I am currently doing an assignment for the cross cultural mission module of CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course. For it I had to chose an English saying, reflect on what it tells me about the culture and then think about how the Christian faith might interact with this. I chose ‘don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched’. Like many enduring proverbs it contains a warning, in this instance not to be hasty in believing you have something of value until it comes to pass or is rightfully yours. This saying seems to describe the cultural values of modesty in that it dissuades from boasting in something that is not certain and what Kate Fox in ‘Watching the English’ terms the English propensity for ‘Eeyorishness’. This is a catch all term for our incessant moaning and gloomy demeanour that exemplifies, “our chronic pessimism, our assumption that it is in the nature of things to go wrong and be disappointing, but also our perverse satisfaction at seeing our gloomy predictions fulfilled…”(p.405).
It was really interesting to see this particular aspect of our worldview in evidence as London has hosted the Olympic Games. Prior to the start our newspapers were full of stories of things going wrong and not being ready from horrendous queues at passport control in the airports to a lack of properly trained security staff. We had popular comedy programmes that mocked the most extreme aspects of political correctness involved as well as the potential for disaster that such a high profile event presented. It was almost as if our collective consciousness was stealing itself for the disappointment of failure ahead! Yet with the opening ceremony came a collective sigh of relief. Finally we were able to feel pleased and proud of what we could achieve and actually started to enjoy and bask in the praise and envy of other less fortunate nations! To top it off we found we were really quite good at competing, won a heap of gold medals, public transport did not grind to a halt and most surprising of all we could be quite warm and friendly to strangers!
So how then does this national tendency toward modesty and negativity give us an opportunity to share Christ? I think it can present a challenge when put alongside Paul’s exhortation to, “live by faith (Hebrews 10:38)…Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).” However, it also reminds me of the story Jesus told that is recorded in Luke chapter 12, verse 16 of a rich man who has such a successful harvest that his barn is not big enough to store all his crops. So he builds a bigger barn believing he will be well provided for in the future. But that night he dies and never gets to enjoy the benefits of the wealth he has amassed. This tale echoes Jesus’s teaching in the beatitudes, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat and drink…Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt 16:25-26)” Thus we see false pride and security in material possessions, whether real or just counted upon, should be resisted in favour of trusting God to meet our needs.
The challenge is, for us as the Church in the UK, to live like we believe it when we have so much wealth and privilege. But I think it is just this sort of authentic lifestyle differential that will earn us the right to “give the reason for the hope we have” (1 Peter 3:15) to our English compatriots.