Consumerism

Economics According to the New Testament

Gold aureus coins with the faces of various Roman Leaders. These coins were found below the floor of a Roman house in Corbridge in 1911. From the British museum.

Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.

Ramsey likes to talk a lot about biblical finances. He claims that when he gives someone financial advice that it is done through following what the Bible says. Let’s take a look at what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches Christians concerning finances.

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The Community of Goods

From a television personality saying that the poor are lazy to a megachurch pastor teaching that wealth is a blessing from God, in the West today—especially in the United States—Christianity is often associated with individualism, capitalism, and personal profit. I personally believe that Christians are called to a different standard. Being Christian should mean following Jesus’ example today—it should be missional and based in radical discipleship. This means that we should look to the example of Jesus and try to bring his example into our context today.

The early followers of Jesus were far removed from our American culture of rigid individualism and capitalism. On the one hand, they came from a pre-modern society, and on the other hand, they practiced a radical form of community—one that is described throughout the New Testament and several early church documents, and has been revived many times throughout church history. (more…)

More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking

Since becoming Mennonite, I have thought more about the ethics of consumption than I had previously as a generically evangelical Christian. I have been challenged to analyze the impact of how I spend my money (and how much I spend), where I shop for clothes, what food I eat, etc. I imagine that–like me–many Mennonites (and other Anabaptists and fellow Christians) had these issues brought to their attention through such classics as Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less cookbook. While I have found the Mennonite emphasis on simplicity to be one of its more attractive (albeit challenging) features, it wasn’t until I met my anorexic friend, Michelle, at our local Mennonite church that I saw the potentially damaging effects this teaching could have on those who already struggle with food-related issues. For those interesting in thinking through these difficult questions, I commend to you Michelle’s new blog, More with Much Less: An Anorexic’s Guide to Mennonite Cooking. In the meantime, here’s hoping that she’ll invite me over for some of Janzen Longacre’s recipes!

Beware of the Ministry-Industrial Complex

Occasionally, I end up going to one of those “Christian” stores, or I get some sort of advertisement from them. Where I live, they are called “Family Christian Stores” with an emphasis on the family part. In other parts of the country, such stores also exist, but with different names. We have all been to those kinds of places. When I was an evangelical, that was where you went to get a Bible or some accessory for it, but I still occasionally end up going there for one reason or another. These stores have books by Sarah Palin and Joel Osteen, and entire walls devoted to American flags and New International Versions. We all know the type.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an advertisement catalog from one of those stores, and for some reason I looked through it. First, there was a bunch of customized Bibles. Sort of like some sort of collector’s item, there was a bunch of needless varieties of Bibles for purchasing. I always see this whenever I go to any bookstore – people treating the Bible like some sort of fashion statement. What really annoyed me was when I saw this. They have this line of patriotic clothing, but it is not just patriotic. They mix Christianity into their patriotism in an amazing way. They even have a “Jesus Saves” shirt stylized to read “JesUSAves.” They literally made Jesus an American and linked Christian salvation to Americanism. They are mixing Christianity, capitalism, and the American state into one single chimera. Now, this is not new. I have known that they were doing this for a long time, but this example proved to be the ideal opportunity to bring up the issue. (more…)

Talking with Granny about the London Riots

This article was originally published in the Autumn newsletter of the London Catholic Worker

After having the inevitable and frustrating conversation with my Granny about the riots – the one where she says,“it wasn’t like this in the 1930s, children did what their parents said”, “why do you want to live in Hackney?” etc, and I can’t argue because she’s my Gran – I needed to write something…
 
According to my Gran, there used to be lines of starving, emaciated men waiting in queues patiently to find work. Nowadays, the young don’t even want to work. In the old days you would never have gone out if your parents told you to stay in, nowadays kids have no respect. They’re not starving, they’ve got loads of stuff – they’re just greedy, lazy and selfish.
 
So why the change, what has happened to make us (and she does still include in me in ‘the youth’!) so disrespectful and selfish? And, depending on which media you read/watch, are these rioters disrespectful, selfish thugs who’ve never had it so good? Or are they victims of a era of austerity cuts, unemployment and a Tory government? (more…)

Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)

BUY NOTHING CHRISTMAS

The day is soon approaching when people all over America will be rushing to the malls and shopping centers to get the best deals of the year. Black Friday- the day stores move from red to black in their sales margin, fueled by a culture of over-consumption (and perhaps also the left over energy from a day of over-eating). Millions will wake up before the sunrise to fill their carts with the latest gadgets, half-price sweatshirts, and 3-for-1 boxes of chocolate. A lot could be said about the cultural ideology that makes such a bizarre event seem normal, but instead I want to offer a constructive alternative. If you would rather sleep in on Friday and save money by not spending it in the first place, then you should check out this link:

BUY NOTHING CHRISTMAS

Buy Nothing Christmas is a Mennonite-run campaign that stems from the Buy Nothing Day campaign of Adbusters magazine. Buy Nothing Day challenges the consumerism of Black Friday by asking people to buy nothing the whole day. Inspired by this challenge, a group of Canadian Mennonites decided to take it even further by asking people of faith and conscience to make no Christmas-related purchases throughout the whole season, addressing both the over-consumption of our culture and the fact that Santa gets more attention than Jesus these days. Instead they advocate making your own presents or offering gifts of time. The website is full of beautiful ideas to fill the holiday season with true joy, the kind that comes from family and friends, not stuff.

Anabaptist Geek Comic strip of the Year: Parade of ever fancier toys

I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted a cartoon on YAR before, but today’s xkcd 3 panel brought together a rare combination of critique in the spirit of Anabaptism and geek cynicism (not to be confused with Diogenes).

Anabaptist Droid comic

Translation

For those non-geeks among you, the Droid is Motorola’s latest cell phone response to Apple’s I-phone. App is slang for applications that run on those two phones. Oh, and Diogenes was a Greek who founded the Cynic school of philosophy. He lived in a tub.

In Other News

Maple City Health Care Clinic wins the Anabaptist clinic of the year award. From the NPR story:

Last fall, when the unemployment rate in Elkhart County, Indiana, topped 10 percent, clinic workers began noticing that patients weren’t showing up for appointments. Turns out they couldn’t even come up with a few bucks for an office visit.

So James Gingrich, the clinic’s medical director, decided to tap his patients’ skills and resources instead. The clinic began offering $10 an hour toward health care if a patient volunteered at another non-profit organization.

Lord of the Rings and Star Wars geek honey pot

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

Why does Sojourners magazine have more advertising then content?

The other day I picked up the November issue of Sojourners, a magazine and an organization that I feel a lot of shared values with. I flipped to the cover story, “The Meaning of Life”. I started to read the article, but quickly became distracted by the advertising that took up the majority of every page.

I decided to do the math. Over 17 pages “The meaning of life” was over 71% advertising and only 29% photos and text.

Here’s the breakdown by page, with the percentage dedicate to advertisements and the advertisers:

p. 12 (100%) – Azusa Pacific
p. 13 (66%) – Baylor University and Friends Committe on National Legislation
p. 14 (100%) – IVP Books
p. 15 (66%) – Sierra Club Books
p. 16 (50%) – Eastern University
p. 17 (66%) – Beacon Press and Goodpreacher.com
p. 18 (66%) – Herald Press, Peace by David Cortright, Bread for the World
p. 19 (66%) – Trinity Wall Street, Church Divinity School of the Pacific
p. 20 (66%) – Luther Seminary, San Francisco Theological Seminary, New Society Publishers
p. 21 (66%) – Eardmans, Clergy Leadership Institute
p. 22 (66%) – Nazarene Theological Seminary, Self Help Credit Union
p. 23 (50%) – Church publishing
p. 24 (66%) Wesley Theological Seminary
p. 25 (100%) – Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
p. 26 (50%) – Auburn Theological Seminary
p. 27 (66%) – Westminster John Knox Press, Sojo Store
p. 28 (100%) – Bethel Seminary and University (more…)

We Shopped till he Dropped

(x-posted at IndieFaith)
Did we know it would only be a matter of time? Were we aware that possible escalation had no real check? Did the legion of reality TV shows, sporting events, and corporate ladders instill in us an instinct for conquering? There can be only one! This weekend CNN announced the ‘hero of the year’. There could be no community of heroes, no spirit and discipline of heroism. There could be only the 1 million dollar hero. But yesterday the weight of this culture crushed Jdimytai Damour. The 5am sales blitz at Wal-Mart corralled desperate shoppers for over 24hrs building to over 2000 until the first crack in the dam opened at which time they flooded through the gates and poured over and killed the temp employee Damour who was brought in for the holiday season.

Lord have mercy. Lord have justice.
Yesterday was also Buy Nothing Day.
I am standing on the sidelines looking for a response.

The Trouble with Thanksgiving: A Reflection by Nekeisha

Thanksgiving makes me nervous.

For years, I’ve gotten a sinking feeling in my stomach as the month of November draws to a close and this day looms. On the one hand, Thanksgiving is about joy and gratitude. It is a time when I travel to see family and friends, welcome a few days of rest and look forward to the holiday season. In my mind, I know it is a good thing to have a day where the sole emphasis is to give thanks to God for all God has done. I also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate all my loved ones do and are to one another.

And yet Thanksgiving reminds me of a beautiful but altogether itchy sweater. Sure it looks good on the rack in my closet. It is slimming, well-made, gorgeous color—everything you could hope for in a sweater. But if I put it on I’m guaranteed to spend the whole day tugging, scratching and feeling downright uncomfortable. Try as I might, I can’t shake that weird feeling about that good ole holiday. It gets to the point where weeks in advance I’m trying to come up with other things to say besides “Happy Thanksgiving.” And since “Happy Day Off” doesn’t cut it I go ahead and mutter the greeting anyway, wheels still turning for a suitable substitute. (more…)

Bible Verses of the Day: Acts 19:23-29

23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.”

28 When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29The city was filled with the confusion; and peoplec rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions.    – Acts 19:23-29 (NRSV)

(my version of Acts 19…don’t get huffy I’m not translating from the Greek)

A man named Henry Paulson, a secretary who made decisions about currencies, brought no little business to the Senate. These he gathered together, with other wealthy men, and said “Listen everyone, I don’t like to mix in the market anymore than you do. De-regulation has served us well for some time. But you see, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a mess. This market, it has served us well for some time and made us all rich and powerful. But, the market needs more – it’s hurting. And we can’t lose the business. Now, a number of so-called “progressives” are concerned about the mortgage crisis – remember those mortgages? Ah, they were good for us weren’t they? Well, now they’ve gone sour. And a number of folks are concerned that everyone is going to lose their homes and be out on the street. But, really gentlemen, I’m much more concerned that, if we don’t act quickly, they’ll not only lose their homes, but we’ll lose lots, and lots, and lots of money. And we don’t want to upset the market – it gives us all that power remember? So, I need you guys to help me out: tell all those bleeding hearts to shut up for a while, scare the nation into thinking that all will be lost, and pass this bill giving me a lot more power to make you and all our friends alot more rich. I know you are concerned now, but you’ll thank me in the long run.”

When they heard all this, they agreed and said “Great are the fudamentals of our economy!” The country was filled with confusion, and bills were hastily past, and many were left wondering what protection was out there for them.

A week later, everyone forgot and Paul went to Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

technology and worship: initial reflections

I’m participating in AMBS’s conversation on technology and worship. I have to put together a paper. Below are my initial reflections as I work towards something of substance. I would appreciate any critical engagement. Am I going in a helpful direction? Should I turn around while I still can? Thanks.

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Why not start with Karl Barth? In his essay, “Church and Culture” (in Theology and Church, London: SCM, 1962), Barth disallows any uncritical approval of culture, nor does take a consistent stand against culture. As usual, Barth makes things complicated. On the one side of the dialectic, Barth takes up the ax of John the Baptist: “Christian preaching…has met every culture, however supposedly rich and mature, with ultimate sharp skepticism” (quoted in T.J. Gorringe, Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, p. 18). But later in that same essay Barth has no patience for a spiritualism that ignores our cultural milieu. There is no room, Barth writes, “for a basic blindness to the possibility that culture may be revelatory, that it can be filled with promise.” The seeds of God’s kingdom proliferate throughout the world. Barth pursues the same line of thinking in Church Dogmatics IV/3, where he claims that if “all things are created in and through Jesus” (Colossians 1:16-17), then, as Prof. Peter Dula puts it, “there is nowhere, not even the mouth of an ass, that we cannot expect to find words reflecting the light of the Word” (Peter Dula, “A Theology of Interfaith Bridge Building,” p. 164 in Borders and Bridges: Mennonite Witness in a Religiously Diverse World). Barth goes on to call these diverse worldly witnesses to God’s kingdom “secular parables” (CD IV/3, p. 115). The earth and human culture resound with echoes of the one Word of God which speaks into existence the kingdom of God. Therefore we must pay attention to the places we inhabit, the cultures that permeate us. “The Church,” he writes, “will be alert for the signs which, perhaps in many cultural achievements, announce that the kingdom approaches” (20). The kingdom does come. The question Barth poses to the church is whether she is ready to receive it, however strange it may appear.

It’s a strange possibility to consider how the pieces of culture called ‘technology’ may display God’s kingdom, if only parabolically. Barth won’t let us rule out an abstract category like “technology” without serious engagement in particular technological machineries–he calls them “cultural achievements.” Nor will he take up every new sophisticated invention as a chance for the kingdom to make headway. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism.

In The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture (Zondervan, 2005), pastor Shane Hipps critically considers the place of technologies in worship. He carefully steers clear of many church leaders who welcome any and every form of technology as the panacea for dying churches. Blindly welcoming technology into church life turns worship into another capitalist commodity. We then become one show among many where Christians can find “new experiences to consume” (15). In Modernity, writes Hipps, “churches heeded consumer demands and sough to reinvent church. They either had to compete in the consumer marketplace on the consumer’s terms or face extinction. In the spirit of modernity, these churches reincarnated themselves as highly competent vendors of religious programs and services” (99). But the answer, according to Hipps, is not a reactionary turn against all forms of technology. “I’m not arguing for some Luddite strategy of literally destroying media” (65). Instead, we carefully and communally discern how modern technologies can aid us as we embody the good news of Christ. In Hipps’ words, “We learn to understand the power of our technologies to shape us, thereby regaining power over them” (122). (more…)