Confronting Compulsive Consuming (Part 3)

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“Beat it! The country’s full!”

 Full of what?

“Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain ‘consumers’, while so many others only ‘eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’.” Pope Francis

I’ve never really liked being called a “consumer.” It’s not something I can square with my idea of a biblical identity. Consumers consume. I don’t think that’s what the Maker put us on his planet to do.

Economists talk about “Consumer Confidence” which I take to refer to the confidence that people have enough money to consume as much stuff as they wish. They even have something they call a “Consumer Index,” by which economists measure how much money people who sell stuff can expect to make off of people who have been convinced that it’s their patriotic duty to contribute to the country’s economy by consuming stuff. Is it just me or does anyone else feel just a little bit manipulated?

“Our consumer society,” said Walter Brueggemann, “is grounded in the generation of artificial desires, readily transposed into urgent needs.”  

I’m not trying to jam you up for how much you spent on Christmas. Really, I’m not. My thoughts on this passage were initiated more by the current political climate than anything else. The tax bill that was recently passed, the needs and concerns of the 800,000 “Dreamers,” the health care debate, and on and on are the things that are on my mind.

In three previous posts we’ve been looking at a story that Jesus concocted called the “Rich Fool.” I can’t help but think that Jesus would repeat the parable to our lawmakers, their wealthy donors, and corporate heads today.

Remember the backstory? Two brothers were arguing about how to spilt up their inheritance and they tried to get Jesus to mediate. Instead of helping them split up their money he warned them about trying to find their lives in their possessions. That’s when he broke out the story of a farmer who had a good year and wondered to himself how he might leverage his bumper crop into a wealthy retirement.

The man’s self-talk went like this…

“This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

Notice how many times he says “I” will do this and “I” will do that! There’s no disputing it; the I’s have it!

“I’ll say to myself…” So he’s talking to himself about talking to himself? Where’s God in the equation? He doesn’t consult anyone else: friends, counselors, family members. His ship has come in and he’s devising a plan on how to keep it for himself without consulting anyone outside of his own gluttonous heart. He’s the typical self-made man.

I have to admit that at face value it sounds like a good business plan. He reflects the essence of the American Dream (in contrast to God’s Dream). It’s this kind of “success” that we applaud and try to emulate in our society. He’s the kind of guy that goes on a book tour and appears on TV with testimonies about how he did it. His story would go viral and he’d be a role model to millions. He would get richer by the big money he’d charge for his seminars, complete with “You too can be rich!” slogans.

Not to be downer, but Jesus doesn’t seem the least bit impressed. In fact, he calls the man a “fool”!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with building bigger barns and retiring with a nest egg (or two), that is, unless God has plans of his own for us. Maybe what makes us “fools” is when all we do before retirement is acquire for ourselves and then after retiring all we do is live for ourselves. Maybe that’s what Jesus deems “foolish”: to live our lives just to make money and to spend it!

I’ve heard a lot of Christians say that if they get enough money they’ll give more of it away. It sounds good but I’ve found that the amount they need to make in order to give some of it away keeps increasing. Someone asked a rich man, “How much does it take to be happy?” His answer was, “A little bit more.” Those who wait to get “enough” in order to be justly generous with it usually aren’t just or generous when they get there. Plus, there’s no guarantee that they’ll live long enough to reach the place where they can begin their lives of liberality.

On the other hand, we might take Jesus’ counsel and begin today with pulling our heads out of our . . . well . . . let’s just say, out of the sand, and realize that there might be someone in the world worse off than us that we can help with daily bread. And, whether in abundance or poverty, rather than just consulting ourselves, we might check in with the Lord of both the rich and the poor about how to steward our resources for the good of humanity.

If you can stand it, I have one more post along these lines. I know this can all sound pretty harsh, but we’re all just trying to be good stewards of what we see in Scripture. I’m certainly open to some pushback from a biblical vantage point.

A Shalom-Filled 2018 to all!

One more thing, my book on evangelism is nearly out. Look for it on Amazon. Reaching Rahab: Joining God In His Quest For Friends.

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