More and more
I like to think of myself as an environmentally aware person. I recycle. I buy Fair Trade coffee. I don’t buy items that I know come from companies that exploit the land or the people involved. I am concerned about global poverty. Perhaps I am the white middle class liberal. I have a friend who lectures me every time we get together. She takes me to task for buying meat from a store, for not knowing the name of the person who harvested my vegetables, etc. Her whole life mantra is to buy local and buy fresh. No matter what I am drinking or eating she has a horror story connected to it of how that product rapes and pillages the world in which we live. She prefers hemp based clothes and vegan meals and sees my living in any other way as the opposite of the invitation of Jesus.
I also have another friend. He is a conservative Republican who views any discussion of the common good and social justice as anathema and a violation of the gospel. Though he would most likely never phrase it this way, for him the gospel is mainly a set of theological precepts to get him to heaven when he dies and instructions on how best to construct through all political means a world that reflects what he perceives as the moral code of Biblical living. This moral code involves a capital gains tax cut, huge defense department spending, and the like. Any time I talk to him of my desire to care for creation or my brothers and sisters in other countries he blasts me as having been overtaken by leftist professors and forgetting that America is a Christian nation guided by God. In his world to question American civic life or even our consumerist bent is to question the Bible.
My friends, who I have certainly presented in very sweeping statements with none of the complexities of real human existence, represent different approaches for Christians in the world. Both see themselves as solely motivated by the desire to walk with God in the best way that they can and to live the life they feel God is calling them to live. This life works itself out in vastly different ways.
How are Christians to live in the world? When our actions impact people all around the globe what choices do we then make? How then shall we live? How do we respond to the deluge of advertisements and the urge to accumulate more stuff in our lives, our closets, and our hearts? How much have we given ourselves over to the empires of the modern world? What is our place as member of the now and not yet kingdom of God in those empires? Can we avoid the control of the worldly and evil structures? Or are we in the situation like the Federation citizens in relationship to the Borg in Star Trek with a stance of, “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”
By the very fact that we are alive we consume. We eat. We wear clothes. We undeniably use things and use them up. So in a sense there is no way around a certain amount of consumerism.
Even with that acknowledgement in place, as globally aware Christians we have to discern how our consumption habits contribute to unhealthy, unsafe, and unsustainable lives for so many people in the world. The urge for using has reached epic dimensions. Our drive to consume has become all-consuming.
This usage applies most basically to the earth’s resources that we require more and more of to be harvested and destroyed for our use and the further degradation we inflict from the hazardous byproducts of a vociferous lifestyle. We scar the creation of God in our drive to have more and consume more. Our words about how we love God are rendered less meaningless if we do not care for and treat with respect the world God created. I have heard it said, that one of the reasons for the new earth of the book of Revelation is because we are killing the one we have now.
Our American way of consumerism exacts a relational price as well. We do not live in isolation from other people, but rather we are connected to other humans all over the planet on many levels. Our insistence on our right to buy cheap plastic toys and inexpensive shoes by default insists that someone on the other end of the planet receives less than a living wage and is forced further downward.
The accumulation of stuff not only has a detrimental impact on the already economic disadvantaged, but it serves as a weight on our souls. Our connection to God is so easily hindered by the stuff we accumulate and use. Allegiance to the things of this world can shift in very subtle ways our focus that belongs only to the Creator God.