Monday, September 03, 2007

Faith in a Consumer Culture

I have been reading Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way, and I want to reflect a little bit with what I have read so far.

In the first chapter Peterson looks at the temptations of Jesus when he is in the wilderness. The Accuser comes to Jesus and offers three temptations: turning stones to bread, jumping off the roof of the temple and being saved miraculously, and finally, to have complete rule over the entire world. The funny thing for me is that I only find the first one really tempting to me, and that would be the ability to turn stones to food. But I know right away that my reasons for being tempted with this power are not pure. I would want the fame and admiration of others to be able to do such good in this world of pain and hunger. But enough about my lazy desires for power, let's look at the different temptations and see how Peterson reflects on the current temptations within our Church culture.

First, Stones into Bread:

It is important to note the amount of time Jesus has been fasting in the desert (40 days). So, a good meal would sound quite wonderful at this moment, and the Accuser is starting with the quick and easy temptation, thinking this kind of power would be something Jesus would overlook. Peterson articulates this passage using the frame of our consumer culture, seeing how turning a part of creation into a basis commodity is obviously a great thing to do (especially in a Capitalistic society). Think of the endless good that could be done with this power. The hungry and the desperate could be fed forever, all with just the touch of our hand. The Church can easily fall into a similar trap with meeting the needs of the people around them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with meeting the needs of the hungry and the poor, the oppressed and the forgotten, but we so easily turn those needs into a commodity to be met. We define people by their needs and we use Jesus as a reason to develop a program and food drive to meet these needs, without truly seeing these people for who they are. Instead of using Jesus to meet these needs, we need to look to Jesus as the way to interact and encourage other people as we walk along this way of life. When we purely look at the needs around us, we can feed our selfish and apathetic society without ever reflecting the love and life of Christ along the way. It is very subtle, but we must avoid the temptation to meet the needs with Jesus as a stamp of certification, without first living and actively participating in what Christ is already doing in this world.

Second, Jumping off the roof of the Temple

Creating a spectacle and seeing something truly amazing is always very tempting. Who would not want to see God actively doing miracles at a simple wish or request, so we can bring more and more people to our churches? However, we run into a scary temptation to reduce our version of faith in Jesus to a means of entertainment. Why not? We live in such a consumer culture that we might as well package up Jesus to entertain the masses. I was wrong earlier when I said I was only tempted by the power to create food from creation. I can see this temptation of the spectacular and miraculous in my own life. I want to be used for something big; I want to make a splash in the Kingdom of God. I want people to notice ME. Already I have gone from the good of something miraculous to a place of self serving and pride. It is so easy to reach this place, and we as the Church end up here quite often on Sunday mornings. Let's make the service entertaining, let's package it with technology, noise, lights, and the spectacular. I mean, we have to compete with the entertainment industry, right? If this is true, than we are fighting a losing battle. Pretty soon this kind of ethos in the Church will lead to people saying, "That sermon was really good today", "I enjoyed the worship today", "I found that talk pretty boring". We have reduced the Church setting to something similar to a movie screening, where the congregation is expected to come in, sit down, consume the product, and then to offer their critique. I speak from experience and my own conviction, so if I am pointing the finger at anyone, it is myself. The sad thing is we have been ingrained in this culture that this is our right and our duty to do with all things, even our church setting. We have perverted the very notion of Worship and Community to meaning whatever makes us feel good and entertained. Worship begins with the individual person as they respond to the call of the gospel, but it is fully realized as the people of God gathering together in good and bad situations. Something needs to change in our current setting of the consumer gathering of Church. We invite people to come and take the product we are selling, without asking for too much participation on their part. I know this is generalized and does not apply to all settings or aspects of the service, but I am always amazed at how similar the very lay out of the church building resembles the modern academic setting. We have a class of students with a teacher at the front. No wonder we forget that we bring something to the worship experience as a community of people, not just what the lecturer has to say at the front.

Finally, Rule the World

This last temptation could be a post by itself, and if you have made it this far with me, I apologize for the length of this post. This is something that drives me nuts on the national and global scale. I don't have enough time to fully develop my thoughts here, but I find politics and rule to be a very dangerous place for the people of God. So often, we are tempted to impose our own rules and desires on the greater society by putting the stamp of Jesus and our faith on the message. The problem with this is that the message tends to be perverted and self seeking, which than portrays a tainted Christ to the world around us. I am not saying that faith and politics are impossible, but we must be willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of the gospel. The current system we have in place now seems to make this more possible on the local, city scale, but I am sure there are plenty of temptations and mixed allegiances on any level of politics. For any person to reach the place of presidential nomination means that money has been spent by certain groups who expect their agendas to come first in the decision making process. It would take someone willing to sacrifice a political career for the sake of Christ and his calling on their life. This would inevitably look stupid and ridiculous to the culture around us, in fact, it would be downright offensive, but the truth and beauty that would be shown through such a bold act would far outweigh any good that could be done by cutting corners here and there for the bigger picture. Sorry that this is not well thought out, but we must be careful for how much power we choose to have in our culture and our local church. I can only hope to have the power and strength to be willing to lay my life down for my friend and my enemy.

A quick side thought:

A co-worker and I were talking about what super power we would want if we could have it. I flirted with the idea of being able to heal, but I don't think I could handle the demand it would bring. The tv show The 4400 showed this nicely as the person with this ability had people lining up night and day to receive the healing powers he had. Of course, they were charging for this commodity, but how does one filter out the requests and demands placed on you with this great power and responsibility? So, after a bit of thought, I would easily choose the power of tele-porting. No more lines at the airport.

May I be willing to see how God can use me in the mundane and the ordinary, thankful for the very chance to be a part of his kingdom in the here and now.

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