap between Britain’s richest and poorest is wider than it’s been for forty years.  Within a 15 mile radius of Knightsbridge around half the children are living below the poverty line (BBC). And yet we are well aware of what we could buy if only we had the money – there are glossy magazines and shows to tell us, men and women. It’s a form of escapism. We can dream about all the things we would get if only we had the money and if everyone is dreaming that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with wishing for a better life, it’s one of the key motivators of social change.

The problem comes when such an unequal sharing isn’t questioned. When there are no ways out of deprivation, when people feel powerless and still the attainment of the unattaianable is fetishised. I’m not saying anything new, but I am saying it in a new time, a time when our lives are more interconnected than ever before and when information flows more freely. It is this which acccentuates the injustice and people who can’t turn on the powerful will turn on each other as a way of venting frustration. They will take what power they do have and use it to get to the top of their own tree.

What is the answer? Some of it is already seeping into society – a rejection of consumerism, a movement towards the natural and non-exploitative. There is also a communication issue and here is where we can take play and use it explicitly – again nothing new. Charles Dickens wrote about the slums and criminal underworld of London and his works helped to open Victorian eyes to the causes of horror not just the nastiness of it.

Can you imagine a mother who would go to Glastonbury (having bought the ticket) and not made any arrangement for her 13 year old son to be taken care of in any way over that weekend? Can you imagine parents who either care so little for their child or have such low levels of literacy (they can’t read) that the child is not sorted out with a place for secondary education until the end of the summer term before they are due to move on, and that by a teacher through a chance remark?

And that’s just the simple stuff. There are people living in poverty – by which I mean without enough food to eat – in our country and we don’t even see them. Our playmakers can effect a positive change if they open their eyes and change their field of vision.


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