Saturday, April 15, 2006

Consumerism, part deux

On the cusp of Resurrection Sunday, the words of Paul have come to my mind: "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19). What the heck? Doesn't this totally contradict Blaise Pascal's famous wager: Even if in the end Christianity proves to be false and there is no afterlife, believers will have been no worse for the wear? Paul writes this in the midst of being shipwrecked, beaten with rods, flogged, hungry, and naked (2 Cor. 11:24-29). He says, in effect, "If there is no resurecction and true heavenly reward for my faith that leads me to do these crazy things, then woe is me!"

This verse stands as a severe indictment of American consumer Christianity. People got fed to lions for the sake of the gospel, while today churches are chosen on the basis of how comfortable the seating is or whether or not hip coffee beverages are available in the lobby (heaven forbid I use the word "narthex"!). And why do we see $35,000 environment-killing SUV's littering church parking lots--or, worse yet, in pastor's garages?

Commenting on the impotency of the Church to act as reform agents in his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann writes, "The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or act. . . . The intenral cause of such enculturation is our loss of identity through the abandonment of the faith tradition. Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now." *

Israel was constantly called to "remember" how Yahweh had delivered them from Egypt and brought them safely into a land of milk of honey, how men could earnestly say, "The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. [He has] anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows" (Ps. 23). Move forward in history and we can see Golgotha and men who said, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). They had memory of God's faithful provision and steadfast love in the past, liberating them from the craving for lesser things and freeing them to embrace the great God of covenant. And they knew and believed in that day when their Lord walked out of his tomb, radiant and overflowingly alive. This hope freed them to love earnestly and sacrifically, because they clung to the fact that in union with Christ they would "depart out of this world to the Father" and that they "had come from God and [were] going back to God" (John 13:1, 3; cf. Col. 1:4-5; Heb. 10:32-34).

Memory and hope. It's no wonder we're forced to live for the now when the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is far from us. We all want joy and fulfillment. But we recognize, deep down, that our lives aren't entirely in our hands. With no hope in Someone greater than us, the Almighty Father full of goodness and power, everything becomes a vain grasping for the little things we can get and control in the moment.

Now I don't want anyone to think I've even really begun to get this figured out and worked into my own life. I still put my hope and desire in visible things and in people, rather than in God. "Though you have not seen Him you love Him" (1 Pet. 1:8). Um, yeah. . . But I know this is a problem, and we all have constant need to be whipped back into order by the Cross of Christ, through which we are reconciled and brought into the care of our Abba and Shepherd, and which tells us that this world has been judged and is passing away, but we have a new life that isn't confined to this world.
*Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), 1.

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