Consumerism

Eternal Payoffs

God’s design for our lives includes stewardship of everything we have received. Most followers of Jesus give of their finances and volunteer their time, but stewardship also means responsible living with our cars, homes, energy consumption, water use, and so on. In these areas God provides an opportunity for wisdom and discernment on our part. At the very beginning of scripture, in Genesis 1, God outlines a partnership that is wider and greener than many of us realize. It is inconsistent if we slap our 10 percent into the collection plate and then head home in a gas-guzzling car and flip on all the lights.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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Priests in God's Garden

We describe ourselves in many different ways—for example, as citizens or voters. Many of us describe ourselves as believers. Yet there is one word that I think people of future generations will be amazed that we use of ourselves with such lack of self-awareness: “consumers.”

For to consume is to eat, to devour, to destroy. And that is how we describe and define ourselves in the 21st century! Eating, drinking, shopping, selling, buying, banking—“consumers.” We fail to see the cruel irony of our self-designation: devourers of our children’s inheritance and consumers of their future. We are not just borrowing the earth from our children, as the proverb goes; we are consuming it, devouring it, and destroying it!

Just as we look back on previous times with incredulity and wonder how people, especially believers, could have condoned and succored slavery, so I think later generations, who will live consciously with the reality that the earth is not a limitless larder, will find it difficult to understand this failure of our cultural imagination. And just as it was a theological and, in truth, a biblical vision that informed and shaped the abolitionists’ response to the enslavement of racism, so it is a theological and biblical vision of the earth that is beginning to inform our understanding of today’s ecological crisis.

A biblical vision of humanity in, from, and of the earth brings to bear upon our imagination our moral responsibility—to God, to other creatures, and to future generations—for how we serve and preserve the earth.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Keeping Cool (Gulp!)

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. I do, I swear. I’m not one of those people who thinks creation is ours to dominate and its resources ours to spend like found money because Jesus is coming back and the world is going to end soon anyway. I sincerely doubt Christ would be happy about his followers treating Earth as if it were a rental car.

While I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I am very fond of trees. And, also, the atmosphere.

The thing is ... I love air conditioning. And I hate, haaaaaaaaaaaate being hot.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” were my first words upon entering our 68-degree oasis with a carload of groceries on a 90-plus degree, muggy summer day where the outside feels like a shvitz or the third ring of Dante’s inferno. Central air conditioning is grace for me.

But what if my blessing is a curse for someone else? Like, say, the rest of the planet? Air conditioning hurts the environment, quaffs energy, and hastens global warming. But is my air conditioner evil? What would Jesus do?

For one thing, Jesus recognized the Jewish kosher laws. A fairly new movement in Judaism today called eco-kashrut (aka “eco-kosher”) expands on the ancient dietary laws to look at what’s kosher in terms of ethical living, fair trade, the ecological concerns involved in food production, consumerism, and lifestyle, including whether to air condition or not.

Is it better to be hot and bothered than cool and complicit in our environmental demise? I turned to a couple of friends who ponder moral dilemmas for a living for help with my AC conundrum.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Tempted by an Apple

’Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’Tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love
and delight.

Elder Joseph Brackett penned these words to his famous Shaker dance song in 1848. They captured a way of life of a people who found joy in simplicity.

It has taken the near collapse of our economy to help us remember the truth of these words and to finally wake from a stupor in which we found ourselves addicted to consumption. Even most Christians (both good liberals and good conservatives) had subconsciously adopted a life mission captured by a single word: MORE (and its siblings “bigger,” “better,” and “cooler”).

My own persistent struggle with this was exemplified by my desire for the original iPhone. My old phone was nearing the end of its useful life, and I had been waiting anxiously for Apple’s new phone—it was smarter, better, and cooler than my old not-so-smart phone.

I went to the Apple Store on the day the new iPhone came out. I spent nearly an hour there trying to convince myself that Jesus needed me to buy an iPhone. With a battle raging in my heart and mind over whether I should plunk down $400 for this new phone, I walked to the counter. “Tell me once more about the iPhone’s features,” I begged. Finally I handed the clerk my credit card. And then it happened: My credit card was refused! This should have been impossible. I have great credit and the card is paid off monthly. Perhaps Jesus didn’t need me to have an iPhone after all! The clerk asked if I wanted to try another card. “No!” I replied and quickly left the store with a tremendous sense of relief.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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