Extravagant expectations

Jane Winter

I recently heard it said that the government has extravagant expectations of the faith communities to contribute to the new policy agendas that are framed around the idea of the Big Society. We don’t need to look far to see that is true and to recognise the positive opportunities it gives us to engage. Faith communities continue to respond – ‘we’ve been doing Big Society for ever.’ ‘We are the Big Society.’ Extravagant claims we might argue.

Unchecked extravagance has led to the recession we continue to live in. We might think that extravagance is nothing but greed and in many ways that is true, our extravagance results in the poverty of others; in fact, it probably depends on it in all sorts of ways.

There is another side to extravagance though which faith communities do demonstrate through social action, and that is the extravagance of God or a greater being who we cannot completely name or define, depending on our spiritual tradition. That extravagance is demonstrated in unselfish, often sacrificial, commitment and giving to local communities and work places through all sorts of activities, informal and formalised.

Faith communities will not stop being extravagant with their time and resources given to serve - demonstrating what faith is about. While we might be totally committed to giving, perhaps the question we need to address is one of expectations.

While we are extravagant, whose expectations are we meeting?

If we want to retain our distinctiveness as faith communities then we need to be sure of our expectations and hold to them. It is the expectations that we have met and will continue to meet that place us in the position to make claims about being Big Society.

It is those same expectations – that we will meet faith imperatives through social action - that will keep us in the frame and will allow us to challenge extravagance that doesn’t benefit the whole of society and each and every member of our communities.