Archives For Consumerism

Christmas PictureA few weeks ago, on Black Friday, I joined the crowds getting on Amazon to see what their Christmas deals were. And I was fascinated by one thing in particular. In the Lightening Deals Amazon has three categories 1) All Available 2) Upcoming 3) Missed Deals

We have a section for missed deals!. Does it strike anyone else as particularly disturbing that we have a section of a website set aside just to shop for regret? Amazon gets to show us how great of deals they’ve had, and we get to mope about the things that we missed.

Joy Beyond The Walls of the World

A few years ago, I read Mark Sayers terrific little book The Trouble With Paris, where he observed the disconnect between our materialism and our the way we use things to try and medicate our pain:

“I recently watched a reality makeover show. The woman who had been selected for a makeover had being trying to have a baby for several years, only to suffer a number of miscarriages. The woman had finally successfully given birth to a healthy child, only for that child to tragically die in its first year of life. The show lavished the woman with various makeovers. They remodeled her house and her garden, taught her how to cook gourmet dishes, helped her lose weight, and gave her a new wardrobe of the latest fashions, along with a European vacation. The show ended in an almost awkward fashion as it become apparent that the world of makeovers could never heal this woman’s grief. He problems were internal, not external, and our culture had no solution for her pain.”

There’s not enough makeovers that can heal the ache.

In his great memoir, Surprised by Joy, writes about his conversion from Atheism to Theism and then to Christianity, and what ultimately convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God.

One of the most surprising things about C.S. Lewis life was what he meant when he said Joy.

Joy, for Lewis, isn’t extreme happiness or even a very positive emotion. Joy for Lewis, is The Longing.

It was what haunted him as a child when he read the folk stories and myths of the Celtic and Greeks, it was what he felt when he looked out over the England countryside and imagined Kingdoms and Castles and Kings and Queens.

Joy for Lewis was the stabbing pain of desire, it was a wish for things that were not attainable.

This would lead Lewis to say things like

“[Humans] remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread. But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating, and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. So too the craving for myths (hearing them, reading them, making them) suggests the presence of a need that they satisfy–or, more accurately, try to satisfy. Because they reach something deep within us, we return to them repeatedly, but because they do not and cannot meet the need they invoke, our experience with them is characterized by longing.”

Joy is Waiting

So it’s Christmas, and by now most of the people reading this have already done quite a bit of shopping. The Tree is up, the lights are on, and the Visa bill is growing. And, on Christmas morning, if you’re lucky for a few brief moments the ache in your soul will be covered over with laughter and smiles as you watch the people you love tear through wrapping paper and try out or try on their shiny new things.Time Hourglass

All of this is fine, and I don’t mean to diminish it.

But that ache comes back.

And that is a very good thing.

It is what C.S. Lewis called Joy, and it’s what the Christian Calendar calls Advent

Advent is just the Latin word for longing, or waiting, and it actually the way Christians for well over a thousand years have prepared for Christmas, and one that I think we need today more than ever.

Ancient Christian wisdom demands that we remember that there is a desire that we have that points us North. It’s a desire that can only be experienced, and never fully satisfied on this side of Eternity.

And if you aren’t aware of this reality, no matter if you are religious or spiritual or not, it will be used by advertisers and marketing firms to make subtle, yet over-reaching promises that will only break your heart.

Because no doorbuster or gadget or Lexus can give you joy. Indulge yourself enough and you can even find a way to lower the signal on the true joy that is offered.

The only Joy that is really offered is the joy of waiting.

Which I think makes this whole season make more sense, but not the way we are celebrating it.

That emptiness that comes after the wrapping paper settles on Christmas morning. The dull ache that comes back after all the gifts have been opened, is a gift.

It’s a gift that reminds us the best is still to come.

The empty chair on Christmas Eve, the stocking you haven’t been able to hang up for years since the accident took him away, those are ways that…if we let it, can actually increase our joy.

All the longing that is welling up inside of us actually has a end desire, and Christian hope says that it’s not only true, it’s exactly what this time of year was made for.

Advent means Longing, Christmas Advent means longing for the Joy that once did enter the world, and one day will come again.

So we wait.

And this is joy.

So What are you waiting for?

On November 26, 2013

Contentment and Thanksgiving

“A Grateful person is rich in contentment.” -David Bednar

Writing about ThankfulnessOne of my favorite parts in the Bible is where Paul is writing back to one of the churches that he has planted. Apparently they had started to argue and create factions within their church, some of them had started to consider themselves better than others, in fact, when they would all gather for a meal each week, some would go ahead and eat,  gorging themselves before the other people (the poorer ones who had to work on Sundays) could get there.

And Paul tells them not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

In other words, Paul says, “Don’t be entitled.”

The Most Dangerous Time of The Year

Sunday at Highland, I mentioned that I think this week is the most spiritually dangerous time of the year.

Because on Thursday we will stop to give thanks for what we have. Then we rush off on Friday, almost breaking the doors down at stores just to get a little more.

There is this time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is about half-way to Jerusalem. His journey is interrupted by ten Lepers who stood at a distance, and screamed to this man they had heard so much about, “Have pity on us!”

And Jesus does. He makes the whole, and then tells them to go show themselves to the priest (the expert back then on whether someone had been healed) and they would discover they could re-enter their old lives.

Now you probably already know just how much these men had lost at this point. They had been cut off from their families, their vocations, their home. Everything, and in an instance, Jesus gives it all back. But what happens next is really the point of this story.

Ten men are restored, but only one comes back. He’s not a Jewish leper, he’s a foreigner, and he’s thankful.

But what’s interesting to me is the story that is right before it. It’s some of the most difficult words that Jesus says:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Now this almost seems out of character for Jesus. Where is all this love and grace stuff? “We are only unworthy servants? We have only done our duty?”

Bu’t what if Jesus isn’t getting rid of that whole Love and Grace thing with this paragraph? What if this is one of the many loving things he could says. And what if Luke puts these two stories together on purpose?

I am a BUICK, a brought up in church kid. And I”m very thankful for that, but one of the dangers that comes with growing up worshipping the LORD is that it can become old hat. Familiarity can breed indifference, or worse, it can breed entitlement.  In the words of Randy Harris, “Many of us were born on third base and think we’ve hit a triple.”

Maybe this is why Jesus says this hard word to us.

Maybe that’s why it’s only the Gentile Leper who comes back to thank Him.

There’s something about familiarity with God that makes us less grateful for His actions in our lives. I think Jesus says this hard word because He knows the toxic kind of life that is void of gratitude. It’s good for us to remember who we are and who God is. We forget that with every rise and falling of our chest we are breathing in oxygen that is a gift. With every sunrise and sunset God gives us another day.

This is a story about being grateful for all of that.entitled

Having Nothing, Yet Having Everything

So back to 2 Corinthians. Paul is frustrated with this church because they had started eating without people. And we can understand their logic can’t we? They probably had brought most of the food, they were wanting to start on time, and if people couldn’t make the party that’s on them.

But Paul knows the toxic nature of this line of thinking and so Paul tells them about his life:

I’ve had glory and dishonor, bad and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

There’s one of the best verses in the Bible. Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s answer to entitlement and selfish hoarding is to remember that everything belongs to God, and every meal is a gift.

You know I wonder how often those nine lepers thought about this?  I imagine they followed the Jesus news of the day. They heard about him being killed and raising from the dead. They heard about this group of disciples that actually started going around the world doing the very things he was doing, and they had walked away from all of it.

They had been healed but it could have been so much more. They could have taken part in the healing of the world. Starting with themselves. They might have lived a life of radical graditude filled with the joy of knowing how generous God is.

May this be a season for you to step back and appreciate how good God is. May you come to recognize the shoulders you stand on in life. May we fight entitlement with gratitude. Materialism with contentment, and selfishness with generosity.

May we be rich in all the ways that count.

On September 5, 2013

A Better Marriage Fast

sequels-screensaverAnd really not just marriages, and really not that kind of fast.

At Highland Church of Christ we are talking right now about how the dominant stories that we hear day in and day out are so greedy. And these are our love stories!

For more information about this series, or to get a free E-book you can go to www.thesequels.org

So this past Sunday we talked about the way we are taught to consume everything including each other. We are taught to ask the most insidious question, “Are you really satisfied?” But that’s not a question that we are taught to ask to lead us to happiness, it’s much darker than that.

Always A Bridesmaid

There’s a lot more backstory to this, and if you are interested you can hear the whole sermon here. But the gist of it is that in the early 40’s and 50’s a guy named Edward Bernays changed the world. Bernays was the inventor of what we call Propaganda, he was the most effective weapons that America had in World War II. He learned (from his uncle Freud) that we have a few base desires, like fear, or to have sex.

And if you could just tap into those desires you could make people think a certain way.

And he did…and he still does.

After the war was over, Bernays learned that he discovered this new power but no longer had a purpose for it.

So he went into marketing. And now most of the way we have grown up thinking about the world has been shaped by Edward Bernays.

But we are largely unaware how much.

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Have you ever heard that saying “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”? Do you know where that saying comes from?

This 1950’s Listerine Ad.

It’s an ad that taps into our deepest fears of being alone and not being connected. Not so that we can connect, but so that we will buy mouthwash. Thank you Edward Bernays.

And that’s why at Highland this week, we ended the sermon by asking people to engage in the ancient Christian discipline of fasting.

Not just married people, but for people who were wanting to get married, and for people who wanted to learn how to live better in community.

Because for the past few decades we have been taught to consume. We have somewhere around 5,000 advertisements a day that raise and increase our desire.

We’ve been taught to think that the world revolves around us, and that we should get what we want. And then we approach our relationships this way.

But this ancient practice of fasting teaches us that we don’t live by bread alone. We don’t live just to consume.

And that if we really want to be happy, occasionally we need to step back and stop looking for things to consume, and start looking for things that we are grateful for.

C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay about love and Christian Marriage and he said:

People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on “being in love” for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.

This is at the heart of why our marriages disappoint us. Edward Bernaise taught us to ask the question, “What does my spouse or future spouse owe me?”

But fasting helps us ask another and better question, “Why have I been given so much? Why has God been so good to me?”

I like the way Marcel Proust says this:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

This is why one of the main commands in the Bible is for us to remember, because if we don’t keep remembering how much we already have, we might just forget.

So try it out. If you want better relationships. Fast.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

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On May 17, 2011

Mere Mortals

In a world of self-esteem and health and wealth gospels, it’s good to remember what makes us important is the One who made us. In the words of the Psalmist, we are Mere Mortals.

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On December 6, 2010

Frankincense and Myrrh

So hang with me on this.

The way the story goes, is that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the world falls into disarray, and the world first couple moved East. But actually, it was more people than them who moved east, it was the entire world. Re-read Genesis sometime with an eye for this phrase. Because story after story ends with the refrain…And they moved East. Continue Reading…

On October 18, 2010

Touring Church

So for the last few days, I’ve been reading “Not Buying It” by Judith Levine. It’s a well written memoir from the life of one lady who decided to step outside of consumerism for an entire year. Her husband and she made the decision to not make one purchase for 12 months, and then they journaled what that experience was like…Their journal turned into a book, which, ironically, sold quite well. Continue Reading…

On August 9, 2010

The Purpose of Worship

So right after Leslie and I had gotten married, we lived in Searcy for one final semester before moving to Texas. We had  broken free of the shackles of curfew, and we went crazy. Of course by crazy, I mean that we went to Wal-Mart after midnight. And that’s where this story picks up.

Because it was at Wal-Mart, in the notebook aisle, that a guy, that we had never met before, came up to us and said this:

“I think God is an insecure Hypocrite.” Continue Reading…