Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Consumerism

I meant to write a book review yesterday, but I was tired and didn't feel up to it. Par for the course as they say.

Now someone approached him and said, "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He asked him, "Which ones?" And Jesus replied, " 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother'; and 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " The young man said to him "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions.
Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10: 17-22

This is one of the most beautiful stories of the Bible because it honors the gift of sharing. And to me it is apparent how important it was to the disciples. They told the story so many times that it is found in not one but two gospels. There are slight variations in the story. In Matthew, the man is young and rich and he asks which commandments to follow. In Mark the man is simply rich and possibly older because he says he's been following the commandments since his youth. Also Jesus simply tells him what ones to follow; the man doesn't ask. It's not important the variations. If you ask several witnesses about a significant scene that played out, like 9-11 for instance, depending on their point of view, you will have any number of variations. The important thing is like 9-11 it was so important that it stayed in the mind of several of disciples. Here's why:

Jewish thought at the time was if you were a good person, God would reward you on earth. You would have money, friends, many children, and the fruits of your labor. If you were not a good person, if you were disobedient and didn't follow God's commands, you were punished. This meant that you were poor, sick, childless, friendless, ect. Job is a significant book of the Bible because this is the first time that being good didn't necessarily equate itself with wealth. However, in Jesus's time it was still the prevalent thought. Goodness=wealth. Badness=poverty. So here is this man (old or young) wanting to follow God and enter into eternal life. He asks Jesus how to achieve this. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments (love your neighbors and love God basically). He says that he does this. So Jesus says that he must sell his possessions and give them to the poor, which is loving your neighbor to the nth degree. He is upset. He loves what he has.

How does this translate today? Loving our neighbor and entering into God's kingdom means taking care of the poor. Right now. This very minute that you are reading this post. That you are sipping your coffee/tea (hopefully it is fair trade) there are people around the globe suffering from intense hunger. While we as Americans have the luxury of demanding foods that are out of season any ol' time of the year, someone in Africa is praying that the UN brings rice to their village. I read some statistic somewhere that the world's population lives on an average of 2 USD a day. Right now you can make 7.50 an hour in the US. Now I'm not saying, give up everything that you own. I'm just saying spread it around. But I'll come back to that.

In the United States and other highly developed countries, we are inundated by advertising. I love my dad. He has a degree in marketing so I know a lot about how advertising gets us to think that we "need" something. They like to target teenagers especially because they have free time to spend their parents' money. But don't be fooled, advertising is everywhere. It's on the billboards driving down the street. It's in the newspaper. It's on the internet. It's on television. It's everywhere and you can't get away from it. Children's Saturday morning programs are full of the latest plastic Chinese toys and sugar coated cereals. No wonder it's hard to stop thinking that we "need" more. And what they want us to "need" are things that are harmful for us. Lead paint and diabetes anyone?

I'm not perfect about the whole "need" thing either. I have a rule though. If I really want something, I put it on a wish list and mull about it for at least a month sometimes longer. If I find that it is something useful, I'll buy it then. This is usually involving books and things that are healthy and good for me. Also I quit watching tv especially commercials. HB kinda put the kibosh on tv watching. The internet is a little harder, but I try my best to ignore. I also quite reading as many magazines because they are basically one giant advertisement campaign. Even those magazines that are supposed to brighten your home and update your wardrobe carefully tell you what the brand of the product is from paint to lipstick. The pictures make the colors so vibrant and happy; they convince a person that to make their home cheerful they need a splash of color. I have white walls and there's a lot of laughter and love going on with HB around. I didn't exactly buy him at the corner market.

Other things I do to curb the "need" hunger. I try to buy things that are for the good of others. I try to put money into small businesses who care about their employees and the environment. I know that there's a farmer's market that I need to go to (bad me bad me). I buy 2nd hand clothes as much as possible (kinda hard to find nursing bras 2nd hand). I've recently discovered that there are toothbrushes and razors made from recycled plastics. I've also discovered entire lines of earth-friendly natural beauty products. I use the cloth diapers. My church every month sells fair-trade coffee. I don't drink coffee, but if I did, I would so go fair trade. It's the neighborly thing to do. Basically, I try to take care of my neighbor and not give it to cooperations whose CEO makes a ton of money. The wealth needs to be spread around.

Also I make it a point to spread the wealth around by donating. There are a number of great places that you can do that. Feeding America and Heifer International are my two favorites. I made donations one year in honor of family members as Christmas gifts. Who needs more stuff anyway? I also donate goods. Anything that I'm not using goes to Goodwill or Savers. They are two non-profit thrift stores that donate proceeds to charity. I also love buying stuff from them.

While I understand the coupon cutters, I'm guilty of this myself, I try to remember that it's not about saving the money for myself. It's about giving up money and giving it to the poor. I know a person who is a crazed coupon cutter to the nth degree. She says that if someone needs something she goes to her closet and gives them the stuff. She visited one of the refugees MOPS was helping and gave her a goodie bag. Both the woman and her husband started smiling and talking away in their language. Apparently they hadn't had shampoo in several days. So next time you score that great two for one deal, ask yourself, do I really need another bottle of shampoo or can someone else use it. Right now my church is asking for toiletries for AIDS patients. Do you have an extra tube of toothpaste? They could sure use it. Just think about it.

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