Category Archives: Consumerism

… and the rich get richer…

Let’s face it… most anyone with access to a computer is among the richest people in the world.  So just the fact that you are reading this qualifies you as privileged.  I know I am.

I have to admit that Psalm 16 is right when it says that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”  I whine way too much.  I complain and bemoan various things in my life… but I have a sweet life, a life that 99.9% of the world would want.  The problems I have can be classified as “rich people’s problems.”  And that’s why I’ve been writing this blog, or more accurately I’m writing the blog to hold myself accountable to my very real desire to examine my life, to become more grateful for it, to change it according to Jesus’ ways, according to the Old Testament jubilee principles fulfilled in Jesus’ new covenant for us.  I want to be part of redemptive efforts, if only in my own small ways, that His kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven.

So I was doing one of my rich person activities recently, shopping at a Whole Foods store.  I could write multiple blog posts on that choice alone, for it is one fraught with ambivalence for me.  But let me just stick to this one story.

Last week I went to Whole Foods to buy groceries for several dinner parties I was having (batching them all together over several days so the flowers and food could do double-duty… thrifty huh?).  And the check-out woman rang up all my food (very slowly I might mention), bagged it all, and then she realized her computer wasn’t working right.  So she told me I’d have to wait a while as she rebooted and tried a few things.  She asked me if I was busy.  Have you ever heard an American say, “Heck no, I’ve got all day to wait here.”  My mouth said no.  My crossed arms told me (and her, probably) otherwise. Though I wasn’t all that busy or time-pressured, really.

Then she decided that the only proper way to pay me back for the loss of my extremely valuable (!?) time was to give me some free food.  Let me repeat that I already had a cart full of just what I “needed” (which is a spurious term in these circumstances anyway), and that included about 20 peaches.  But she insisted on giving me a new bag full of peaches, special “doughnut peaches.”

Which I told her would go to waste, which I told her I did not need, which I told her was unnecessary for I really didn’t deserve or require more food as a prize for waiting patiently.  But it only escalated.  She then insisted I should have some Odwalla juice for free.  I told her I don’t really drink juice, sticking generally to water or coffee (or margaritas, but that seemed excessive to report).  But she wouldn’t rest until she had given me a carton of freshly squeezed orange juice, which I don’t really love.  And then she wanted me to try it right then so I’d know how good it was.

Anyway, you get the point.  It was ridiculously excessive, born of the very reality that Americans can’t wait, don’t expect to, won’t do it patiently.  Is that it?  Is it really not an option for me to have to wait 15 minutes for the register’s computer to get fixed so I can pay for my expensive groceries and go home to prepare for my dinner party?

I guess what was hardest for me to think about is what would have happened if a hungry person walked into that store, looking bedraggled perhaps.  Would that person have had the option to say “Can I have a bag of fresh peaches and a carton of freshly-squeezed orange juice for free?  Just because I am hungry.”  Likely not.

But I got all that because I was deemed too important or busy to wait.  And then when I told a couple of people how much it had upset me, they said that they thought I should’ve gotten something free for my trouble.

It makes me rather sick.

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What do Shania, Pink Floyd, JT, the Beatles and Notorious B.I.G. Have in Common and Why is Cary Writing about Them?

Shania Twain’s Ka-ching video starts, “We live in a greedy little world that teaches every little boy and girl to earn as much as they can possibly, then turn around and spend it foolishly.”  It goes on to say “Our religion is to go and blow it all so we’re shopping every Sunday at the mall.”

It starts out a bit like Pink Floyd’s “Money.” “Money get away.  You get a good job with more pay and you’re okay.”

And James Taylor addresses the subject with “Money Machine,” saying “you can measure your manhood by it.”  No youtube video to share on that one, darn it.

We all know the Beatles said that “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” and therefore they didn’t “care too much for money,” but since they had plenty of it, I don’t know how much street cred they had.

And Notorious B.I.G. says it all in “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” — “I don’t know what they want from me.  Like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.”

Family Friendly

What do you consider the biggest threat to your family?  What do you live in fear of your children being exposed to?

From the conversation on Christian radio, which I enjoy from time to time, one would think that the worst thing that could happen to children is to hear “cuss words” (an antiquated term in the “anything goes” world, I’m sure).  “Family friendly radio” is defined, I think, as radio that is “safe for little ears.”

I heard author Lauren Winner speak one time, and she mentioned something that really stuck with me.  She said that a Christian radio station was having a contest where the 9th (or some other magical number) caller would get a huge ($10,000) shopping spree at the mall for their family.  My impression was that the thrust of the contest was that it’d be a blast to spend the money on whatever they wanted.

This was not meant to help out a struggling family with the purchase of a stove, school shoes and work clothes.  This was designed to just grab STUFF, glorious STUFF, excessive STUFF.

And Winner made the point that that wasn’t very “family friendly,” if we are trying to raise gospel-oriented children.  We’re setting them up with crazy expectations and a faulty worldview that promotes materialism as the highest good (or at least as a source of major happiness).

It got me thinking about the definition, from a faith standpoint, of what “family friendly” should (and should not) encompass.  What do you feel is dangerous for your family and why?

Is hearing “crap” the worst thing that can happen to them spiritually?

Questions to Ask God

I ran across a website, Eternal Perspective Ministries, that has a great list: “Generous Giving: 40 Questions to Ask God.” I’m going to peruse it and reflect on the various questions, a few at a time, as a jubilee discipline.  Check out the work there of Randy Alcorn, who is a wise guide on this topic of how we use our God-given resources.

These are the questions I’m thinking about today:

“What am I holding onto that’s robbing me of present joy and future reward? What am I keeping that’s preventing me from having to depend on You? What am I clinging to that makes me feel like I don’t have to depend on You to provide, like I used to before I had so much? What do You want me to release that could restore me to a walk of faith?”

I wrote about this a couple of days ago, in a piece called Excess and Deprivation Mentality, as I was thinking about insurance and how we often use it as an excuse not to trust God, and other excesses we hold onto “just in case.”

Yet Alcorn’s question takes me a little deeper.  Does material abundance rob me of present joy?  Does my bank account balance make me feel safe (when it hasn’t just been depleted to pay college tuition)?  What do I depend on?

This question can surely go beyond the material to anything we grab at and cling to to insure (supposedly) that we are safe. It’s a good question.

Excess and Deprivation Mentality

There are so many things I take for granted.  Things I own.  Things I have access to.

And I guess part of taking something for granted is that we know we can use it anytime, so it seems worth it to keep it around, even if there is a cost.  But the idea of paying for things (with real money or with storage space given over to it) that we may never use is — of course — another luxury.

Here are a few things that relate to that:

  • having a house bigger than we need so we can hold on to everything
  • keeping a car that we’ve outgrown so we’ll have it when we need to “haul something”
  • paying for all sorts of insurance so we’re covered no matter what (I’m not against all insurance but we really can develop an anti-trust mentality that means we must prepare for every contingency)
  • keeping extras of things in case the first three that we have happen to all break at once (as if we even needed one immersion blender!)

I got to thinking about all this because I am cutting out expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary (by a standard, still, of relative entitlement and affluence).  And as soon as I dropped a few things, I missed them.

I hadn’t used them or cared about them in months — until they were gone.  Cable TV… I NEVER watch television.  But now I’m feeling deprived because I couldn’t watch the French Open.  I’m not sure I’ve ever watched it.

And I dropped a fax line from my house, but now feel concerned that I can’t receive faxes.  I receive about two a year.  I can figure it out.

Ah, entitlement.  Why do I need to have extra things or spend extra money or have extra space “just in case?”  I’m going to take the risk and live life on the edge, not preparing for every contingency with every last, ridiculous expenditure.

Some Self-Challenges that Inspired Me

Writer Diane Nienhuis has undertaken some thoughtful projects to challenge her own consumption.   For a year she didn’t buy any clothing, and for a month she attempted to not buy any plastic.

She’s a new friend, cool person, and inspiration to me.  Read her articles on Burnside Writers Collective and join me and her in thinking about our dependencies on oil and gas, on our consumption levels and on our interdependence.

Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer

I’m enjoying a book called Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer.  You can follow his interesting blog and learn more at: http://www.divinenobodies.com/blog/.  No I am not a paid sponsor.  A friend loaned me the book, and I’m enjoying it (Thanks, Laura).  In fact a bought more copies for others; mailing ’em out now.

ANYWAY, I digress (as usual).  I loved this line:

“… got me thinking about whether any theology can be ‘right’ if it doesn’t motivate you to treat people with love and respect.  Let’s just hope on Judgment Day that God doesn’t leave it in the hands of waitresses, cashiers, and all the other invisible people in our world who are on the receiving end of what’s truly in our hearts.”

I once witnessed a meltdown of a lot of people in a line at a fast food spot on the New Jersey Turnpike (Clara Barton perhaps?) when a woman whose command of the English language was minimal was moving very slowly and with not much efficiency… and people had to wait and didn’t receive exactly what they ordered (“Where are my curly fries?”).  It was chaos. It was war.

I do wrestle with my own lack of kindness when people in service roles are slow or not great at their jobs.  It’s like I have some sense of entitlement that my day go smoothly.  Today a grumpy clerk snapped at me when I attempted to spell my last name, unbidden.  I wanted to cry.  I felt it was my right to snap back.  Help me, God.  It’s not.

It’s my privilege, instead, to show her mercy and kindness and patience and to not be concerned with what she gives back. I know that’s not the way of the world.  But the way of the world isn’t working.  Jesus recommends countercultural measures.

I’ve got to de-escalate.

I appreciate the window into my own heart when I’m less than loving and merciful.  And I appreciate Jim Palmer’s excellent book and thinking.  Read it!