The French version of the Island says a lot about our culture and how it influences the church

In recent weeks, we have watched the French version of the Island. It gives a good insight into our individualistic culture, and how it influences the church. French church life is strangely similar to this show.

The Island is a reality TV show where a group of 15 men or 15 women are left on a tropical Island with minimal equipment and knowledge. They must survive for 28 days. Each member of the team can choose to leave when they want. It is not a competition where the strongest stays at the end. The goal is that the team works together and finishes the experience.

A rejection of all forms of structures

One thing that struck me is that the teams refuse all forms of structure. Each time someone comes out as more competent than the others to lead the team, he must quickly face the rebellion of some members of the team: who are you? Who appointed you as our leader? Very quickly, factions arise. The men’s team separated in two groups a few days after the start of the experience. The women are a doing bit better, but not much.

French Christians also are suspicious of leadership and structures. Even when someone’s gifts have been recognised by the church and the person has been elected by the majority, his authority will be constantly challenged by some who wish the church was some kind of utopia where there is no structure and everyone lives at peace. If you are a pastor or an elder, you have to make sure you do not lead. The diversity of church backgrounds make it difficult to lead anyway. You often find conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics in the same church, and each want to push his/her own agenda, regardless of the others. I suppose it keeps us humble. But in the meantime, not much gets really done, and there are few conversions.

Church is a voluntary organisation

People join the Island on a voluntary basis. Members can opt out whenever they want. On the men’s Island, a young man left after a couple of days. he couldn’t cope with the hunger. On the women’s Island, one of the team members decided that she didn’t want to continue after a couple of weeks. She was healthy, competent and helpful. But the experience didn’t match her expectations. She secretly contacted the production so that she could be picked up the next day.

French people also see church as a voluntary organisation. You choose to join a church, and you choose to leave it if the experience doesn’t match your expectations. It is all very subjective. If you don’t get on with someone, you don’t try to work it out. You simply walk out of the situation, and join another church, or not.

Probably the French administration system is unhelpful here. To be a church you must form an association. You have all sorts of associations in France, all of them voluntary organisations. You can join and leave freely.

And there is that one guy

Then there is the guy who is so proud to say that he speaks his mind. He is selfish and proud. He creates havoc in the team by making all sorts of comments. He thinks it is always helpful to point everything that he thinks is wrong. But it isn’t. The only thing he manages to do is to to isolate himself from the rest of the group. He ends up on his own. The others are wrong, he is right. In real life, he a social worker who works as a mediator, arbitrating conflicts.

I find it disturbing to realise the impact of our individualistic culture on our church lives. The participants of the Island are not Christians, yet, if you look at a church, you find the same worldviews, the same tensions, the same problems.


A republican breakfast

Before the summer, the local council put the symbols of the French Republic : “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” on the schools of our small town . More recently, they added the French flag, next to these symbols. Throughout France, all state schools now have these symbols. It is part of an initiative from the government to reinforce the values of the republic following the January 2015 terrorist attacks.

Reinforcing values of the French Republic

The January terror attack against Charlie hebdo shook the French people. They felt their whole value system was being attacked. What made it worst was that the two terrorists behind the attack were born and brought up in France. Somehow, somewhere, the French education system has failed, and the government is trying to reinforce the values of the French republic in the schools. Putting the republican symbols on the walls of the schools is one step toward this goal. It is also an attempt to reinforce unity in a country that is deeply divided. Teachers must also talk about the French values in class and discuss it with the children.Drapeaux_français

Inaugurating the symbols

Our local town council wanted to mark the occasion by organizing a short ceremony in each school, around these symbols. They initially planned to do it at the end of the day, without the parents. That’s how they did it in the two other schools of the town. But our school council thought it would b a good idea to include as many parents as possible. We asked the town council if we could organize an event with as many parents as possible, on Wednesdays morning, before classes start. Usually there are more parents available on Wednesdays.

So, this morning, parents and children were invited to share a republican breakfast and hear a short speech from our mayor. the children had learned la Marseillaise. They also sang le chant des partisans, an anthem of the French resistance. A few also sang les Allobroges, the anthem of Savoy, our region.

Interested parents

About 30 parents turned up, which is very good. Those I spoke to thought it was a good idea and enjoyed the ceremony. It gives a sense of community one of them said. The event had been planned before the 13th November attack, but the timing was perfect and one of the councilors gave a good word about these.

Now the question is: will reinforcing the values of the republic help integrating those who feel they are on the margin of French society ? I doubt the answer is as simple as that. But it is a start.


What I like in using public transport

Most people don’t like public transport. They would rather be on their own in their car, stuck in a traffic jam, rather than crushed in a smelly bus. But I like public transport. Apart from the fact that there is no need to find a parking space in town, it is a good place to observe people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some things struck me recently both in Chambéry and Aix-En-Provence.
First is that some people are willing to have a chat while waiting for the bus. I recently had a long chat with an elderly from a village near Cognin. She knew my home village very well. Her daughter lives near my mum and she knows some of my mum’s neighbours. This morning also, I had a quick chat with a man while waiting for a bus in Aix-en-Provence. It didn’t go far, but he was willing to chat.
What struck me also is that I noticed young and older men actually stand up to let women and elderly folks sit. Also, when you leave a French bus, you thank the driver and say goodbye aloud, even if the bus is packed and the driver can’t hear you. It is probably not true everywhere, but it is true where I have been so far.

Where people meet

We’ve been in Cognin for about two weeks now. The centre of the town is mainly made of building blocks, about 8 floors high for most of them. Ours is the tallest, with 15 floors. It means it is quite compact. Everything is less than 5 minutes walk away.
Yesterday afternoon I took Jean-Baptiste to his first training session with the local football team. It is across the road. There is a also a park. There were dozens of children playing around. The parents were sitting on benches or standing around. Some were chatting, others were reading. It downed on me that when people live in building blocks, you have to get out when the weather is fine. So people seem to spend a significant amount of time hanging around and chatting.
It was different in Pabu. Many people had gardens around their houses. There were no building blocks. That meant that houses were more spread out, but also that many people didn’t feel the need to go out of their properties. It actually could be easier to make contacts here because many people want to get out of their small flats. Time will tell.

11th November ceremony

The 11th November is always a bank holiday here in France. Every town and village remembers those who died during world war one, and other conflicts. It is an interesting ritual with speeches from various people. Flowers are put at the foot of the war memorial. Before the ceremony, a mass is usually celebrated (but not everyone attends). There were a lot of people, mostly elderly.11 Novembre 2013IMG_20131111_115028

France and the euro: The time-bomb at the heart of Europe | The Economist

The economist thinks that the French economy is a time-bomb at the heart of Europe. French politicians are not happy about it. French people are probably too blind to think objectively. I hope it’s not true. But I think they could have a point.

France and the euro: The time-bomb at the heart of Europe | The Economist.