Posts Tagged consumerism
This video impacted on me – like a rotten egg on my Sunday morning face. I’ve lived in these cities, and met and enjoyed time with people like those featured here. I’ve seen the industrial waste dumped into the local farmer’s fish-ponds, and I’ve seen farmers turned off the land their families have been working for generations to make way for giant industrial complexes; leaving them with no option but to take new jobs for abominable wages in dangerous conditions. And, yes, I have a cell phone in my pocket.
What’s the answer? Well what about we start asking questions of the current round of ‘free’ trade talks. Because it seems to me that the ‘free’ market means the freedom of richer people to become even wealthier at the expense of poorer people.
How about we start insisting on fair trade, instead? How about we begin the long journey of changing our trade agreements, one commercial sector at a time, so that we only trade with those who offer their employees the same protections we insist upon for our own workforce?
How about we re-establish industries in NZ that have been outsourced (at great cost) to ‘cheaper’ (read ‘more easily exploited’) labour forces, and work to supply our own needs for things like electronics, and shoes, and fruit? What would it be like, if we all went back to eating food seasonally, instead of expecting to have everything available, all the time?
How about we offer favourable tariffs to enterprises that provide worker protections and benefits over and above the minimum standards (often non-existent) of their own legal setting?
Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but what are the alternatives? More of the same? More industrial deaths? More exploitation? Unceasing market ‘growth’ requiring increasing consumption of diminishing resources? More, More MORE?!
Perhaps we need to make a start on a new path. The one we’re on leads inevitably to a terrible cliff, and too many are falling by the wayside as we rush head-long to that drop. Perhaps we need to forget the ‘free’ market. We might end up with fewer consumer choices – but more real freedom. Until all are free, none are.
This year God used my annual retreat to challenge me about my greed. About my sense of entitlement to the good things in my life, about my resentment when anything (even He) gets between me and what I consider ‘mine’. About my refusal to let the good things he’s given me become a means of communion with others; my refusal to share in His name. I don’t stuff my face at buffet meals. I don’t avariciously seek to maximise every penny. I don’t feel any need to wear designer clothes or drive a flash car. I can sneer at all these things – and yet greed has innumerable tiny hooks in my soul, and it was only the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting, scripture reading and contemplation that exposed me. That showed me my need for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s discipline in my life.
There are episodes of devotion, like my annual retreat, that are intense and that can overthrow spiritual mountains (or expose spiritual undermining), but if those intense episodes aren’t grounded in daily life, then they are meaningless. How do we live in the valleys and on the plains by the light of the mountain-top visions? Here’s where the disciplines are essential. The discipline of fasting is taking the ordinary discipline of self-denial to a pointed extreme. On its own, fasting is meaningless. If I’m only prepared to deny myself on those special occasions when I ‘fast’, then I’m not really fasting at all; I’m just trying to earn spiritual brownie-points – yet another form of greed! I need to be able to deny my desires, my lust and greed on a daily basis. How? Start small. What’s something small that you know you don’t actually need or even want, but take for yourself because you’re afraid of missing out? Something that is a little self-indulgence. A little guilty. Whatever it is, it can be your opportunity to practice the discipline of self-denial. Say to yourself that you’ll forgo whatever it is next time you have the opportunity. Tell yourself that you are free to leave it for someone else to enjoy. Remind yourself that God will supply all your needs – abundantly. Consider how denying yourself in this way might help you to serve others.
When Jesus spoke about fasting, he talked about dressing up festively – “put oil on your head and wash your face” – instead of covering ourselves with sackcloth and ashes. His point was that the fast is between us and God so we don’t need to advertise. We should beware of using the disciplines as an opportunity for boasting, but the picture he paints goes a little further than that, too. We should dress up festively not just to put on a false face, but because we can be glad in our fasting – because God really is an amazingly generous God, and pours his grace out to us superabundantly. When we detach ourselves from our petty desires, and pause to see all that God gives, we live in gratitude and celebration. Fasting and self-denial shouldn’t lead us to pretend that God’s goodness isn’t good, but should sharpen our appreciation for the richness of God’s bounty. And that should overflow into generosity. These are the spiritual fruit that come from fasting; not misery and resentment and suspicion of pleasure and plenty, but joy in God’s blessings, and a warm open-handedness. We may first have to confront our resentment of God’s Lordship in our lives, and our anxieties about not having enough, and our fear of missing out, and so forth, and that might be a painful process. But the outcome should be a much greater freedom, and an easier communion for us all.
The whole world is now clutched tight in the grip of rampant commercialisation. There is nothing that has not been reduced to a market opportunity. Our worship of wealth has led to a tiny elite of super-rich, and ever-increasing poverty for those who supply the wants and desires of the 1%. The world needs better answers than “increased quarterly growth” and “buoyant markets”. It needs a new vision. It needs God’s Kingdom. And it needs us to show them what the kingdom looks like. But for us to show forth the kingdom, it has to become real in our own hearts. Can I commend to you the discipline of fasting? Prepare yourself well, and find a spiritual overseer to guide you in it, and then enjoy what God will do in your soul.