I, no doubt like many other viewers, was somewhat surprised to find that the BBC’s premier late-night political show, Newsnight, interviewed the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street this week.
I’m not making this up, this really happened.
Don’t get me wrong – I was genuinely intrigued to hear the deep political ruminations of a blue puppet with a biscuit fixation. I didn’t hear them, of course. Because it’s a puppet.
The BBC’s spindly news-sniffing appendages did however manage to crawl across a interesting fact-ette a few weeks ago, revealing that a German company manufactures a $9000 toilet.
It’s a struggle to identify which device it is that’s worth more than my university education – a quick trip to the Grohe website reveals that their toilets (or ‘WC solutions’ as they somewhat threateningly call them) do not have prices listed. Elsewhere, a set of taps alone are on sale for nearly $2000, which is more than the cost of my entire bathroom.
It isn’t surprising that the Germans are at the forefront of sanitation technology. During a visit to Frankfurt in 2011, I visited a restaurant bathroom that was so clean and futuristic I genuinely almost washed my hands in a urinal by accident.
But what is a little surprising is the extent of this technology. A company called Pressalit make a toilet that uses lasers (yes, lasers – the things invented for healthcare, science and intergalatic spaceship combat) to determine whether you’ve left the seat up, while Brondell make a toilet which cleans you with a jet of warm water (presumably lovely if you’re expecting it, terrifying if you’re not). Kohler manufacture a toilet which, on cold midnight wee-wee trips will even warm your feet. In our household, if your feet are getting warm during a noctural toilet trip it means you’ve missed.
A number of these manufacturers promise a ‘toilet spa’ experience, which is all well and good, but does rather sound like a euphemism for an aggressive public school bullying manouvere.
If your toilet vaguely resembles R2D2, you may have too much money. And it’s tempting to be critical and imply that $9000 is too much for a mundane and functional item, even if it is an impressive robot toilet that shoots laser beams experimentally at your retreating bottom. But it’s good to be mindful of the point made by Sandy Millar on HTB’s Godpod programme, when he was asked how a Christian could wear a watch worth £500 when people die daily of preventable diseases. “If their income is £5m,” he said, “and they give away £4m, and they have a £500 watch, I don’t feel honestly able to be very critical of them.”
Sandy steered commendably clear of one of our great hypocrisies in the Church – to criticise the rich, rather than recognise that on a global level that’s exactly who we are. If you earn the UK minimum wage, you’re already amongst the top 7% richest people in the world. Even my modest £50 throne from B&Q represents comparatively luxurious bottom-servicing… shockingly, most people on the planet do not have access to a flushing toilet.
How powerful is the Church?
The reason the BBC publishes articles about foxes who get their heads stuck in car wheels and interview a children’s TV puppet on Newsnight is because they know that’s what people want to see. It’s the same reason that The X-Factor is back on (for about the millionth time) and that the Government conducted, like, six U-turns on taxation within the first three years of election. They know it’s what people want. It was made clear to them.
And here’s the great opportunity that we so often miss – that the rich and powerful respond to public opinion. In our globalised, wi-fi, Cloudy world, if enough people want something then they often get it.
I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems to me that the Church seems to vaguely resemble a timid teenager at times – pretty sure that it can do something, but waiting to be given permission to do so. Other times it seems to back away from doing things on the basis that ‘the world’ is in such staunch opposition to it that there’s no point, like a weary conspiracy theorist.
Jesus did not wait for permission to attack poverty and suffering head-on. He saw opportunities, and he took them. He was practically industrial in his approach. Jesus showed people who he was through his action – there was no timidity there. That’s how he started this faith – with action. That’s how this faith grows.
Jesus has given the Church permission to get on with changing the world. He gives that permission in glorious technicolour detail throughout the Gospels.
So rather than criticise the $9000 toilet and pray endlessly for revival, let’s be careful about throwing the first stones, and instead see who else amongst your other 2.2bn Christian brothers and sisters are passionate about the cause you’re passionate about.
And do some Jesusing.
If you want to save lives through providing clean drinking water, hygiene education and toilet services, please consider donating to amazing organisations like Oxfam and WaterAid.