Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Great Consumer

I recently read a claim made by Alan Hirsch that 95% of churches in North America are attempting to reach the same 40% of the population. While in some cases this might seem like an exaggeration, the North American propensity towards consumerism might actually confirm such an analysis.

Our predominant culture is built upon individualism and consumption. We create to consume, we consume to create, and this endless cycle repeats itself. As a parent, pastor, friend and leader, I often spend my time thinking about how I am inspiring others and what sort of life I'm inspiring them towards. The cyclical nature of the above-described cultural reality seems more like a life-sucking vortex than an inspirational fountain.

Consumerism isn't entirely evil, but when left imbalanced, it can become the millstone that sinks the ship so to speak. Here are three tendencies this imbalance brings.

1. Loss of the ability to create. At the dawn of the human age, humanity was given two great responsibilities: take care of the environment and procreate. The care of the environment is another subject for another time. It's the procreate part of this dualistic enterprise I'd like to focus on for a few moments. Procreation in its' most basic form is about multiplication. Procreation literally means "for creation." If humankind exists to create and consumerism is void of creativity in its most innocent form, then a consumer-driven culture will inevitably create a non-innovative environment. 

Consumerism ironically creates more of the same thing, while creativity creates more new things. When we allow ourselves to become submerged in and driven by a consumer-oriented culture, all we are left with is an appetite for what we know. 

When I read about Jesus invitation of experiencing a full life, I don't believe He was referring to life that is simply full of the same thing; I think He was referring to a life that blossoms with creativity.

When we choose to consume, we give up the invitation to create. How can we hold these two powerful allies in balance so that we can experience a life inspired by hope?

2. Expectation trumps invitation. A consumer driven culture elevates expectation over invitation. We humans are interesting folk. When we clothe ourselves with pure consumerism, we allow expectation to grow and invitation to diminish. Our primary concern becomes having our own needs met and our expectations fulfilled. Life becomes about us, the individual, more than about the common good for all of humanity. We resist the opportunity to invite others into our experiences and remain numb to the development and maturity of those we share affinity with.

What if we could fight the tendency toward our individualistic pursuits through the simple discipline of inviting people to share in life with us? Imagine how our perceptions and perspectives might change as we walk alongside of others instead of walking alone.

3. Commitment is a curse. When life is all about the needs of the individual consumer, both experiences and relationships become disposable. It takes commitment to make relationships work. For the pure consumer, loyalty is a weakness, a curse. There is no room for commitment in the world of the pure consumer. Multiple community connections become the new normal as communities are viewed as things to consume and not places to belong. We wonder why families fall apart and neighbours harbour disdain for one another, could it be because we've allowed ourselves to view the world through the lens of consumption rather than creation?

Our consumer culture won't disappear over night, and I'm not certain that it should ever cease to exist. What I do know is that if we adopt one extreme worldview or the other life on our planet doesn't make sense. There is a balance to be struck between consumption and creation. Who will lead us in the pursuit of equality between them?

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A Little Something from Psalm 8

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