Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Consumerism

I've heard a lot of sermons about finance and consumerism.  I've spoken a lot about consumerism and economics (although, methinks, that my economics is decidedly different from my earlier stint with the Austrians).  We all know it is a problem.  We all know greed is a sin.  But we cannot seem to do anything about it.

Take, for example, your fairly typical evangelical church in America.  At least stereotypically speaking (and I think this mostly bears out, at least from my experience), the folks are at least middle class, sometimes upper, sometimes lower, sometimes a mix.  There is, even if middle class folks are often worried about their financial status, a lot of money floating around in there.  Enough to supply the salaries for an eccleisal bureaucracy (not quite as formal as a hierarchy, but probably exerting more control): senior pastor, associate paster, worship pastor, children's pastor, youth pastor(s), secretaries and support staff for all the above.  This is not necessarily a bad thing -- sometimes it is necessary to do the work that the Church has set out to do.

More than this support of an ecclesial structure that could rival medieval Rome, most of these folks live middle class lifestyles: cable tv, cable internet, house large enough for at least 1.5 familes, stuff stored in a storage facility (for a monthly fee), kids in umpteen sports with umpteen expenses, etc.  Fairly normal Americana.  In other words, we live consumerism.

A few sermons, or even a sermon about it every week, aren't going to change that.

It must be lived.  Rather, we must die to it.  We must be martyrs to the world, even though it is the good gift of God.

In other words, we must be monks.  Or, at least some of us should be.  All of us need some ascesis, some discipline in our lives, but not all of us can be monks.  Or can we?

The question really is: what is a monk?  Of course, the historical image is that of a self-mortifying, poverty-striken, silent celibate with a funny haircut (I've had that haircut).  But that isn't a monk.  To fall into Aristotelian categories: those are the accidents of a monk, not the substance.  Rather, the substance is someone whose allegiances have been firmly and (theoretically) finally shifted away from the transient to the eternal.  Someone who can let go of, say, a number of meals so that hunger will not control their actions -- someone who can teach the hungry not to steal, but rather to pray for those who have, but whose hearts are closed up and whose souls are in much more peril for their inhospitality to the "least of these."  Also, with the money saved from not eating, a meal (or two or three) can be bought and served to these "least of these" -- saying "be warmed and filled" without warming and filling is a capital sin: it is saying that the words we speak have no bearing on reality, that is, that the Word is not in our words.  Let the speaker beware.

A monk is one who can give up earthly prosperity so that the world can be rich with the Spirit of Christ through prayer.  Think with me, for just one moment, about what would happen in our world if we all gathered for prayer before work, during lunch, and after work.  The workday would either have to get prohibitively long or, more likely, much shorter: work would be subservient to prayer.  The Almighty Dollar would be dethroned and put in its proper place: as a tool in the service of the Prince of Peace, the healer of the blind, the lame, the deaf, the sick, and the dying.  Plus we would see what the truly important work is: mercy.

In other words, I see no reason that we cannot have married monks, single monks, communities of monkish delight, and regular old monasteries doing the work of God.  Everyone is called to this sort of monkish sacrifice: this is because monkery is simply martyrdom in a peaceful time.  We still need witnesses to Christ in the world, but (God be praised) we aren't actively persecuted for our faith, nor are we (in America, I'm speaking of here) put to death for our confession.  That means, if we want to share in the death of Christ, we need to put to death all those things that distract our attention from Him: so that we might receive them again, transfigured, glorified, filled with the Spirit, for the good of the world.

This means we are going to need a Rule of Life.  That is what I am beginning to work on with my family and my church.  Pray for us.

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