Today I was contemplating the Hans Christian Andersen's story, The Emperor’s New Clothes and I couldn’t help but to see it in a new light. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, it tells of two weavers who give an emperor an empty box, telling him that it contains a set of clothes that cannot be seen by foolish or incompetent people. Refusing to admit that he himself cannot see them, he puts them on, as a mime artist might, and “wears” them with pride, marching down the street completely naked. It isn’t until an audacious young boy exclaims, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”, that the town realizes the truth.
When I think of this story, I think of today’s society.
We’ve come to believe that we are the most advanced and civilized society in history. We have been told that our country is a place of justice, equality, and compassion and our pride is more than happy to cultivate this illusion. We and most other people are pulled into this fantasy, but the reality of our present state is there for everyone to see.
North America and Europe owes a debt of over 32 trillion dollars. America and Great Britain alone owe 14 and 10 trillion dollars respectively.
Whilst the average age of a girl bought and sold into slavery is 13.
Many corporations and shareholders are doing anything and everything they can to maximize their own profits, and their blind, insatiable greed has destroyed communities and the lives of their own employees. This mindset has often led to the company’s own demise and further community turmoil.
To call something so controlled and manipulated a “Free Market” seems like a cruel joke.
This is only a snapshot of what we are hiding underneath our new clothes.
The global industrial revolution enjoyed massive expansion in the early 1900’s, although now we see that it was only on the back of child labor and cheated immigrants. We now call this era The Gilded Age, because while it looked like a Golden Age from the outside, a glimpse beneath the layers revealed a dark and tragic time in our history. Perhaps we always have been in a gilded age, only now, much like the emperor’s clothes, people are beginning to see straight through our facade.
So where then do we find hope for ourselves?
For our country?
For our world?
Our God has offered an incredible opportunity - the chance to partner with Him to work against injustice and apathy, and in doing so, build up the Kingdom of God on Earth. We need to stop thinking about our own well-being, the wealth we can accrue or even the Heaven we’ll go to after we die, and start thinking about the Heaven that could be right here, right now. This is our calling: to hear the cry of the weak and oppressed and to act within the community we are part of.
To not sit still.
To refuse passivity.
To be people of faith.
To live out acts of faith.
To step outside of the illusion that we are constantly being drip fed.
Of course before any of this can happen, we must face the truth. The beautiful, colorful clothes we have wrapped ourselves in do not exist, it is they that are the illusion and everybody knows it. It will not be an easy pill for us to swallow; nor was it for the emperor. Even as the town calls out to him, trying to warn him of his nakedness, the leader marches on more proudly than ever. It is my hope that we might be wiser than the naked emperor. That we might listen to the voices of those who try to warn us of the road we are on and where it will lead.
It will take humility to let go of our perceptions. It will mean listening to those we traditionally disagree with and accepting that perhaps their ideas may have some merit. It will mean working for the abused, poor and marginalized and not for the ideological or personal reputation. In short, it will not be easy. But it is more than possible. After all, this is not our plan we are fulfilling, it is God’s, and God has the capacity to do more than we can ask or imagine.
K.Potter & D.Tozier