Monday, 16 February 2009

So. We got a Wii Fit! Badger bought one in a Moment of Valentine’s Day Magnificence!! And a great delight it is too.

Sometimes – does this happen to you? – I catch myself out in assumptions I had not realised were there.

Musing on the Wii Fit acquisition at the weekend, I realised that I had sub-consciously categorised it (relegated it, even) into a kind of spiritual hinterland, so that it fell somewhere outside the circle of relationship with the divine. Obviously this is nonsense: God is interested in everything – so I nosed around the thought a little further.

In the household in which I grew up, work was (rightly) reverenced. People enjoyed themselves, but there was not really a concept of ‘play’. We didn’t go to films or the theatre (not as a family - I was not forbidden from going when as a teenager I went by myself). We didn’t attempt croquet or billiards. Tennis featured faintly, and we did have two decks of cards. But we cared for the sheep and fed the hens and worked in the veggie garden; we walked the dog and prepared the supper and watered the plants in pots. That kind of thing. It was no treadmill – I spent hours dreaming and walking and thinking; drawing and writing and watching the river flow. But we didn’t play – even the dartboard on the kitchen door of my cousins’ home represented a degree of irresponsible frivolity unthinkable in our home. I can't remember us ever, even once, doing something as a family all together that could be described as 'play'.

One internalises these attitudes received from one’s parents, and they harden into an embedded authority. Learned too early to be fathomed – like those taproots that break off in the ground as you try to pull up the dandelion – the authority acquires its own voice, no longer linked with parental attitudes, but now taken to be simple and universal reality: the attitudes of God.

And 'God', as I have understood it from the attitudes of my upbringing is in favour of nature and inclined to be anti-machine - but tolerant of machines that are integral to the carrying out of duty; because 'God' is in favour of frugality (of time, money and resources) and self-sacrifice, regarding self-indulgence and waste as a sin. My own eco-passions have augmented these inner voices to add the conviction that wilderness is the optimum 'God' environment, and anything manmade besmirches perfection, descending eventually to the horrors of motorway intersections and working on machines in factories under fluorescent lights out of the sight of the sky. I think I have developed a local 'God' who inhabits the farm and the country lane, the forest and the garden, abhors the landfill site, Spaghetti Junction and tower blocks and (naturally) looked out a stable for His incarnation.

So in my psyche, gizmos are inadmissible if they are purely recreational.

A computer – well, that’s okay because I am a writer (and have been a preacher and retreat conductor); it comes under the head of ‘necessary tool for employment purposes’.

My mobile phone – well, cell phones were first acquired when our home was disintegrating; and were vital for keeping in touch with my children when they were still at a vulnerable age. So cell phones can be categorised as ‘an aspect of responsible parenting’.

But Wii Fit? Sucking in of breath! It’s for me (not a tool to put me at the service of someone else); it’s expensive (unlike walking to fetch the groceries or digging the garden; acceptable forms of exercise) and – worst of all – it’s FUN!

In considering the purchase of it, I felt disconcerted to discover that it ticks many of my simplicity boxes: it’s better value for money than gym memberships for me and Badger; it sits neatly in a corner of our home (as compared with exercise bikes and golf sets and skiing equipment); it can be shared by the whole household; once purchased it is low on further expense; it requires no sports clothing, not even the special trainers required for the gym. It allows me, without the time expenditure involved in changing location, to participate in fun exercise regimes. When I go to the gym or the pool, neither commitments nor energy permit me to spend the time there that I think would deliver my money’s worth – Wii Fit enables the best harvest from my time budget.

And, crucially, unlike the Yoga DVD, the gym membership, the New Year’s resolution to walk 10,000 steps a day – because Wii Fit is fun I actually do it. Look forward to it. Enjoy it. In middle age, this could be important.

I realised as I was pondering on all this, that I have mistaken my mother’s voice for the voice of God. I have assumed that God is suspicious and slightly disapproving of electronic technology – that He doesn’t really understand it, and perceives it as a dilettante luxury, poor stewardship of the time and money He entrusted me with.

And I have assumed that God has no time for play – unless it can be undertaken without allocation of resources; in which case, in the evening when the work is done, it is (for children) permissible.

And this makes me wonder: how much exactly of what I have understood to be God is in reality the embedded essence of the attitudes of my mother; distilled into a disembodied overarching Authority, whose source I can no longer access, and whose root goes down into my soul past tracing.

As a rule of thumb, perhaps I might put in place these new assumptions:

  • If it makes me feel tired and deprived and ashamed, it probably isn’t God.
  • If it’s diminishing, a little prudish, and tinged with contempt, it probably isn’t God.
  • If it’s ignorant, bewildered and defensive; strait-jacketed by all the symptoms of narrow life experience, it probably isn’t God.
  • If it is creative, liberating, makes me laugh and improves my health – it may well be God.
  • If it does no-one any harm and increases wellbeing and shared enjoyment – it may well be God.

My mother is a remarkable, positive, capable, fully alive individual. I admire and love her tremendously: but I prefer her as my mother than as my God. And my eco-passion, and preference for nature? I am hoping that the small, neat machinery (like Wii Fit) that allows our gym equipment to tuck into a corner, may save a few resources in the end.

And this leads me to wonder – might it be possible, then, to include a Kingdom of Heaven Sims game? On second thoughts, don’t answer that…


Buzzfloyd said...

I definitely agree with your list of principles there! And I think that play is one of the most Godly things there is - "to such belongs the Kingdom of God."

Also, I'm sure there's a market for a Christian sims game, it's just a question of figuring it out.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of a sermon by C S Lewis, "The Weight of Glory", this is how he begins: "If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Ember said...

Cool! Good old Lewis!