As we head towards the crazy Christmas season, it's a good thing to pause and think about consumerism and the follower of Christ.
At CityLife, we have a social justice LifeGroup and they have put together a paper designed to be a thought provoking series of questions and comments exploring some key issues which confront us in our Western, first world culture. We hope that it can be used to start discussion and to promote action in your family, your LifeGroup, your social network and your work colleagues!
1. On the Issue of “Stuff”
When is enough, enough? Or we could ask ourselves what would Jesus buy?
Jonathon Comford, in his article - Daily Bread: The Economy of Enough in the Bible - in Tear magazine, TARGET, posed the question:
“How much money do you need to be happy? The answer is: About 20% more than you currently earn.
At least that is what people think will make them happy. Research in the US has shown that people think that with an extra 20% in their pockets they could finally be content.”
The Pressure to Consume
We live in a high growth world where companies must make more profit year on year to meet shareholders’ expectations. How do they do that? By constantly marketing to us to BUY! Upgrade! It will make you skinnier! It’s the latest and greatest! If we are not careful we end up buying excessively, and over-consuming. Our rubbish bins are filled with stale leftovers, broken/outdated electronics and packaging wastes. Charity bins are littered with old toys and clothes. Our wardrobe is stuffed with clothes and yet we stare at it and say, “I have nothing to wear… I need new clothes!” Or have you observed the proliferation of “Storage Units” e.g. Fort Knox, Storage King? We now have so much stuff that we can no longer store it all in our homes and so we actually lease more storage space!
Packaging gives premium impressions and creates more value for its contents. We, humans, like the look and feel of ‘expensive’ packaging because it means the extra money paid was worth it. The growth in waste is placing continually increasing demands on waste management and disposal. Approximately 37% of landfill is filled with biodegradable waste, e.g. food waste, paper, cardboard, green waste, textiles and wood.
Quotes on Consumerism:
"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor."
"Let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment." Pope Francis I (2013), Evangelii Gaudium
Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:
• How do your possessions end up owning you?
“The problem is not consuming to live but living to consume.” Skye Jethani
• Are you working harder, longer hours, working for a pay rise just to pay off your possessions?
“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
Henry David Thoreau.
• Where could we learn to recycle and reuse, or buy second-hand or pass around? E.g. Share items of infrequent use with family and friends – things like ski gear, camping gear, luggage, baby items (i.e. Freecycle.org is a non-profit movement of people who are giving (and receiving) items for free in their own towns – reusing things and keeping stuff out of landfills! (https://groups.freecycle.org/group/MelbourneOzFreecycle/description)
2. On the Issue of Who Makes all that “Stuff”?
How can we be ethical consumers? Everything we buy has a start and an end called a supply chain. How do our purchases affect others and the environment? This is not a new consideration – James challenged his readers in the first century: James 5:1-7 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
How can we be responsible consumers when the supply chain is far from obvious? There are organisations that are willing to help us navigate through the sea of choices e.g. Fairtrade Australia http://fairtrade.com.au/ and Shop Ethical http://www.ethical.org.au/
Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:
• Do we “hoard wealth”?
• Do we live “in luxury and self-indulgence”?
We can feel overwhelmed by the myriad of choices facing us. Our shop shelves are stacked with duplicate products that have been made overseas in less than ideal conditions – possibly by people, many are children, who are trapped in abusive situations as modern day slaves
• Do we consider who has manufactured the product we are buying?
• Have they received a fair wage?
3. On the Issue of the Consumer Mindset and its Impact on our Christian Faith.
A potential consequence of consumerism is the danger of simply adding “Christianity” to our lives as another product worthy of consumption. Is our focus “How can Christianity serve me and my needs?” rather than “How can Christ in me serve my neighbour?”
“But in consumerism the customer is king, not Jesus. As a result Christianity becomes just one more brand we integrate and display along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express our identity. So Christians no longer carry an expectation of obedience and allegiance to Christ, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences—music, books, t-shirts, conferences, and jewellery. And rather than living out the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, we share the values of our consumer culture while our identity as Christians remains a veneer”. Skye Jethani
Paul challenges us in his letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Also Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.
Matthew 19:21-26 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The life that Jesus promises is not a life filled with material abundance, however, He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Luke 9:23-25 Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:
In light of the Scriptures, it is sobering for us to consider:
• Do we place God first in our lives?
• How much of our time is spent concentrating on satisfying our many personal desires?
• Do we resume to consumerism as we exit the church?
• Do we challenge ourselves to give/tithe like we challenge ourselves to build a bigger house?
• Do we compete to share or help?
4. Faith in Action
Paul speaks of being content in all circumstances – of course this contentment can only flow from a life surrendered to Jesus. In the following passages Paul encourages us to find our satisfaction, our contentment, in Christ and His purposes for our lives.
Philippians 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:
• How can we be content in all circumstances?
• Do we need more than food and clothing to be content?
• Where is our treasure?
• What is our treasure?
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
ONE STEP AT A TIME…
Don’t be overwhelmed – we can decide to change one purchase and when that purchase becomes routine, change another. Every ethical choice we make will impact the life of someone for their improved welfare.
Is the answer to live more simply - acquiring only that which is necessary to live well? Of course the dilemma here is that what we perceive as being necessary is ever expanding - this is what drives consumerism. However, way back in the first century Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.
The challenge in today’s world is for us to discern how God would have us use our wealth i.e. time, energy and finances, to be His hands and feet, His voice, His body to impact this world for His Kingdom. We will need to resist the temptation to give in to advertiser’s demands to buy every new product that is available. In order to do this we will need to transform the way we think, to turn this world’s values upside down and be willing to deny ourselves and to bless our neighbour, to consider the poor, to be generous with not just our money but our very selves.
In the lead up to Christmas each year, we are bombarded with messages about spending and messages about “giving” that are really about buying and consuming. How about this Christmas we challenge ourselves about how we can give meaningful gifts without excessive spending – things like serving, encouragement, affection, words, hugs, and our time…
As the National Director of TEAR Australia, Matthew Maury, said:
We have the opportunity to find freedom and joy that is defined by Jesus, rather than trying to find meaning in the things we can buy.
1. Consumerism and Christian Ethics by Kenneth Himes
2. TARGET “Treasure in Heaven”