Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Compensation, fairness and Katy Perry

Admittedly, this was a last minute job after a confusion of dates. Consequently, the Lenten Theme is not obvious, but I believe it's there.

Homily preached at Eltham College on 22nd and 29th February 2012 based on St Matthew xvi.24-26.

Life is unfair.

Yes, that’s a phrase that’s usually accompanied by
a lot of shouting, tears,
a frustrated run upstairs
and a slamming of the door which,
despite rattling the crockery,
taking some plaster off the ceiling into Dad’s tea
and even causing the cat to turn over in its basket,
fails to impress Mum sufficiently
for her to change her mind about
letting you go to the tattoo parlour
to get “I love Labrinth” imprinted on your shoulder.

Well, it might not be quite that exact scenario,
but there are always some rows
that you have with your parents
and all of them will involve some argument
about whether or not you are allowed to do
this that or the other.

Why is it that you’re having these arguments now?

Whose fault is it?


Life is unfair.

You’re there at the train station on time.
The train you’re waiting for
arrives at the station
and then decides to carry on past,
fleeing into the distance faster than John Terry
from a Bridge family reunion,
leaving you stranded in the pouring rain.

Twenty minutes later,
you board the next train
only for the announcement that
it’s not going to stop at your station
but the one after.

For what reason, you’re not told.

For all you know
it’s because someone’s
dropped a bottle of Hugo Boss
and the resulting chemical hazard
has closed the platform.

Who knows?

The trains are a law unto themselves.

Whose fault is it that you’re late for school?

What can you do to get those
precious minutes of your education back?

Whom do you blame?


Life is unfair.

You fall off your skateboard, landing on your nose,
completely spoiling your good looks
on the same night that you’re
taking Katy Perry out on a date
to console her from the whole
Russell Brand fiasco.

Whom do you blame?


Well, whose fault is it?

As soon as you yell that question loudly in your mind,
something truly creepy happens.

Figures begin crawling out of the shadows,
sliding out from under the doors,
oozing their way towards you,
smiling unctuously – all teeth.

As their pallid hands clutch your shoulder,
they whisper in your ear,
“claim compensation!”


Claim compensation?

One can debate whether some lawyers
are really out to help you obtain
the highest levels of justice,
genuinely helping those in need,
or whether they are a bunch of ambulance chasers
out to get money from other people’s misery.

Now is that fair?

If you have a family member in a law firm,
you will probably think not.

If you’re in a family who has been damaged by a court case,
you might agree.

What do you think?


Life is unfair,
so claim compensation!

How does that sound to you?


Clearly, it appeals to our sense of justice,
our appreciation of right and wrong.

But what do we really gain
from obtaining compensation?

If we’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence,
we can’t work anymore.

It seems reasonable that we are given some support
to help us to live,
to cope with our new disability.

If our house has been damaged by someone else,
it seems reasonable to expect some kind of help
in repair and restoration.

If we’ve got to school all soggy and miserable and late,
what compensation could we seek?

“Dear Southeastern trains,
I demand my money back,
a hot towel and an English lesson to replace the one I missed…”

If you’ve gone on your date with Katy Perry
looking like something dredged up from Luxury Comedy,
what good would compensation do you?

“Dear Council,
I demand an instant new nose with which to enchant Miss Perry.”

What compensation do you wish to claim
from your parents for the injury
that you’ve suffered in not being allowed
to sport a tattoo from the Screaming Skull Parlour?

“Dear Parents, I demand payment
for loss of status among my peers…”

“Dear Child of ours, we demand payment
for the lump of plaster that fell off the ceiling
into Dad’s tea during your last rant…”


The trouble is that some people get obsessed
with “getting what’s rightfully theirs”.

What does it mean to get what’s rightfully yours?

What do you have a right to?

Do you really know your rights?

What about those in our sister school in Kinsasa?

Do they worry about what’s rightfully theirs?

What about the poor in Calcutta?


Why, then, does someone take a council to court
for saying prayers before a meeting?

Because it’s unfair to have Christian values shoved down your throat?


Is it therefore fair that Christians get secular values
like sex before marriage
shoved down their throats?

Ah, but Christians are wrong!


That’s an assumption that has yet to be proved.


Is it fair, that someone who devotes their life
to feeding the poor gets pilloried as a Christian fanatic
and a negative influence to real progress?

That’s what Christopher Hitchens says about Mother Theresa.

Yet, if God does exist, surely she is doing the right thing.

If you’re starving in India,
would you really care about being set free from the ravages of religion
if that very religion is actually putting
a bowl of soup into your hands?

To say that Mother Theresa is wrong
to devote time to promoting Christianity
is to assume that her belief in God was wrong
and that is something that has yet to be proved.

But life is unfair!


Mother Theresa cares not one jot about getting what is rightfully hers.

She is concerned only with giving what she has.

After all…

What good is it to demand compensation
and bankrupt a train company?

What good is it to demand payment and lose a friend?

What good is it to demand the ability
to get a tattoo and cause pain to those who really love you?

What good is it to gain the whole world, and to lose your very self?

Surely, it is better to give of yourself,
to write off some of Life’s injustices
in order to grow into a better, more loveable person.

Surely, it is better just to let others get on with
getting their just deserts,
and to live a real life without worrying about things
that are only going to fall apart,
get lost or go mouldy.

Surely, it is better to bear Life’s unfairness
in order to address the real hardship of others.

…and so many of you lot really do.

You’ll run a marathon so that some child
in Africa can get the learning you have.

You’ll embarrass yourself just so that
someone your age has got some where to go away from their abusers.

You’ll fall out of a plane so that
some person can afford an operation.

That’s why you’re brilliant
and so much better than those who will only
lift fingers to help themselves and claim compensation
for every little thing in lives which have lost all meaning.

So what is really unfair in your life?

Are you sure?

1 comment:

edpacht1 said...

Simple, direct, and challenging, building up rather than scolding. This is among the very best examples I've seen of a youth-directed sermon.