Consuming Lifestyle

What alternatives do we have to offer to
those caught up in consumer lifestyle? It’s not enough to be against, we’ve got
to also have a better way.

Roger, responding to my post Culture, Media and Individualism, asks what a pastor can do when we are individually caught up in the consumer culture, and he makes a good point.

It’s not enough to critique the culture without also offering alternatives. I’m re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and happened on his chapter on Christian Morality as these blog exchanges occurred today. Lewis says that a mark of Christian social morality is giving. The focus is not on our wants or needs but on those of others. John Wesley was concerned about this and lived his life as a giver, not as a consumer.

I am afraid the
only safe rule
is to give more
than we can spare.

–C.S. Lewis

Lewis writes that in the New Testament we are told that everyone must work in order that we have something to give to those in need. Wesley’s famous comment that we should earn all we can, save all we can and give all we can (paraphrased) echoes this New Testament attitude toward why we work–to be in position to give.

In another claim similar to Wesley, Lewis says,”I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

Lewis says for the Christian this kind of “charity” is a mark of obedience and trust. He says “for many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear–fear of insecurity.”

One of the insidious thrusts of consumer marketing is to foster and heighten this insecurity. It’s necessary to keep us consuming. But faith is an antidote to fear and insecurity. Thus, faith, in this context is counter to the culture.

It is said that when Wesley died he had planned his finances so that he left enough only to pay for his burial and pallbearers. All else, he gave away. I suspect this is another of the countercultural teachings of Christian faith that is hard for us to hear in our culture. The antidote to consumption is a closer relationship to the poor, to God, to others in the community of faith and to give until we have given sacrificially. To the culture this is madness. To the Christian, it’s discipleship.

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