Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Oh, heal our wounds!

Yesterday an number of recent thoughs congealed in my mind concerning consumerism in America. Maybe it's because I saw that Joel Olsteen's bestseller Your Best Life Now is now available in Turkey.* Perhaps it sprouted from reading the book of Malachi or the ever-prophetic Eugene Peterson and Walter Brueggemann (but please, read them with discernment). Or it could've been explaining to Turks why America has such alarming divorce rates. And lastly, it was not without considering how I've managed to not buy anything for myself all year, save for a few CD's.

"This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant." (Malachi 2:13-14)

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war against your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel." (James 4:1-2)

The afflictions of the American consumerist mentality are rampant. (1) How many people merely "go to church" or go "church shopping", seeking a place chiefly for how entertaining, novel, or motivating it is? The Bible says rather that we are "members" of a church "body", and we ought to consider in choosing a church where we can best serve others.

(2) A friend of mine here in Turkey asked what is meant by the saying, "What do you do for a living?" He thought it meant, what do you eat, do for recreation, or how do you choose to spend time with others. He became perplexed when I told him it means "What is your job?" We're sucked into working excessive hours just to afford things--be it clothing, cars, housing, or music--that we think will bring pleasure or fulfillment to our lives. And then we work so much that we can't actually enjoy the things for which we've labored. We're idiots. You see, in America, we sort of live to work, but here people work to live.

(3) The worst and most subtle is seen in Malachi's indictment of the people. When a friendship or marriage is on the rocks or when it has ceased to become pleasurable or exciting any longer, how quickly do we call it quits and move on! Friendship, dating, marriage, and sex are viewed for what we get out of it. When the newness wears off or we actually find ourselves in a position where we must make sacrifices for the sake of reconciliation and faithfulness, we moan, "She's just not doing it for me anymore" and seek out a new partner. Planned obsolesence was never meant to be applied to humans beings! (Nor economic systems, for that matter. My two pairs of shoes, three pairs of pants, and 1997 Honda Civic work just fine, thanks.)

But to call consumerism a disease would be mistaken. Rather, it's a mere symptom. It's the inevitable outcome of the real disease: failure to know and cherish the greatness of God. Without the "surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord," we cannot bear to "suffer the loss of all things" nor will we learn "to be content in whatever circumstances" (Philippians 3:8; 4:11). Instead, we seek to find fulfilling pleasure in the finite, transient things of this world. Grasping for physical comfort and gratification in banality are the only things left for us. The cure for my homeland is not moralizing nor economic pitfall; it's the gospel: The eternal and infinite Almighty became flesh, dwelled among us, and died and rose again to bring us to himself, that we might know and enjoy him. So until God, in his mercy, takes away our blindness and stupor and reveals the light of his truth to us, there is no hope. Kyrie eleison! Let's hope America doesn't crumble and eradicate itself before too long.
* I haven't read the book, but if his televised messages at his Texas mega-mega-multiplex-church are any indication, this guy is the quintessential modern self-fulfillment guru, a modern Gnostic of the highest regard. He spoke for over an hour without condemning sin or mentioning the cross or Jesus Christ.

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