Variations on a Not-So-Original Theme, no Enigma…

Sorry, Elgar lovers. I came across Church or Corporation? It seems to give an American view of some of the things I have been discussing. It is said that the USA is just a few years behind Europe and Canada in terms of abandoning Christianity for materialist consumerism. I have been over there a few times and I have been impressed about how people will say Hi. How yer doin’? and supermarkets attendants who will pack your purchases into a bag or a box. Here in France, many will just give you a sour look and treat you as if you don’t exist. The Englishman in the Tube reading his newspaper will say, if you try to greet him – I don’t think we’ve been introduced. How different it is in two developed and industrial worlds that have traded with each other for centuries!

On the other hand, Europeans can be difficult to befriend, but when they do cross the barrier, they are loyal. Americans can also be loyal, but may leave little indication when they heed the last person to talk to them. That’s my impression at least.

Americans on an aeroplane (airplane for them) are as much at work whilst travelling as in their companies. Laptop computers and cell phones. We Europeans lazily look out of the windows at the clouds and brief appearances of the land below, enjoy the flight and read a novel when we get bored. I see something of American corporate life in films: high stress, speed, efficiency, maximum production. That is ergonomics, getting the job done efficiently and at affordable cost to keep the business running. Successful companies over here also have to get organised and compete, so human conditions of comfort are secondary to profit and cost effectiveness.

I have always worked for small firms, except my couple of months in a chocolate factory in York, and more recently self-employed. I have to be organised, efficient, pleasant to clients and being good at service. I have to make sure the job is done well and on time. At the same time, I am usually able to live at a slower and more human pace than people employed by large companies. For that, I am thankful.

Very often, one comes into contact with people who think that churches should be run on the same basis as large companies using methods like bureaucracy, project management, market research, marketing and advertising, production targets and suchlike. This mentality is widespread in America. The problem is that Christianity is a religion, a spirituality and a way of life, not a quantifiable product or service subject to the laws of merciless competition and pressure to sell the highest quality product at the lowest price, but yet to reap the biggest profits. The workforce takes the brunt of this pressure.

The corporate world thinks in terms of growth and quantifiable success. That notion operating in a church makes something inhuman and irreverent. It is a trap into which many lay Christians fall, because they consider themselves as paying customers, consumers, to be served competitively by priests and religious institutions.

In business terms, my own chapel is a failure. I am the only one to finance it (electricity, heating, consumables for the liturgy, maintenance, etc.). In business terms, the chapel should be sold and I should move on to where there is a market. Instead of that, I have just thanked God for being where I am and called to a more contemplative life in the catacombs. The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ deals as much with the communion of the Angels and departed human souls as with living people whether they live in my village or are to be found on blogs and Facebook. I have no profit to make of growth targets. It will be gone when I die and I pray that my books and liturgical items will be recovered by my Diocese for use somewhere else. What a difference!

I wrote some time ago about mega-churches, and more recently about some reflections from Cardinal Sarah about the Dictatorship of Noise. We are not competitive, preferring the strong to the weak, which last can be discarded as “useless eaters” (sorry about the same theme reoccurring). We are a Church.

What would William Blake say about the neatness and orderliness of corporate religion, the French garden as opposed to the haphazardness of nature? Would he not denounce such corporate religion mills as dark and satanic?

The world of God and spirit is more like nature, human and untidy, yet aspiring to the transcendent and the sublime. St Francis of Assisi taught us something about being less reliant on rationality and more on the heart and the will. God’s will is elsewhere than business strategies and market growth.

There is a balance, and there has to be some human organisation. It happens each time I decide what I am going to do on a given day and how – though allowances have to be made for the unforeseen. Reason is not all-powerful even if it is essential to guide the heart and our emotional life. It’s another world.

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