It’s Christmas. Time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the birth of hope. In a consumer society, it’s time for us all to go out shopping for presents for friends and relatives. But I’ve been thinking recently about the whole concept of what happens when we buy something, because I think it can speak volumes to us about the culture we live in, and the contrast it presents with Jesus economy, Jesus’ vision of how we should live.
It all begins with the transaction. In the process of purchasing a product, we are buying control of that product or service. We can do what we want with it, when we want it, how we want it, within certain external boundaries. But often when we buy something we don’t use it for what we bought it for straightaway. Sometimes we get home and forget why we even bought it or why we needed it.
Have you ever bought a DVD or CD, for example, but don’t watch or listen to it straightaway? But you still feel good inside don’t you? You feel satisfied and content.
In this case, the satisfaction is from the
In this case we have the power to decide when and how we watch or listen to it. We don’t have to wait or fit in with anyone else, it’s in our control. It’s our possession. What we have essentially done is buy the power to control that property, we have bought the freedom to enjoy that product.
So then, when we own a possession we think it no longer has power over us, our dependence on others is lessened, and we don’t have to wait on anyone else to enjoy what we’ve purchased.
At the extreme level, if you are really rich and want for nothing you ultimately need no one and don’t need to wait for anything. It’s all in your power.
That’s the consumer dream. The freedom to choose to do what you want, when you want, how you want, and get as far as you can. The drive to be successful, to achieve financial independence and status in society is essentially the drive for independence. Some people try to take the short cut to this, either legally – gambling or the lottery – and some illegally – selling drugs, stealing. But essentially it all comes out of a desire for the same thing, something encouraged by the world around us and the culture we live in.
But hold on a minute.
Achieving independence and getting things how you want it? Sounds good on the surface one might thing. But if that’s true, and that’s what consumerism is teaching – and we can all agree it is – then it’s teaching much more.
Consumerism is teaching, advocating in its very nature, impatience and solitude. It advocates a life outside of community and without having to wait, especially in the digital age, which makes things even quicker.
It is almost advocating mistrust, not to get to dependent on others, because it’s encouraging the opposite.
Think about it. People growing up with quicker and quicker access to whatever they want, when they want, in a culture that encourages it, are going to be less and less patient – in all areas of life.
We’re already seeing the beginnings of the fruits of this. The breakdown in community in our society, the breakdown of relationships, the steady increase in the number of broken marriages.
But is it any wonder relationships break down more easily today, when there is less and less patience, and the consumer culture we live in essentially discourages community?
Is it any surprise there is less and less trust between people?
You see, I believe that people want to believe there is something better, but have given up hope of it and are resigned to things as they are. The church has not provided good enough answers, and are often busy fighting themselves or getting caught up in legalism, tradition and religion.
People have almost given up on hope, they are beginning to think it’s some quaint notion, but that there isn’t any real hope left. That anything that seems too good to be true, must be too good to be true.
But in the process, we are allowing this lack of community and sense of impatience in our society and in our behaviours to permeate into our culture more and more, and shape it more and more. These things all have a knock on effect.
It’s fascinating, and no surprise, that at a time of austerity in our global economy, the government is trying to encourage and reintroduce the concept of community, to encourage people of local areas to come together and work together.It seems that when things really get to their worst, our culture is recognizing that although the secular, consumer religion we live in discourages community, we simply cannot do without it.
That shouldn’t surprise us in the least.
It’s what Jesus advocated all along.
You see there is an alternative way to live. A different story we can live by, a different rhythm to tune our lives to. We don’t have to resign ourselves to living and dying in this consumer culture. We don’t have to subscribe to it. We should never try to fit our faith into it, as just something we do once a week with maybe a few midweek meetings inbetween. It has to take up our entire lives.
Nothing will change if we are trying to fit faith within the confines and rules of our culture and lifestyle, rather than letting them shape it. Too often we let our culture shape our faith, and not the other way around.
Is your faith shaped by your lifestyle/culture or does your faith shape your life?
What practical steps can we take to redefine our culture and change the rhythms of our lives?