I think it is actually pretty easy to answer the question of what kind of people our consumer culture wants us to be – on the surface it would seem that we are people who are very concerned about how we smell, how our clothes smell, how our homes smell, and how our cats smell, insecure people, people who are not satisfied with the way they look, people who find their status in having the newest the biggest and the best of whatever is being sold this year or this season, people who find their value, their self worth, in what they own or in others opinions of them.
I do believe that there is a chicken and egg thing going on here – is it the consumer culture that has shaped us into people like this, or it is our very nature as human beings that has created the hyper commercialized world that we live in?
Most of us if not all of us have a need for something intangible that we try to satisfy in less than productive ways, and often with material possessions. Philosophers and theologians have described this need in this way: that all human beings have a God shaped whole in their hearts, that we are longing for something to complete us, to help us make sense of the world, and we spend our whole lives trying to fill it with everything but God.
The 17th century philosopher and mathematician Pascal described it like this:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.
The crisis of our consumer culture today is not just about the ultra expensive, bigger is better world, it is the cheap, disposable culture as well, where we can get our fix for something new, where we can try to fill the hole with material junk no matter our income level.
How does the church provide a voice of leadership in the mist of these needs and in the midst of this culture?
Let’s be honest here – the only Christian voices in our culture today, the only ones speaking as loud as the commercials are on the television are all about telling us who is in and who is out of the boundaries of God’s love or they are preaching a gospel of prosperity that tries to convince us that God’s purpose and intention for us in the world is to have financial success.
It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that we are beloved children of God. It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that God is right here in our midst waiting for us to pay attention to how we might experience God in the real moments of our lives. It is hard to hear voices from the church telling us that it is okay to be on a search for something more and to acknowledge that we are in need not just in our bodies but in our hearts and our souls. The voices on the television are just too loud and the voices in our head can be even louder.
The second question in today’s hypothesis is who does Christ call us to be? I believe Christ calls us to be people who identify ourselves as God’s children first before we give in to who the world tells us we are. I believe that we are called to seek after real experiences of God first instead of satiating ourselves with what the world tells us we are missing.
It is important for me to say that the material world is not bad, that things in and of themselves are not the problem, and there is no better way to make that point than to remind us all, that Jesus Christ himself loved a good object lesson, whether it was a net, or a coin, a fish or a jar of costly ointment, whether it was the cool waters of baptism or the satisfying taste of bread broken and wine poured.
Christ calls us to fill this God shaped hole with these gifts of bread and cup, the questions that we are continuing to ask in this stepping stones journey is how does Christ call us to share these gifts with the rest of the world. Christ calls us to live into our baptismal identity and so we ask as well how we proclaim that outside of these walls loud enough for the rest of the world to hear.