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Consumerism...Good News or Bad

As we seek to live lives more in tune with God’s plan for us and for community, we continue to search for positive ways we can impact God’s world. We recognize that many other countries are less rich in material goods than we are in the USA, but there is often more happiness and contentment among its citizens, than among ours.

But there is Good News for Us – Joy can be obtained from acquiring less. We can have a different identity, one that is more fulfilling than being a consumer. You guessed it. We are going to talk about consumerism!

 

Jesus says….”Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12: 15)

 

What do we define the Good Life? Let’s be honest….

The idea that we must consume in order to be happy and live a fulfilled life is a very old idea indeed.

The following is from the book, Everything Must Change, by Brian D. McClaren:

            “What was an older and different definition for this word, consumption?

            Consumption has an archaic meaning referring to a wasting disease (Tuberculosis).   

           These days,  wasting has become the moral duty of participants in the suicide

           machine (as McClaren labels the pursuit of over-consuming and acquiring of the

           things of this world!)  The participants are known as consumers.”

 

Our lifestyles in North America seem to dictate consumerism as a lofty idea to which we must strive!  Why are we not changing our lifestyles in light of the climate crisis?

There are multiple possible reasons, but in regard to this discussion – let’s consider  two:

1. We don’t understand how our lifestyles have contributed, and still are contributing to global warming, and affecting the most marginalized.

2.  Being consumers is all we have ever known.

Let’s Change the focus!

From Everything Must Change, We read that in the interest of sustainability, we should speak less of an environmental crisis and speak more of an overconsumption crisis. That way we focus our attention on the source of the problem , and not on its victims. The source, of course, are human beings, particularly in the global North. We are living an unsustainable life, oblivious to limits, and destroying our natural wealth in pursuit of financial and material wealth.

 

What religion has done for many of its adherents, consumerism has also done for many. According to Tom Beaudin, author of Consuming Faith: Integrating who we are with what we buy:

1.      It gives us identity (based on what we consume)

2.      It helps us belong to a community.

3.      It develops trust.

4.      It helps us   experience ecstasy (i.e. when we step out of a plane on vacation, etc.) It communicates transcendence through sacred images and symbols (like Nike’s swoosh!).

5.      It promises us conversion to a new life if we try a particular brand, or wear the right clothes.

Why might we not recognize our own consumerism?

From the Green Good News (T. Wilson Dickinson)– The habitat of consumerism is invisible because it’s so close and ever present. Waste and exploitation are woven into the social fabric (for example, showing up in the disposable plates at potlucks and the clothes on our backs).

Change involves looking at our lifestyles….

A twentieth century Anglican theologian, John Stott, asked “But must we not roundly declare that luxury and extravagance are indefensible evils while much of the world is undernourished and underprivileged?”

From The Green Good News, we read   “It would take more than 5 earths for everyone on the planet to consume as much as the average person in the USA.

What should be the first step for us?

From The Green Good NewsRepentance is realized when we examine the real cost of our consumption…… for the poor, the ecosystems, and future generations.

How can we measure what our sustainability should be?

From Everything Must Change: The critical issue is for the North to attain sustainability in the sense of level of resource use that is both sufficient for a good life for its population, and within the carrying capacity of the environment generalized to the whole world.

What next steps can we take?

From Everything Must Change:

1.      Realize we are being told we can be a somebody if we consume the right things.

2.      Realize the material thing doesn’t count in itself: What counts is the abstraction, the immaterial idea behind it…….number, status, coolness, youth, fashion, growth.

3.      Realize good news can be had by discovering what we already have and sharing.

How could our lifestyles change if we believed Jesus’ Good News of his Kingdom instead of   the dominant framing story? We would vote differently, treat neighbors differently, invest differently, volunteer differently.

 

From Carol and Mary – we are both trying to consume differently. We are discovering joy (lots of it) from acquiring less. We discover contentment from not acquiring far more than we need. We have identities beyond being consumers. We have less stuff to worry about…. more to share. If that isn’t good news, we don’t know what is!

 


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gholt1
May 07

Again, very well written, Mary and Carol. Our book for Forum fits right in. Recently, I've been interested in the lives of those who live in tiny houses: low costs and good community. As well, apartment dwellers are doing their part; rents should be much lower, which would encourage smaller footprints. Selling your big house could be great, but where would you go that is affordable? Many questions and a great need for good leadership.

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