A Mirror up to Nature - Life as Recreational Activity

November 17, 2016

'The contention of this piece is that in the rich nations of the world daily life for many people, too many people, is become for the most part a recreational activity, rather than there being otherwise a sense of ‘by the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat.’

Even at a most literal level this ‘sweat of one’s brow’ is no longer a truth; because many, many people no longer cook food in their homes for their families to eat; and instead, when they are comfortably-off they will eat out daily at a restaurant; and when they are less well-off they will order in takeaways; or at best microwave heat ready-prepared meals.  Certainly, by comparison with previous generations in their nations, people do not cook regularly like once did almost everyone in their fathers’ and mothers’ homes.

Indeed cooking itself when it is done in homes has itself become a recreational activity; a thing done as an occasion or a pastime; and it is considered to be a quasi, a would-be, artform.  Thus people will not cook for recreation simple meals of meat and two veg; but instead will cook novel and baroque recipes and creations as recommended by and in TV celebrity cooking magazine programmes; and as described in their numerous tie-in magazines and book publications.

There’s a certain ‘laid-backness’ to life for many of us here in the richer nations; there is less of a struggle to earn money or to stay fed, sheltered and have ends met for us; than for the peoples of the undeveloped poorer world.  That sense of life being a precarious thing is very often felt to be blunted; the edge of striving to maintain body and soul together taken off; and a gap thus opened up between on the one hand that natural state and one’s immediate personal awareness of it; and on the other hand the safer and more stable and secure societies which provide some sort of ‘safety nets’ for those persons in them who either from misfortune or folly would otherwise ‘go to the wall’.

Our daily dose of feeling ourselves to be there ‘on the edge’ and in precarious states is supplied in a large portion by fiction. Movie thrillers and TV serial dramas supply the stimuli for the adrenaline rushes of our lives.  There are of course the risk-taking activity sports and pursuits which are somewhat more authentic of the real thing; but which yet are artificial in that they are usually planned and performed at established places with equipment all of which has passed strenuous governmental health and safety inspections etc. Only those madcap wildcards like Ranulph Fiennes and the odd celebrity who walks to the poles for charity; actually place themselves at a dangerous potentially fatal risk. For most of us, watching on our TVs the footage these guys and girls take whilst risking their necks is the most stirring thing we have to do with them per se.

There are of course sport and sportsmen and sportswoman.  There are thrill sand spills to be had for these persons and also for us at home or else in the park ‘live’ and seated watching the match or the game or the contest.

For all these recreational activities of ours, the ‘adrenaline feed’ is mostly taken by most of us sedentary. Most of us are spectators and a minority are partakers. Those who are partakers are partakers far and away mostly of orderly regulated activities and so fairly secure against ‘risk’ and ‘challenge’ and ‘threat of injury’.

We have also the drug takers and the gamblers and the bungee jumpers and abseilers; the people who break up the ice to swim on New Year; the road racers and the persons who jump off high cliffs into the sea; the surfers and the hang gliders and so on.  All of this is our daily dosage of risk; some of it, like drugs and gambling; being well able to get out of our control and become a real risk and threat to our continuance of being.

The argument holds good though that we as a people without risk have to make risks; usually controlled risks but not always; so as for us to feel that edge; to get that primal alertness awake in us that is naturally endowed upon the poorer peoples in the poorer nations by circumstances which are very much nearer to ‘life and death’ decisions and choices.

So is all this health and safety we have to cushion us; our welfare systems and our other soft landings; are all these protections running counter to our natural instinctual understandings of life?  Indeed it has always struck me how much of our Health Service is occupied at weekends in patching up guys and girls who have been out primordially raiding and feasting in pubs and clubs and bars and cafes.  It seems that most of us can’t live happily without some ‘rush’ or some ‘chancing one’s arm’ from time to time?

To a ludicrous and a tragic extent this feature of ‘civilised’ life is seen magnified to its most painful in places where wars are going on.  Two or more sides in a conflict are at one anothers’ throats; madly striving to kill before, or instead of, being killed; and medecines sans frontiere and the red cross and the red crescent and a number of other mercy organisations spend their lives running convoys of food and supplies and medical equipment into the same warring areas so as to save the people there from harm and death.  Thus there are fighters acting to tear down and destroy as much life and property and stability and safety as possible; and at the same time in the same place there are mercy dash people attempting to build up and sustain and to keep safe and secure the people there.

I am not questioning the integrity of these mercy organisations; only pointing to the absurd behaviours of human beings; we whom we like to call ourselves proudly: rational creatures.

The psychologists call our ‘contained’ risk-taking a kind of purgation for the frustrations and arduousness of daily civilised life; a life wherein many who are employed; and especially those who are employed in menial or lower grade work; are subject to frustrations and aggravations by our economic and political setup; which compel them to be subservient to a master or a mistress for 40 or so hours of their waking weeks.  Thus we are burning off resentments and pent-in, pent-up feelings better gotten rid of than harboured.

This is all very simple and reasonable as conjecture.  Only many of us in the rich developed nations have nothing like the aggravations and the frustrations a guy on the Amazon has and suffers so as to feed and clothe his fellows and himself.  Is it simply the fact of our enforced subservience that we are being encouraged to ‘burn off’ in sports and drinking and gambling and movie watching?  The guy on the Amazon generally answers to no-one but nature by comparison to our setup of things.

Freud blamed ‘civilisation and its discontents’ for this state of affairs; but does the guy on the Amazon have no civilisation; do we have to suffer such a build-up, and accretion of angst and hostility which is to be purged at a weekends by us doing mad things; or is it not ‘civilization’ at all which is the guilty party, but instead the way we have arranged for ourselves the means of production and the contradictory lifestyles we lead consequently?  We, the rational creatures.

As rational creatures we don’t make a big deal out of things like this. Most of us see it as almost ‘second nature’ that habit and routine - and what we’d call for someone else a ‘rut’  - which we suffer ourselves to be in and yet put up with because we feel we are powerless to alter the situation or else that the situation is a natural state of things.

But yet 50 years ago in this nation of mine (UK) people were much more regulated; work was much more hard and onerous and more harshly directed by ‘foremen’ and by ‘gangers’ than it is nowadays; being at work was much more likely to be frustrating and a great aggravation to a person of today’s world being sent back in time to work in that former age. But on average people then were rather more meek; they accepted their lots more; and questioned far less their rights and wrongs and the bosses despotic dominion and that coercion they suffered.  On the whole the working people in those days were less frustrated and less aggravated than people generally appear to me to be today. It was for them all just a part of daily life.

So what is going on here?

Firstly it’s about expectation.  One never ceases hearing people today banging on about their ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’. Many of us say it’s a good thing this is so.  Secondly people today expect more – more money – more goods and services – more choice – more – and this is where it again begins to border on ludicrous – ‘self-expression’ – a term which hides a multitude of folly and sins.  Thirdly, there are far more recreational activities – many of them being in fact actual paid employment for the participators – than were once available to us 50 years ago.  Many people nowadays are able should they wish – even the less educated and less well off – to release any pent up passions and angsts whilst they are ‘at work’ earning a living.

There are piped musics in vehicles for delivery drivers; and hands free phones for general chatter and exchange of opinions – and air conditioning and sometimes even a small forklift on the back for unloading cargoes when they get there. For people working in service industries – in shops and call centres and so on – there are occasions to chat and to break and to choose when and how much one works in hours weekly – discounts on shop goods and services – out of working hours staff nights-out – and so on.

Yet our expectations; our sense of ourselves; of whom we are and what we deserve or ought to have by right is I believe what is causing us to be so disappointed with what is a good life in material terms; and so we grow aggravated and even jealous and envious, dismissive - and sometimes cynical.

Now these ‘contradictions of capitalism’ or else ‘discontents’ of ‘civilisation’ and these ‘blowholes’ of recreation we have developed to be able to cope with them have been noted and noticed long before Freud did 100 years ago and Karl Marx did 200 years ago, and pointed them up to us.

And an answer to these impasses long has been noted and is freely available - but few who do not have it feel that they want it.  It carries a desperate stigma for the many who are strangers to it.  I recall once in conversation with a lovely woman I worked beside who is clever and bubbly and kind and considerate; and when I said that our church held a communion service on a weekday for those who like steelworkers – there was a big steelworks in our city then employing thousands – were called on to work Sundays – she turned aside and gave a little smile of disbelief and maybe a little wryly mocking lilt also – and I knew then that she found it ‘funny’ and an error that I believed that tough and hardy Welsh steelworkers might want come to a weekday communion service.

Thus are the levels of misunderstanding about this answer to our contradictory selves; this answer to our inability to govern ourselves without having to have – like a fix - recreational activities which are destructive of the orderliness we otherwise build up – like social services and the general safety and security we all also wish for and approve of; and which show up in a hapless hopeless way the ludicrousness of our state as ‘natural’ creatures (secular creatures) and points up in great lights that way in which our sorry state makes a mockery of our unique human gift of reason.

The fear of allowing oneself to become a follower is that by admitting to oneself and moreover to one’s friends and fellows; that one has become a follower of Christ is an admission of weakness, of personal failure; of giving-in to weaknesses; of hiding behind wishful-thinking;  of being unable to face life full–on; of being a milk-sop; of exposing oneself to what one considers to be a just ridicule; and above all the fear is that to say one is Christ’s man or woman is embarrassingly shameful to proclaim publicly.

This of course is hard to overcome, an enormous obstacle, for people who are not (yet) people of Christ.  It is based on fear and prejudice; and chiefly is supported by the concern which would-be sympathisers have for ‘going with the flow’ of their routine and regular milieu of society; and they would much rather pay heed to what their friends and social world might say and how these might respond to any contemplated announcement from themselves in favour of The Lord and in their own behalves. The poet T S Eliot got this sense of social fear and embarrassment brilliantly just right when he wrote these lines:

Have I the strength to force the moment to its crisis?         But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,                                    Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;                                               I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,                                            And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,                          And in short, I was afraid.”

But take heart anyone in such a position; it is Christ himself ‘forcing the moment to its crisis’ in you; and that same overwhelming question is where all of us end-up-at when we are in such a crisis; and when we are also perhaps on the brink of faith: it is -

Is it to be YES to everything for us; to meaning; to purpose; to destination; to engagement; to authenticity; to life; to Salvation – for these things indeed are those gifts given you of Salvation – or else is it to be NO to everything for us; no meaning; no purpose; no direction nor destination; no life and no love and no gifts gifted to you of Salvation?

The later way, the worse choice, is nearly always a direct route to nihilism and ultimately to self-dejection; leading at last into a fortified bastion of oneself and one’s own self-interests; self-regard; self-gain; and into a last-ditch egoistic self-serving self-aggrandisement. Not a happy place to be in.

As for the re-creation of one’s life in and by Christ – a real and literal re-creation of oneself - St Paul calls it ‘putting on the new man’ – or woman – and the old man – or woman – is taken off –  and this is a real, the only real, authentication of one’s life and of oneself;  in the fires of his care and the flames of his love;  and pledged utterly under a loving duty to follow his Word.  This is the only real re-creation – and no other recreational activity is in the same class or category as it.

The Lord Jesus we are told by his follower John promises on the last and most important day of the feast and before all the people and to you all and to me - thus;

“On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and called out in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. To the one who believes in Me, it is just as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water’” will flow from within him.'

This living water promised to be flowing within us is that refreshment of the self by the Spirit of Love and Truth, which is a water ever-replenished and replenishing, and ever-effectual.  One’s need for recreational adrenaline is cured (it is a sickness – of soul); and the frustrations and aggravations of life can all be put before your Lord and he will make it so that they are for you resolved. The madness made of human reason by the craziness of men and women in the ‘natural’ state is wholly transformed through us enjoying a restored state in which a real and cogent and consistent reasoning faculty is available and practicable; and it is when one is most with Christ that one is most free from conflicts and contraries and impasses of ‘the old man’ or woman.

Just as the High Priests in the Old Testament were called upon again and again to do ritual so as to purge their peoples of their errors and mistakes in life; and just as how they could never wholly or permanently utterly for them once for all get rid of a need for these peccadilloes of their peoples to be wiped away; and yet when Jesus stood up to become our High Priest he was that one, that only one, who was well able to bear all of these our errors and wrongdoings; bear them away from us for us once for all and sp make them as they counted as nothing, as if they had never been. So too your own internal contradictions and antagonisms and battles against oneself which you waged before your coming to Jesus; at a time when you found you had to find means to purge yourself again and again by indulging the madnesses of risk taking recreation – feeding the adrenaline -   but yet now when come to Jesus, now you have a resource and a resort, the only and the ultimate resource and resort; one who is able to wipe all those old lifestyle things away; the tears, the fears, the anger, and the pain; the jealousies and envies; the spites and the vengefulnesses; all as if they had never been – provided only that you too take it upon yourself to forgive those who have done ill to you and to others.

The Way of Jesus is the long-known and also the most misunderstood sure answer to the contradictions that madden our daily ‘civilised’ lives; both in little in our private worlds of emotional tangle; and also in the world upscaled to across the globe he is an adequate answer to our insane foolish wars and rival conflicts.  Yet no, Jesus is not a soft option.  Following his lead – as best we are able to – is pretty much demanding and it requires in us alert constant self-examination and self-criticism – but not as a navel-gazing exercise at all – but instead we seek to keep ourselves in check and live looking-outwards for the sake of others around us in our local lives; and in the light of those demands Jesus Christ and his Gospel teachings place upon us.

And it is not onerous nor is it unpleasant work; it is disciplined and intense; it is thorough and it invites us constantly to change so as to edge that micron at a time nearer towards the example set by Christ to us.  St John sums up our attitude to performing this necessary work of Jesus’ and in his name; he tells us that Jesus said to us his people:

‘If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments; and I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever’

Essentially that love which is inspired in a person getting to know Jesus is the stimulus to and the modus operandi for being with him and working to do things his way and living one’s life his way, obeying his teaching. One obeys because one assents in one’s will to obey gladly. Duty conjoins with joy so that in the doing is the whole pleasure and object of the doing.

A high bar to set oneself; or rather a high bar to be accepted by oneself as having been set by the Lord of love for us to make our clearing that bar all our life’s aspirations and the whole focus of our ambitions.

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