My Dream, My Taste
From a podcast and video by Theos
'My Dream, My Taste' (see below) is a short 3 min animated film which takes us into the world of a young girl who, in pursuit of her dreams, ends up detached from others and the world around her. It highlights the issue of people losing a public sense of what 'the good life' is and replacing it with their own individualised version which changes according to day-to-day tastes. They have become detached from the larger story of deep meaning.
Professor Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture comments about the film:
The film illustrates that for many, a vision of 'the good life' is not a matter of truth or falsehoods but of individual preference and of taste. So in the domain of purposes and values, we feel that we are often free to follow simply our dreams provided we do no harm to others. Indeed, I think even more, we feel that if we didn't follow our dreams, we would betray our authentic humanity. So 'the good life' is private personal matter.
But the important part of it is that there are preconditions for 'the good life'. These are not so a private and personal matter. Secure the resources you might need for living your dream, whatever that dream might be. This is the overriding imperative of modernity or so writes the sociologist Hartwood Rosa. Whatever you choose as your vision of 'the good life', you will be better off if you have accumulated economic, social, cultural, symbolic capital. In other words, if you are rich, well-educated, well-connected, and good looking, from kindergarten to hospice, learning how to secure resources and going about securing them claims most of our time and most of our energy.
I feel that something is off with this account of 'the good life' and its relation to the resources we need to secure. Rosa expresses what's wrong with it, with the help of an image. He writes, "in a way we moderns resemble a painter who is forever concerned about improving his materials, the colours, the brushes, the air conditioner, the lighting and studio, the canvas, the easel, and so forth, but never really starts to paint."
Things we need to survive and thrive are in fact, part of 'the good life', flourishing life, not just a resource for it. But these things are also only a part of flourishing life. Christian faith is above all about what matters more than the resources we need to survive and to thrive. It tells us that 'the good life' is the pearl which is worth selling any resource we might have - wealth, power, know-how, good looks, or fame.
It's a tempter devil who says to Jesus, who was famished after a 40 day fast in the wilderness, "Turn these stones into bread." Jesus responded, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that that comes from the mouth of the Lord." These words came first to the children of Israel in the course of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and before entering the promised land. They did need bread in the wilderness, bread standing here for all the resources we need for life, but they need more than bread. And that truth, which is not so obvious to a growling stomach, but as real as the possibility of squandering our very lives, that lesson they did need to learn. All humans do, perhaps especially we moderns do.
Now we moderns have made what was Jesus' temptation into a chief goal of our lives and the main purpose of our major institutions, whether it's economic, political, education. Most of our social and individual energy and imagination revolves around turning stones into bread. And yet we both, the rich and the poor, are still in the wilderness plagued by hunger and thirst. For when we live by bread alone, there's never enough bread, not even enough when we make so much of it that mounds of it rot away. When we live by bread alone, someone always goes hungry. When we live by bread alone, every bite we take leaves a bitter aftertaste, and the more we eat, the more bitter the taste.
When we live by bread alone, we always want more and better bread, as if the bitterness came from the bread not tasting good enough rather than actually from our living by bread alone. But why want bread alone? Why do I want the unending stream of truly amazing goods and services we generate with such incredible ingenuity. Why won't all of this still our hunger? Perhaps we just need to make work meaningful. Perhaps we just need to make pay fair wages to meet basic needs. Economic justice of this world would help immensely. And I think it's a commandment for us to do it. And yet even with good justice, secure joy may elude us.
Let me try to make that plausible. I want to zero in on the loss of gratitude. Now imagine with me a world in which we have deeply meaningful work, perhaps a garden to keep it, till it if we are into agriculture and horticulture, relations with our family and friends could not be better. Nobody's there to boss us around, no structure is there to imposes itself on us like some iron cage. Imagine also that the land is fertile. The climate mild and we live in abundance in such an environment, joy would come unbidden.
Now imagine that in that paradise, there is a tree, bearing what seems to be exceptionally attractive fruit. But we are hindered from eating that one tree. It is desired even more because the access to it is barred and the taste of its fruit is somewhat unknown. That one tree now becomes for us a real difficulty in experiencing joy. We can be in paradise and still be deeply malcontent. For every paradise we can think of has in it, an inaccessible tree with amazing looking fruit, whatever we think is paradise will undo itself if we fail to genuinely celebrate the good that it represents. We stretch ourselves instead to where things we do not yet have, things that are not yet.
One of the things that prevents anything like paradise from appearing in the first place is the inability to celebrate the goodness and the road to it. Just think of it, our economy is largely joyless. Our education, I'm part of it, is largely joyless. Our politics are joyless. Our entertainment, though full of wonderful humour, is joyless. Even our pleasures, intense and many as they are, are largely joyless. In all these spheres, we failed to rejoice in the goods that are already ours because we cannot find our way to appreciate and be grateful for what we have. It is a basic Christian conviction that our world, even our flawed world, is a good gift from the God of love. When we received that world and all the good in it as a gift, then we rejoice. And that is a sign that we are beginning to live 'a good life'.
Watch the 3 min film here:
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From a podcast and video by Theos, 25/05/2021