2 Apr 2015

Playing by the rules

Three or four times a year the kids get out the Monopoly board and we start a game that will involve all of us having dinner scrunched up at one end of the kitchen table for 3 evenings in a row, regular accusations of corruption against the banker, a few tears and at least one major argument. The game will end after a gradual slide into destitution as I slowly haemorrhage all my possessions to the eventual winner (which by the way, is never me).

It's interesting to see how the kids' personalities play out as the game progresses:

E: Rules are rules are rules. They are there for a reason. They make the game function. What's the point of playing it if you're going to show compassion? This is futile. It only prolongs the inevitable (and delays my rise to absolute power!! Mwahhhh haawhh haaaaaawhh...)

J: Lighten UP. Rules are a guide- a framework, if you will. It's people that are important. Playing the game should be fun. If you have to pay that massive bill then you'll loose Piccadilly and Coventry Street and be sad, so why not just pay me HALF the money and let me have some bubble gum bottles from your secret junk drawer instead? Oh - and if there's going to be an atmosphere about all this then I'll be in the garden playing football...

M: But I like the rules. If we aren't playing properly, then I won't play. Oh, unless you want to show me a little bit of leniency. Then that's OK- because I am the youngest.

The whole purpose of the game is to win, and to have a winner, everyone else must loose. Without an imbalance of power, there IS no game. Which is why I hate Monopoly. But because we play it so infrequently, my memory recovers well enough to convince me that it wasn't really that bad and we're teaching life skills like risk taking, conflict resolution, losing gracefully, blah blah blah, plus we need something to do on happy family no gadget Wednesdays that involves us all being in the same room of the house. Then the whole process repeats itself from the start and I realise once again: Yep I really do hate this game.

There comes a point, no matter what chance card you pick or how the dice falls, the event horizon of bankruptcy has been crossed and there is no going back. From now on the future involves only Foodbank vouchers, zero hours contracts and eventually dying alone in a damp bedsit, perhaps covered in your own vomit.

The game starts off so fairly, doesn't it? Everyone starts off with the same amount of money.  The iron, dog and top hat all receive the same amount of money for passing GO. The same opportunities for success exist equally for all, yet the outcome is always a situation that is very unequal- although supposedly fun to play.

Does life imitate art or vice versa? Do I have issues with Monopoly or the values it stands for? Because the game has been going on for real since forever and we start playing as soon as we arrive - even if we'd rather play football in the garden or wander off to the toilet and forget to come back to the kitchen table or (me only) rearrange all the cupboards in the entire house then post the photos to Buzzfeed.

Except in the real game there is no level playing field anymore. There are no equal opportunities - start up capital sums vary and property portfolios are often predetermined at birth. There is no set amount for passing GO- each person receives a different amount that reflects their market value. Because some people are inherently more valuable than others, right?

Race, gender, income, education, background - all kinds of things influence the gameplay. Some people are naturally predisposed to wealth or power and the game belongs to the wealthy and powerful. Some people live their whole lives waiting to roll the dice. The article here explores what the Monopoly rules would look like if applied today in the USA alone. Factor in global wealth statistics and the game rules only get more skewed. It's so weird. Every one of us being born into a time and place and situation that we have NO control over. How is that fair?

And how do we play the game fairly now that we're here? Fulfilling the responsibilities of adulthood, enjoying whatever rewards genetics, IQ and geography bring and sharing our (sometimes limited) resources based on the priority of need - without being embittered by what what other people have or immobilised by guilt about what we have or frustrated by the apathy of those who could really make a difference if they wanted to.

It must be possible to live here yet not be tainted by the system. To be in the world but not conform to it. Jesus managed it. He spent his whole life doing so and was eventually killed for it as the system was SO unjust it couldn't cope with him. The culture and context changes, but the same game plays on. And while the rules are still enforced by the powerful, we can learn stuff from the way he approached the rules while he was here:

Jesus made religious people mad by refusing to condemn a woman to death who'd been caught in adultery, telling the crowd, 'Let him who has never sinned throw the first stone.' One by one they dropped their stones and left. The religious people liked their rules. They liked catching people out who had broken the rules. But they chose which rules to follow and which rules to ignore (where was the man she was caught with??) Jesus knew all about the rules but loved people more than being right. He knew all the rules the religious guys had broken too - and exposed their hypocrisy.
• Love people more than rules

One time his friends were challenged about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus instructed them to fish in the nearby waters and the money would be found inside the mouth of a fish. And it was - they were given what they needed at the point where they needed it. Jesus didn't make a direct stand against the taxation system (he could have done) - but used the situation to teach about God's ability to provide.
• God is bigger than the rules

Another time he advised some people that 'If one of the occupying troops forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it two miles.' This sounds like caving in to power, but was actually an act of quiet rebellion. A first century Palestinian could be forced to carry a soldier's supplies for one mile- but making anyone carry the weight further than this was forbidden and resulted in disciplinary action. Jesus wasn't being submissive - he was showing people a way to flip the rules back onto the rule makers and exploit them to their advantage.
• Make a stand against unfair rules

He didn't really have a permanent residence. He travelled loads- always surrounded by people. Someone once declared he would follow Jesus anywhere, to which he replied 'Foxes have dens, the birds have nests, but I have nowhere to lie down and rest.' He didn't have much stuff because stuff wasn't that important to him.
• Using the rules to acquire lots of stuff is not a good use of time

The longest recorded conversation we know about is between him and a Samaritan woman. This is massive. Hanging out with a woman? With a dodgy history? Who belongs to a people group we hate? This was beyond shocking. It was unimaginable. Things like this were never done - ever. 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' he said.
• A rule that makes you hate someone is not a good rule. Ignore it.

Hmmm. Would Jesus rather play Monopoly or football or organise a cupboard? (One of these activities -my favourite one- has no rules at all).