Addiction to Consumerism, Superficial Bickering Clouds Our Real Mission to Help a Hurting World

We condemn Westboro Baptist, but avoid real controversies that are hurting Chris

We condemn Westboro Baptist, but avoid real controversies that are hurting Christianity. Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock

Churches are expected to provide products and services, where worship styles, start times, and preaching methods are supposed to cater to our individual wants and needs — we expect perfection, and when it inevitably doesn’t happen, we create conflict.

Our desire to critique and confront everything we view as being wrong, combined with our insatiable appetite for drama, has created the perfect environment for controversy. Since we’re the customers, we assume we’re always 100 percent right — or should be treated as though we are — even when we’re not. Church leaders now spend more time trying to placate parishioners than they do facilitating world-changing ministry. ... Theologians and pastors seemingly make a living disagreeing with one another. Instead of being a gospel of unification, we use Jesus to divide and conquer. 

Let's Go Beyond Consumerism, Citizenship, and Individualism

Bulatnikov / Shutterstock

Rather than stumbling into single-serving citizenship, what if we learned to be a body together? Bulatnikov / Shutterstock

This morning at breakfast, I was reading an article in the newspaper about how the Affordable Care Act is negatively affecting some individuals — especially those who buy their own insurance, rather than receiving it through an employer. The article was interesting, but what struck me the most was the way the problem was framed. Rather than approaching the story from a public policy angle, the article mainly focused on the reaction of consumers of health-care goods and services. The crux of the article was whether some individuals should be required to buy a product they might not want or need so that other individuals could have affordable access to health-care products they need desperately but might not be able to afford under the old regime.

The dilemma was presented as a story of tension between healthier consumers and less healthy consumers fighting to get the best deal for their health-care dollars. But could there be another way of thinking about health care, and about our society as a whole? Is there a framework that would allow us to consider these questions in a way that assumed connection, caring, and community between individuals, rather than the zero-sum competition of the market?

Consumer Christianity: How Much Money Does It Cost to Be a Christian?

Christianity and money illustration,  design36 and vso /

Christianity and money illustration, design36 and vso /

Christianity can quickly devolve into caste systems, where faith communities are divided by the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor. Instead of unifying ourselves in Christ, we are dividing ourselves by how much money we can afford to spend.

How much money is required to be a Christian? Imagine how much money we’ve spent throughout our lifetime on “Christian” activities and products (not including tithing or mission-related donations) — now imagine if we gave this money to people who really needed it.

“Consumer Christianity” has turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

Kids Say the Profoundest Things

Photo: © noregt /

Photo: © noregt /

I asked a small group of second-graders what they would like to find inside their mailboxes. That was after we read a story about a goose who opened her mailbox and found a kite. I expected to hear answers of things: video games, toys or basketballs. But the first student who raised her hand looked at me with sincere, big brown eyes and said, "I'd like to find a letter from my dad."

In my classroom, my kids say the profoundest things.

As we entered the holiday season, I thought about the answer that student gave me. I thought about what other of my 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds were saying about the holiday season.

For three years, I lived and worked in a large housing project in Louisville, Ky. I was a middle-class, white graduate student, and my background clouded how I saw the people around me. But I finally began to see clearly.

The Power of Christmas

Photo: Following the Star, © Juampi Rodriguez /

Photo: Following the Star, © Juampi Rodriguez /

“Faith is recognizing that if at Christmas Jesus became like us, it was so we might become more like him,” wrote the well-known preacher and activist William Sloan Coffin. He goes on to add, “We know what this means; watching Jesus heal the sick, empower the poor, and scorn the powerful, we see transparently the power of God at work.”*

Christmas really is about seeing the power of God at work, but far too often pastors and churches fail to tell this story. Oh sure, we preach about Mary and Joseph, Jesus being born in a Bethlehem manger, and the Magi following a star to find him and offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. My fear is that the story has grown familiar and routine. We have forgotten its power and no longer see its challenge. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi seek out Jesus after hearing of his birth. In order to find him they ask King Herod where they can find the new king. This, of course, is news to Herod who is surprised to learn that his title has been claimed by a baby. Herod consults his advisors and then reacts with the expected calmness of a leader anticipating a conflict, which is to say his response is not calm at all. 

This story is an announcement that Jesus has arrived to challenge the powerful. The Messiah was not born meek and mild.   

Celebrating in Ways that Bring Joy

Photo courtesy Sharon Delgado

Photo courtesy Sharon Delgado

There are many ways to celebrate the coming of the light in this dark season of the year, including the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas. Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday, but the orgy of consumption that accompanies this holiday in the United States makes that questionable. How ironic it is that people celebrate the birth of a poor baby born in a stable (as the story goes) by spending billions on "stuff" that will ultimately end up in overflowing landfills. However, Christian or not, many are swept along by the dominant media message: "Buy gifts for your loved ones to show them how much they are loved and how precious they are." 

The pressure can be hard to resist. 

This may not present a problem for those who practice a Christianity that is conformed to consumer culture, but for those who seek to follow Jesus it challenges us with one of his core teachings: "You cannot serve both God and mammon." Mammon: wealth, riches, money, stuff.  

Christians: No Need to 'Reclaim' Christmas

Photo: Christmas consumerism illustration, © pryzmat /

Photo: Christmas consumerism illustration, © pryzmat /

Are you put out that a community nativity display was nixed by a city council? Did a checkout clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Maybe Christmas music annoys you when the Advent fast hasn't even arrived?

Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.

How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might partake in his everlasting nature.

The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever "one of us," still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all persons, hallowing the far-flung cosmos — matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.

War On Christmas? Sign This Minister Up!

Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic /

Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic /

Ah  I LOVE this time of the year!

Some people wait with bated breath for duck season, some for deer season, but for me it is all about Christmas season. That's right, I'm one of those lefty liberals that have declared a War on Christmas. Yes! Sign me up for the War on Christmas!

But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.

While I am signing up to help in a War on Christmas, I'm not on, what by default gets called, the “non-Christian” side. I’m also not signing up for the side that news pundits falsely purport as the “Christian” side. If anything, I’d make the argument that the dominant face of Christianity, as it is seen on television and promoted through news programming, is itself far from what Christianity is supposed to be. It is a sort-of white-washed, sanitized version of Christianity that every year presents an increasingly cleaned up version of the Christmas story to the viewing public.