Consumer or Communer

Consumer Christianity

This picture really bothers me, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. Attention Deficit Disorder drives my wife crazy. Not because she’s ADD, but because I am. Someone recently described ADD as hearing five television sets going off in your head all at once. Think about this: every American views over thirty thousand different media messages a day, and almost all of those messages are screaming “BUY SOMETHING!”

When I go to the grocery store, every isle has so many options that I find myself spending far too much time on each aisle. If I’m not careful I leave with more than I need. For example, the cereal aisle alone has over 60 options. This would explain why I have a cereal cabinet with over ten different kinds available. Bottomline: we are consumers and we live in a consumer-driven society. And I love cereal!

In his book, “Enough,” Will Samson helps us define exactly what consumerism is:

  • Consume: to use up, devour, absorb (this can be good or bad depending on context).
  • Consumerism: the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants; a way of thinking about stuff that believes the consumption of things— food, cars, new models of church— is what will finally make us content (this is always bad).

Fact: we consume more stuff than at any time in history. It is rare when we get to make such an audacious historical statement. However, the simple fact is that we live in an unparalleled era of buying: consumption such as has never been seen before. Recent polls indicate that more than 50% of American household expenditures are for “non-necessity” items. We are spending more than ever as a nation on items we don’t need, but oh how we want them. We love shiny new things!

I want a new motorcycle (Triumph Bonneville to be exact), and a boat, and an ATV, a motor-home, a hot tub, a swimming pool, another guitar, a new mountain bike, new kitchen cabinets, a new flat screen TV for the man cave… oh yea, and season tickets to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers! Come on, what’s wrong with having it all?!

Okay, let me change the tone for a moment. Why does the picture bother me so much? Because it represents our reality: “The American Dream and The Kingdom of God.” We want it all and we don’t care about the side effects. Having it all misplaces where our true affection lies. Unfulfillment deep within our souls cause us to want what we do not have and to have what we do not want. G.K. Chesterton once jested, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Fulfillment stems from giving not getting. Jesus gave us this truth, but it is ever so hard to learn.

It’s not that I couldn’t acquire all the things on my list, it’s that those things would misplace my attention, and I certainly don’t need anything else screaming for my attention (I love cereal). You see, God’s calls us to something bigger than ourselves. Jesus teaches that we can’t find satisfaction in acquisition, because acquisition never satisfies.

The world says, “Get all you can.” Jesus says, “Give all you can.” With that in mind, my family and I are becoming more conscious about what we acquire, understanding that we have all we need (we actually have more than we will ever need). The goal of the communal life becomes how to give more away. How to contribute instead of acquire… How to give instead of get… How to serve instead of being served.

Christianity includes an implicit call to embody our faith, to be that which we say we believe. We are called to live communally. Communion is a celebration of gratitude for all that God has done for us. It focuses on Christ’s life and death and us being immersed in it. Imagine the transformation in our lives, communities, and congregations, if we began to literally offer ourselves as “living sacrifices.”

The notion of being willing to go to the cross for the the ungrateful, the outsider, and the stranger is the type of Christ-follower that Chesterton was referring to: “Christianity that has been found difficult and not tried.” Pray for God to transform you from “consumer” to “commuter,” from a “getter” to a “giver.” Find fulfillment in your contribution. Be more than the things you own. Enough.

(Sources: “Enough” by Will Samson; G.K. Chesterton)


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