Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shopping for truth: The Fork in the consumer road

If you have a few minutes, check out this article in Orion Magazine, and compare it to this editorial in Fast Company. If you don't have time to read the articles, here's the summary:

Orion - We can, indeed must live differently than the "gospel of consumption" peddled so effectively by culture. We can scale back on our consumption, and thus scale back on our working hours as well, finding more time for creation, family, friends, and creativity. This is good for our souls, good for the environment, and good for our families.

Fast Company - We won't live differently, because there's always a new product just around the corner that will fuel a new wave of consumerism. Just look at the cell phone. First nobody needed one. Now we all need them. Just look at the i-phone. One high tech creative product creates an entire spin-off industry of i-phone apps. This, according to Fast Company is precisely what Orion calls the "good news" of consumerism: we'll always buy more stuff. And that, we're told, is good for everyone.

Well friends, which is it? And if it's the former, what should we do about it? I've written about this in a chapter on generosity in my book, but I'd like to ponder for a few minutes the contradictory nature of these two paradigms and ask:

1. are these two views of the world contradictory to the extent that they can't be synchronized?

2. if yes, what does that look like? If no, which view more closely embraces the gospel of Jesus?

These aren't hypothetical questions, for the dilemma of our current world is that if enough people start living simply, planting their own gardens, buying their clothes from 2nd hand shops, mending their shoes and cars instead of buying new ones, we're stuffed. And yet, if we continue to shop as we've shopped, live as we've lived, we'll continue to degrade the environment, continue to try and find the cheapest price for products, which means companies will continue to outsource production to places where environmental and labor laws are least constrained, which means....??

If Paul says this, then what should I buy, for I clearly can't apply this literally. And regarding what I buy, and when: Should I bend towards local shops, or warehouse sales? Should I eschew the latest product and keep my stuff 'til it breaks, or should, for the good of the economy, buy new stuff, better stuff? How does discipleship affect shopping?

Our GDP shrunk at annual rate of 6.1% last quarter. People are shopping less, driving less, ravaging the earth less, talking with friends more, AND unemployment is on the rise. Finding our voice as followers of Jesus in the midst of this is important, and challenging.
I welcome your thoughts


At 29/4/09 15:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Society created over-indulgence in clothes, cars, TV's, phones; to much food created to satisfy cravings not necessities. Birthdays, mother & father's days, valentines and so on. Everything we own is too much if you really take a hard look at it all. Fancy coffees, fashionable furniture, one can go on and on.
The desire to consume will always be with us, tempting us. Everyone needs people, time, and money. Most for selfish gain. Look at whatever you purchased today or in the last week and try justifying the majority of it. Who needs coffee when water will do, new shoes when what is in our closet works fine, draperies because what we have seems dated and this can apply to most everything.
Who runs this the industry of consumerism? Those who seek gain. I'm not saying creating things is bad, because I love a dishwasher, contact lenses and a flat screen TV. Much good comes from inventing needless things that in turn help to create something useful.
To me, it's not Orion or Fast Company, good or bad for the economy, local versus big box. This is and will always be a fallen world seeking to make all things perfect. My daily goal is to recognize the ridiculousness of it all and truly remember I can throw it away for God.

At 29/4/09 15:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good word, but maybe a little too easy. It sounds as if you're saying that we can do what we want, as long as we realize that's it's a fallen world. Some would argue that swimming upstream against consumerism is vital for our own health, the well being of the poor, and well being of the earth. If that's the case, local versus big box matters

At 29/4/09 16:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not easy and in no way am I implying we can do what we want. I recycle, drive an older car but don't run around much. Drink water, and spend cautiously. Rarely, and I mean rarely, eat out and gave up consuming a long time ago. (It takes up to much space). I know the difference between want and true need. Shopping is a bore. Instead my life is filled to capacity with God and his Truth, family and friends.

At 29/4/09 17:47, Blogger ryan said...

it is Orion's perspective that is going to give us back parts of our lives that have been unknowingly stolen from us. i am amazed at how much these ideas of consumption are so drilled into us, into me...that just another ____ will be enough. that the silence is deafening, simplicity is intimidating.

At 29/4/09 22:09, Anonymous JG said...

Wow, there is a lot of hate for people who produce things here. I don't understand all of the anger against people who produce these goods and enjoy them. Christianity seems to hurl a lot of self imposed guilt on folks who enjoy life. Now it seems if you wish to enjoy a fine coffee, buy a new pair of sneakers, or get a new coffee table you are terrible person. I guess if you do anything that is in your self interest this is true. If this is truly your life's philosophy then I suggest you check your premises.

At 30/4/09 01:30, Blogger Todd said...

thanks for posting this richard. i hear a lot of people talk about the need to consume less (which i would agree with) but i rarely hear people talk about the effect that has on the people we love. i really do wish it was as easy as, "spend less and all creation is healed," but unfortunately it isn't. either way we look at it, people lose out. on one side, our selfish tendencies are fostered, on the other, people lose jobs (which leads to a whole mess of problems). which is right? who knows... being aware of the situation is a start, and conversation about it is even better. obviously we're never going to come to a "right" answer, but that doesn't mean we should stop searching for hope on both sides of the situation.

At 30/4/09 08:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps man's God given creativity is one of the prime suspects in fueling our whatever's possible drive for the next big thing. Combine that creativeness with a fallen world and you come out with thousands of years of human history shaping a more comfortable existence for mankind, but also destroying our environment because we don't have the Creator at the center of our world. It is truly a difficult dilemma we face each day. Scripture tells us, "In my Father's house are many mansions." Think about it and perhaps mansions are not inherently a bad thing. We're just not getting it right in this life.
Similarly, the notion of "from those who are have much to those in need," sounds so good and noble and when done from a Godly perspective works so well. Now throw in a fallen world's governmental oversight of such principles and the train flies off a cliff. The Soviet Union ostensibly tried it for 70 years and failed. Now our nation is deciding to dictate taking from those who have much and giving to those with little. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament should be illustration enough that more rules and mighty leaders cannot force Godly living.
As God's church we must be different. Not because the government or the Sierra Club tells us so, but instead because we have a connection to the Creator. Loss of freedom, whether to the governing forces of this world or environmental or civil causes will not help to promote the Kingdom. Displaying Christ's love for this world and mankind in our individual lives is what matters most. We need to use the mind and hearts God has given us and think more clearly as we work, consume, play, worship, serve and walk through the time allotted us. We need to tread carefully when we make our allegiances. There are no easy answers, but taking personal responsibility for what God asks of each of us in our daily lives is important. If you stop and seek God's heart and ask what do I really need? How can I best spend my time? What should I give away? Where should I live? What should I drive? All these questions should present answers as you grow in your walk in the Lord. Be different from the world around you. Think how will the heavenly mansions be built?

At 30/4/09 10:38, Blogger Karissa said...

I don't think there is necessarily one right answer...a thought of mine is that, what we need is to think, assess, pray before we make decisions regarding what we NEED. Perhaps redefine priorities and use those (whatever they may be) to influence how we buy and purchase...not to stop purchasing altogether. We have grown into a culture of instant gratification, and if we slow down just a bit and think about what we are doing and buying before we actually do, it won't stop the economy altogether, and yet hopefully slow down and redirect some of the impact on the environment and on our social lives.

I also think once people start choosing, as they have a bit now, to step out of "consumerism", the industry of consumerism will turn to where the people go. As the article in Fast Industry describes, we have learned we have needs we never knew we had before (like for iphone apps.) that have materialized out of thin air, but this was realized only once something new was introduced. Well redirect the consumers to a different type of lifestyle, and i'm guessing some people will find ways to enhance the more social and connected life (or however it ends up looking) we have with each other once society starts demanding a different type of lifestyle.

Either way, I could be wrong, it's the chicken or the egg type of situation, do we follow consumerism or does consumerism follow where society demands, or maybe again it's a combination of both. And just a thought, but maybe it's time american society decided to not just follow where the media and big businesses are directing us...we are ALL capable of making and thinking through issues on our own, we don't need to just buy into what someone else tells us will make us happy....


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