Where do you find meaning, where do you find truth? What do you use to fill your life? In George Orwell's book 1984 the citizens were given free Vodka, in Aldus Huxley's Brave New World it was a drug called Soma. What is it for you? Is it television? Is it shopping? Is it your work, your job? Is it alcohol, or going to the pub? Do you have Coke-Cola running through your veins? Do you drive a new car? Does it still have the new car smell? Do you have a Nike logo on you now? Does it provide you with a sense of idealism that the advertisements want you to have?
What fills your life so you are happy? So that you find meaning?
Advertising fills our lives. Everywhere I go and everything I see, I end up looking at branded space. Billboards at the train station, advertisements in the newspaper, commercials on the television. Banner ads on the net. Everywhere I go, there they are. Logos on clothing, bags and magazines. I read recently that a company in Sydney has purchased the rights to puts advertising on tables in food courts at shopping centres. When I go to the toilet there are ads on the walls and doors at the pub. And what do those ads tell us? That we can be happy if we drink Coke, wear Nike clothing, watch Disney movies and eat McDonalds.
Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt in the movie) tells us in Fight Club that "We don't own our things, our things own us." and that "[w]e live in a time of Spiritual Depression." Kevin Spacy in American Beauty lets us know that the $4000 sofa upholstered in Italian silk "is just stuff, it's not living."
Does your stuff make you happy? Does it give you meaning?
I used to be addicted to watching Star Trek. I'd go up to the video store at Chatswood and get the next two videos of ST:Voyager, take them home and watch them. Next day I'd take them back and get the next two tapes. Star Trek is like McDonalds, Coke-Cola and the TV show Friends. It's always the same, consistent product every time. It would be 2am in the morning, and I'd say to myself "Just one more episode, it's only 44 minutes including credits."
When I meet someone new, after the first set of pleasantries are over the questioning inevitably comes to "What do I do?" Well, I don't do anything. I'm unemployed. I am not defined by what I'm paid to do. I went and saw "About a Boy" recently, and while I won't spoil the story, Hugh Grant plays the role of a person who doesn't do anything, doesn't have a job. He's got enough money that he doesn't need to work. And when people ask him what he does, and he replies nothing, somehow their interest in him is lost.
I went to Japan for 2 months earlier this year (in April and May.) as part of my search for meaning. I discovered a land of contradictions, immense affluence and incredible poverty in both the material and spiritual worlds. Although the people have a civilised history reaching back thousands of years the past 50 seem to have been one where the most change has occurred. Unemployment and homelessness is starting to become a real social problem.
I'd see homeless people in Osaka and Fukuoka. They may have been top executives for their companies, but when their company retrenched people and they lost their jobs, they had been shamed. Quite often they would give everything to their wife and kids and leave. Go and live in a blue trap tent in the park, or in cardboard boxes at the train station. There was very little social infrastructure to support them.
I didn't expect to find that. I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't that. I'd sit in noodle bars with middle aged men who were drinking and eating by themselves. It would be 10pm at night, and they'd fall asleep over their food rather than go home. They'd do this perhaps three or four nights a week. They'd work long, hard hours and then drown their sorrows at the local Mama-san bar, where'd they pay for the comfort of women to be with them. I wanted to go up to them and say, "Look, just go home. It can't be that bad."
Back in Sydney, when I catch the train in the evenings from Town Hall I see so many people, office workers/drones waiting to go home. I feel sad for them. They don't look happy, they don't look content. If I wasn't so shy, I'd grab one of them and ask "Are you happy?" or "Do you have meaning in your life?" Unfortunately my experience seems to show that on trains, we've become accustomed to being very physically close to people while totally ignoring them.
Quite often we have limitations on what we can and can't do. I'm not advocating you to drop everything and go on a spiritual journey of self-discovery if you have responsibilities. If you have a family to look after or school or university to pursue, then you have to complete these things. I also have my responsibilities.
But what I've found over the years, is that the search of meaning is the search itself. It is not a destination. You don't suddenly arrive and say, hey, that's it. It isn't hiding behind the couch. It's not under the table.
For myself, I've found meaning through the Scripture and through the community of Christ at the churches I've been a member of. Through social justice activities, and acts of civil disobedience. It is a lasting and purposeful meaning, a meaning only God can provide and satisfy, and my actions illustrate.
But for you, it will be different. Each of us takes a different journey.
And so I ask each of you, even if you don't do anything for 10 years, to always be thinking about your journey, about your search. You seen and heard the things that have influenced me and my journey and I hope that they might encourage you.