Monday, January 29, 2007

Doubts and Fears--Consumerism Christianity

Sometimes I doubt my faith. Worse yet--sometimes I doubt our faith.

I got a publication today for a huge Christian concert/convention that represented everything trendy in American Evangelicalism. It looked really cool. In fact, it looked like everything I would want to do at church if I had a multi-million dollar budget. The event had everything from creative expression in music and art to conversations on social issues and contemporary theology. The price tag for all of this--a little over $100 for a few days on the camp ground. That's not too expensive, but this is clearly going to be a money-maker for those involved.

At the same time as all of this, I am reading a number of books on the historic roots of our faith (typical for me). Right now I am reading N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, Richard Baukham's Bible and Mission, Mike Erre's The Jesus of Suburbia, and Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus. As I read, it is becoming increasingly clear that America's agenda for global capitalism is not what Jesus intended. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that socialism or communism would be a better solution. I love the system we have in America. Rather, I am suggesting that the hope economic growth and prosperity colors just about every decision that we make. If something makes money, then it is good. This scares me because I know that I think like that too. I also know that Jesus did not think like that.

On my way to work today, I heard an advertisement for a cell phone company. The guy in the advertisement said, "I am sick of the holiday season and all of this giving. I want to do something for myself for a change. So, I am going to buy this new red shiny cell phone." His friend responded to him, "That's good and all, but you know that buying that cell phone is a form of giving because a portion of it goes to fighting AIDS in Africa." The first guy then responded, "OK, I guess a little more giving will be alright." Now when I heard this commercial, my first thought was, "How much giving do most of us do during the holidays versus receiving?" I spent a lot of money this holiday season, but I got a LOT of stuff from other people. The stuff I received more than compensated for the stuff I gave. For most of us, the holidays are not about giving, but about spending. (On this note, I don't have any kids. I guess when you have kids the dynamic changes because they can't give back to you.) Everyone in America spends a lot of money. Sure, we spend on other people, but these other people spend on us, so in the end we all spend a lot and we all get a lot. The only difference between Christmas and an out of control shopping spree is that on the shopping spree you get to pick what you get. (Again, don't get me wrong, I am not against Christmas.)

So we have this massive month of consumerism in December, then this cell phone company makes it seem like we are all martyrs for "giving so much." So, they say we should reward ourselves for all of our suffering during Christmas by spending more in January. But then here is the kicker, you shouldn't feel bad about yourselves for spending, because a portion of that spending goes to AIDS relief in Africa. Now I'm glad that Africans suffering from AIDS will get some relief from this campaign (how much actually gets into their hands versus the hands of lobbyists and politicians in both America and the African nations is another issue), but who is the ultimate winner in all of this? The consumer gets a nice shiny phone, and the cell phone company rakes in a ton of cash because of all the socially-aware people who want to buy a new cell phone. Believe me, if the amount of revenue generated by this program (and the related tax write-offs) did not off-set the amount donated to AIDS relief, the cell phone companies would not do it. NO WAY would they do it. They are using the AIDS crisis in Africa to make money, and Americans don't ask questions because we get a shiny new cell phone out of it.

As appalling as all of that was to me, I got this brochure about the Christian concert today, and I was wondering if the Emerging Church is doing the same thing. "COME TO THE CHRISTIAN SUPER CONCERT SPEND FEST--A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS WILL GO TO INTERNET BLOGGERS WHO LIKE TO TALK ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES." That is scary! Consumerism--the drive to have all of the newest computer software, iPods, Blue Tooth technology, Trios, cell phones, etc.--is what we claim to be against. Why do most Emerging Churches spend so much money on technology???

Sometimes I feel like the growing interest in social issues in the Emerging Church is just an attempt to not feel so bad about ourselves for making $100,000 per year and spending $150,000. If you throw a couple of hundred bucks to AIDS relief in Africa and give a sandwich to a homeless guy, you can go ahead and buy that new iPhone.

Now I am not trying to step on anybody's toes. I see this in myself and I am afraid. I am afraid because I consider myself a Christian--as do millions of Americans who act like me. Sometimes I am afraid that I will stand before God some day, and He will shake his head at me and say, "You were way off." THAT is a scary thought.

No comments: