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Fearless mission

Lucy Winkett

WinkettSo this is Christmas. Winterval. Call it what you like. We are once again in the season not so much of jolliness as, even in recession, of consumerism.

A recent newspaper article pointed out that in Harrods there is no sign of Jesus, baby or otherwise. Themes have included the Wizard of Oz, when customers were confronted with Ruby Slippers with Sexy Anklet socks rather than a crib scene.  

Our faith is tested at the end of each year as is our attitude towards money. The CofE was once described as 'Guardian readers preaching to Telegraph and Sun readers' - and as the collection of taxes and the distribution of revenue is a key feature of politics, it is not surprising that  any discussion about money within the context of faith gets  labelled 'left' and 'right'  very easily.

For Christians trying to live in the famously elusive 'real world', it's important to remember the variety of circumstances in which we and others live. What is the predominant attitude in our communities towards, say, state benefit or personal debt? Budgeting? Credit? Donation?

The myths and principles that undergird what we actually do with our money - not what we would like to do, or what we would like to think we do - are also hugely varied. And our interpretations of them are guided by many more pressures than our commitment to Christ. We live with many different identities; citizen,  mother, husband, customer, son, lawyer,  lover, teacher and, supremely, consumer. What Christians have to offer in this confusion of multiple identities is that before God we are not consumers. In church, we have often forgotten this. We become liturgical consumers, wanting to be engaged and entertained. We want our services to be as absorbing as the X Factor and we have become consumers of talks, videos, even, dare I say it, magazines. Sunday morning, if we're not careful, becomes a stress not a Sabbath and we value not so much what we give as what we get.    

When the church speaks about money only in the context of how much it has, or how much it needs to keep going, then we are self-serving. Singing carols in a shopping centre, using music and poetry to create public spaces in society,  can call us to a deeper identity.  

Michel Quoist's 'Prayer Before a Five Pound Note' reminds us that each note has a chequered history that compromises everyone who touches it. It has offered roses to the fiancĂ©e. It has paid for the celebration meal, and fed a growing child. It bought the book that helped the young man learn to read. It paid for new school uniform for a young proud girl.  But it sent the letter breaking off the relationship. It bought the bottle of vodka that broke the will of the man trying to stop. It paid for the weapons of the crime, for the wood of the coffin. It bought, for a while, the body of a woman. This year, this season, how we spend our money reveals to us what we need and who or what we love.