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Archive for the ‘consumerism’ Category

We Are That Spoiled

Absolutely one of the funniest commentaries on consumer culture EVER.  You must watch this.  We often desire faster, and better, and more, but what is the real cost of that?  Perhaps we are the spoiled generation. (ht)

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The Lie Of Stuff

The more I follow Jesus, the more I begin to really see the wisdom in leaving the “stuff” behind.  What if the lie of stuff is that it leads to a subtle form of oppression?

There’s just something about getting stuff that just makes us immediately feel better.  We’re taught to buy stuff because for some reason the act of purchasing something releases endorphins that make us feel good.  I have actually caught myself buying something stupid and then the moment I walked out the door asking, “Why did I buy this?”  This is the subtle trap in our consumeristic world. It feels good to buy even what we don’t need.

When I bought my house there was an amazing feeling to being an owner.  In some ways I had taken part in the American dream.  I could now say I wanted a certain color on the walls and I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.  And then after about six months I began to feel the weight of something called a mortgage.  I was now beholden to paying for this “dream” for the next thirty years.  It really made me ask if this was really a dream or somehow a twisted trick.  This dream was now requiring me to make a certain amount of money every month in order to pay for it.

And then something strange happened.  The American dream changed in mid-flight.  Someone invented the term “upward mobility.”  My house that was so cool was now supposed to be just a stepping stone to a better house.  But I liked my house.  I thought…  Why do I have to move?  But I did.  And as much as we try there is this expectation to keep up and have the next best thing.  We see the really cool things that we could have, the ones that come in the mail on a regular basis, the ones our friends have and are loving.  We are consumers.  It’s what we do.

But now I’m beginning to ask a different question.  What’s the real cost of my stuff?

When I buy something, say a new car, I get to enjoy the wonderful feeling that comes from owning something new.  There’s something about a new car smell, the look on your friends faces when they see you driving it, and the joy of not having to worry about it breaking down.  There’s also the fact that I can take care of certain concerns and needs when I have a car.  The idea is good…in principle.

But then what is the cost of that stuff.  First I have to pay for that stuff.  This in some cases a natural order of things.  Stuff has to be bought.  It’s not free.  But I often can’t afford to actually buy that stuff so I purchase it on credit, which means in the case of my house I will actually pay twice as much for the pleasure of taking part in the American dream.

I then began to realize that the stuff I buy has to have a place to be stored.  I need a new shelf, another closet, and a bigger garage. I have Christmas stuff, and Easter stuff and sports stuff, and linen stuff, all taking space in my house that is an American dream.  In some cases I actually have to park my car outside the garage because I have too much stuff, or not enough space, depending on how you look at it.

Stuff also needs other stuff to go with it.  It needs it’s friends.  The duvet needs a better bed.   The shoes needs a different shirt.  That couch could never go with that carpet. And my house needs a different backyard.  Who cares if I can’t afford it?  I’ve got a 725 credit score to take care of that problem.

Stuff also has a way of hanging out when we don’t really need it.  It needs to be put up in the attic because we somehow think we’ll need it…some day.  So we set it next to the stuff that we bought twenty years ago, that we thought we would need…someday.  And all of this stuff has a way of piling up, filling the spaces in our closets.  Yes it has memories and potential but that’s for…someday, when we’ll use it.

Looking at it now I think I get what Jesus was saying when he said, “Sell all that you have.”  The more we buy the more we have to manage and take care. And what once was something to serve us becomes something to serve on a regular basis. And that is not a life I really want to live.

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Watch This Now

I guess this film was inevitable.  Then watch this to get informed.

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I’ve been thinking lately, what if our parents got it wrong?  What if the American dream is not as good as the ads in InStyle or Better Home and Garden magazine suggest?  What if the perfect life is not so perfect?

Thomas Friedman said in the World Is Flat,

“I am certain that we Americans can indeed thrive in this world.  But I am also certain that it will not be as easy as it was in the last 50 years.  Each of us as an individual will have to work a little hard and run a little faster to keep our standard of living rising.”

And the assumption in this statement is that after 50 years we have come to the conclusion, or the acceptance, that we need to continue to increase our standard of living.  Are we really more happy?  I live in a world that is equal and probably greater than my parents ever attained.  And yet are we more content?  And does contentment come from a better standard of living?

We think about the endless drive in the American dream and wonder if it has become a trap.  It is likely that my children will not ever be able to exceed my standard of living, which throws a wrench into the whole concept.  And even if they do, the standard always increases enough to make you think it is just around the corner…just.

My wife and I have been steadily asking what a lower standard of living looks like.  Not because we want a lesser life, but because we’re rapidly coming to the conclusion that lots of stuff takes lots of time and more money to manage.  The more we have the more we have to worry about it.  We’ve begun to ask what experience we would like to have rather than what thing.  And God keeps drawing us towards people, towards investing in their lives.

The flattening of the world, as Friedman speaks, is radically and rapidly changing our expectations for the future.  I’m convinced that in the next twenty to thirty years the American dream will shift from a rising standard of living to a rising standard of relationships or loving.  I think people are becoming tired of the chase.  Yet as any system that is filled with potential and promise but inherently doesn’t work, we still have to discover it doesn’t work.  We have to prove out its obsolescence. And it likely will take an entire generation, or about 80 years to prove that.

My gut tells them that people are beginning to see the value in relationships as opposed to things, the latter being more valuable in the long run.  Yes we are a consumeristic society, but this is a natural consequence of the original chase.   This relational value will require a new way of operating that begins with our own humanity and dealing with our brokenness.  If Facebook, MySpace, and social networking sites have proven anything it is that the emerging generations are wired towards relationship, and each is feeding that desire.

And it is love that people desire because it is love that builds and fosters relationships.  Stuff can’t do that.  And it is always the church that has been the entity to bring love to the world.  If we listen, and listen carefully to this shift, we can be positioned to answer one of the fundamental problems in every emerging generation, across borders, and across the world.  We can be the ones to create a rising standard of loving.

What if the American dream truly was to love your neighbor?  I can hope can’t I?

BTW: You can listen to the World Is Flat for Free.

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In 2003 just before the war, gas prices were $1.40 and climbing.  Ugh.

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My stuff is broken and I don’t like it.

About two years ago I was enjoying a wonderful glass of Cabernet as my wife and I planned our first major RV trip. And I can still remember that second when the glass was falling over. My computer’s life flashed before my eyes. A half-full glass of fine wine landed smack into my computer. I let out what felt like a scream and turned the computer over. Wine poured out in ridiculous red raindrops. It was now toast.

The only cool part of that was that I got to get new stuff. Within a week my brand new MacBook Pro (I’ve been a user for 25 years) sat comfortably in my lap. It was awesome. And to be honest, it wasn’t really a better computer in a light-years kind of way. It had a few better features like the built in camera and the remote that I never used. But what it came down to is that it looked newer.

Well flash forward to today. I’m sitting here listening to some music and the screen portion of my “new” laptop keep falling just enough backwards that it’s not the right angle. The hinge in the laptop is no longer sticking the way it should. It’s a little thing but it keeps bugging me. I know it’s not working the way its supposed to. I actually use my laptop all day for work so its not really a little thing, even though it is.

And this is the thing. My stuff is broken. And I want to go out today and buy a new one. And as I thought about this temptation I realized began to ask why I needed a new computer. Why the urge to go out and buy something I really didn’t need. I wanted it.

Something is fueling the tension within consumerism. Something is driving it. The issue is deeper than just being spoiled. It’s deeper than the media’s constant saturation. Advertising works.  I should know.  I was in it for a long time.  But something else has to be at play to make all these forces come together.

And then I realized that my computer reminds me of my own brokenness. I don’t like that. My stuff is broken and I want stuff that isn’t broken. I want stuff that works.

Thank You Father for loving me in spite of my brokenness.

Listening to: Fix You by Coldplay

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“About 10 years ago, David Brooks (a well known author and columnist) wrote a book called “Bobos in Paradise” that introduced a new word into the English language: bobo. A bobo is a bourgeois bohemian. Bobos are yuppies with hippy values. They love the idea of the just, holistic, earthy life, but think they can buy it. We live in a bobo culture where people pay ten bucks for soap with chunks in it, where folks spend fifty bucks for hemp purses, where everyone cares about genocide and poverty and global warming. But the counter-cultural ethic has been co-opted by consumerism. This means that more people want social justice and peace, but they’ve bought into the lie that they can buy it.”

Mark VanSteenwyk, in Church Marketing Sucks

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