Saturday, 16 October 2010

A camel overcomes our "selfish Christmas"

Queen Elizabeth II has cancelled her staff Christmas Party due to the economic situation in the UK. But my fourteen or so work colleagues clearly want to have their "Christmas lunch" - and eat it.

The thought of a warm meal together in London just before Christmas is something that will keep them (and me) going through the dreaded "Spending Review" coming this week, when thousands of not hundreds of thousands of public jobs will be axed. We are hoping that our Christmas lunch will not turn into our "Farewell Lunch".

We have been discussing whether we should exchange "mystery presents". I suggested we buy a goat for an African family instead. I then found that we could actually buy a camel, for only 120pounds. I proposed this and some people have loved it (partly because there were lots of "camel" and "fez" jokes).

They all wanted to know if a camel is really valuable in the desert. I was able to tell them that a camel provides about 20 litres of good milk a day, lives on less water than a goat, can go for days without water, can live for 50 years, deliver 700lbs of meat when it dies and can carry one to the next waterhole when your own waterhole dries up. With climate change and the desert advancing at a tens of kilometres a year in North Africa, this would be useful.

Although there is still not overall agreement, there are enough colleagues who like the idea for some of us to afford it, if we are really generous. One person said "How suitable for Christmas" in the light of the "wise men" story. Camels are not in the Bible story, but they are assumed: camels played their part.

In the course of this exercise, I realized that people in the West see individual choice as a virtue. As a team, we could achieve real benefits for the world, if we all wanted the same thing, but we are all taught that free and individual choice is "our right". I guess we are not really "team players" in the West....

Changing this expectation may be one benefit of this "bloodbath" of a recession which will change life as we know it and all our aspirations.

Expressing personal choice or demanding our choice as our right is not a Christian "ideal" or even a Christian virtue. This aspiration is something thrust upon Christians from other quarters.

The Christian ideal is to make the best use of the material goods he or she has been blessed with, make sensible, rational and cost-effective choices for the sake of ourselves and others, and to bring glory to God. We are also called to make the lives of others, whether they are believers of not, and particularly the world's poorest, struggling on the edge of existence, less awful.

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