(Trumpets sound) It is now time for a manifesto for the church to confront consumerism…!
However, I have to admit that I find myself a bit clueless at this point. I keep thinking of things I’ve missed on my list of the personal (fair trade, limit TV, low carbon, deeper commitment to family life, connect personally with poverty); but the church stuff is tricky. Maybe because it’s my job. Maybe because I feel the church was posed an impossible question 20 or so years ago: consumerize yourself or become utterly irrelevant. Some went one way, some another. And now the church finds itself half-consumerized (slick music, comfy seats, good coffee, entertaining speakers, ‘me’ focus, worship at your place and time of choice, need I go on?) and half irrelevant (cold, dusty, fusty and musty!). But the church MUST share in culture – it has to connect to communicate. I don’t know how we could have avoided this situation. But then we should also face it honesty.
So where next? What do steps of Exodus look like for an Egyptian Church?
Talk about it. It begins with an admission and the naming of what can be named. We need to develop realistic, accurate and powerful language to describe the consumer culture we find ourselves in. We need to be able to be honest about how compromised we are / feel, and how intractible some of the issues seem.
Become a community of welcome, care and sacrifice. So much of consumerism is about status, belonging and self-protection. But the church, the more it supports its members, possesses the antidote to this. As Ron Sider put it, Jesus din’t call the rich young man to be destitute and friendless – it’s only a community of economic sharing and genuine love that can support serious lifestyle change.
Refuse the cult of personality and personal choice. The letter of 1 Corinthians applies just as much to the previous point (caring for weaker members of the body) as it does to this one (church isn’t a personality contest or a quest for comfort). Larger churches need to find ways of being healthy that bless smaller churches and poorer communities rather than, in the worst cases, feeding off their failure to compete.
We can set different standards for lifestyle than our neighbours might set.
We can share and give creatively through church like nowhere else.
We can be accountable to each other in new ways (the group notes for this detox have tried to enable that).
We can consider how often our activities simply follow the consumer trend (Wii nights, shopping trips, pamper weekends, etc).
We can rediscover the cost of discipleship in an age of self-fulfilment. We can learn how to read the gospels again, even if the first thing we say is ‘I don’t know how I could possibly live this’.
We can work more closely with aid agencies, take up concerns around advocacy, truly make friends with poorer communities and churches (Tearfund are just one organisation doing good work in this area).
We can return to this detox challenge in Lent 2014, but bring others with us!