Tag Archives: consumerism

Screen-delivered consumerism saps resistance

emperors-new-clothesIt is a rare talent to be able to sell nothing. I have always admired the weavers in the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes because they had the talent. Selling nothing might be the most-valued talent in U.S. society today. Our industries for manufacturing tangible goods may have all moved to Mexico or China, but we are still #1 in making things that don’t really exist. I know this for sure because I was just in Orlando. The Disney Corporation (#66 in the Forbes 500) must be the best at selling things that don’t and probably shouldn’t exist. If Disney decided to sell us new clothes that were invisible, we could get them with mouse ears and see them parading on their umteen TV channels; we would be invited to parade them ourselves in their five theme parks.

Our taste for nothingness is fed by the powers who seek to control us. The Bible is frank about this fact:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

We know that these powers are “nothings.” But, like the emperor, we have a taste for nothing. We tend to believe that if we eat enough of it, we will get something. The powers use that faith to lobotomize our resistance.

Screen time pacifies

We were in a bungalow at one of the resorts surrounding Disneyworld (and they mean “world!”). On our TV I think the first ten channels were Disney channels, the next seven belonged to their daughter company ESPN. Priorities. TV is one of the ways the corporatocracy eases us into compliance and herds us down their vision of main street USA.

Disney symbolism
Disney symbolism

There is not an agreement on how much media children are consuming, but the NIH and Nielsen seem to agree that young children watch up to 4 hours of TV a day. When you add on other screen time, they are spending 5-7 hours locked into the machine. My grandchildren just got turned on to old Donald Duck cartoons on the Disney bus from the airport; they are probably watching them on YouTube right now. Teenagers spend close to 45 hours a week in front of the screen. The fact that the content they consume is controlled by an elite group of corporations is horrifying enough. But the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent that teaches the next generation to comply. They don’t even think about whether to resist; they are zoned out on the screen. As evidence, note that private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards.

Screen time is a dream come true for an authoritarian society. For one thing, those with the most money own most of what people see. But more, fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; and TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities. Maybe most of all, regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, moving them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video game is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

We need to keep an ear open to the call of the scripture, which demands that we not cave in to the relentless pressure of the world to conform to what is passing away, to its illusions of reality. When we resist,

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16).

The screens deliver the invisible goods.

The fundamentalist religion Marx named the “opium of the people” was long ago superseded by fundamentalist consumerism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. George Bush was famously accused of telling the country to “go shopping” after 9/11. Maybe he did not exactly say that, but he did tell us to go to Disneyworld: He said, “Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Getting back to normal means consuming and doing more of it.

A belief in consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulation, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulation, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form alternatives. Belief in consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult to ever get a taste for solidarity.

The TV delivers the messages that create the consumer society, along with, forWall-E instance, an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. It helps create the prisoners of tomorrow — the few who get out of line (after watching Wall-E, no doubt), who will be eagerly received by the prison-industrial complex. Can we stop the process represented by the Pennsylvania judges who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated?

My hope is that our message, and even more compelling, our demonstration of the message being lived out, will give the Holy Spirit many opportunities to expose how powers of the world are naked. There are seeds of resistance everywhere. They need to be watered. Without Jesus, many small acts of wisdom may do quite a bit to procure freedom and dignity. With their proper connection to eternity, they can offer transformation. Our mindset needs to match what Paul reveals:

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:1-7).

We are not slaves to the spiritual forces of the world. In Christ, we are children of God who should act accordingly. In Paul’s language, we are all as good as adopted sons in a Roman household, men or women, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We should exercise our dignity.

My negative view of society was echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844 when he observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.” That was why he was a reformer. I hope to be more than that kind of realist. My hope is in the spiritual reality made incarnate in Jesus Christ. The fact that the powers that rule us are fallen and need redemption is a basic reason why I am a Jesus follower. The society, coming at us through all screens that have nothing more to promote than the economy, gives us Disney and its “magical” embrace, gives us Harry Potter escapism, gives our children these “entry drugs” for the vacuous Game of Thrones. But God has come in the Son, born under those very forces that seek to subjugate us, that we might receive our true selves in relationship with God and no longer be slaves, but the heirs of reality.

One final thanks to Bruce E. Levine published in alternet.org

An Inspiring Olympics, So Far.

Let’s ponder this: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  1 Corinthians 9:24-26

My wife, Gwen, was training to be an Olympic swimmer at one time (she was even in the pool with Mark Spitz, at one point). We were watching one of the 2012 swimmers talking about the training regimen he had gone through to get to the finals. It was something she knew well. She remarked, “It just dawned on me again why I gave that all up when I was a teenager.” She became a Christian and it seemed ridiculous.

I have offended some people before by implying that what they are doing is ridiculous, so I apologize in advance for not understanding your situation. One of the gymnasts was saying just last night how the Bible helps her calm down so she can do her floor exercise. Plenty of people think that God is quite devoted to them becoming a world-famous swimmer, or something like that. I have never been sure of that.

I think we should be devoted to Jesus. And, like Paul, I think we should be in training to receive our everlasting crown. Like Paul, I admire people who go into strict training. Like Gwen and Paul, I am amazed that they would do it to get the reward they get. But I admire the training and I apply the concept to receiving that “well done” from the Lord as I cross the finish line, having run the race of my life hard.

The most specific way I apply my training is to church planting. I think you probably can name what event of the “Christian Olympics” in which you are participating, too. If you are running with me, there are some hard things to overcome.

The main thing that makes church planting training and the racing hard is the commitment it takes to do something that does not give us an immediate prize. There will be no endorsements for serving the cause of Christ, I think. I suppose that is why I was so moved when the Welsh kids sang “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” in the opening ceremonies. I am so used to Jesus being scrupulously extracted from any public media that I was shocked by the affirmation.

Lesser threats to our training regimen make it very demanding, as well.

For instance, we are always tempted to make church planting another consumer choice. Maybe Phelps lost out to Lochte because he became a consumer choice. We’re tempted to make our kingdom-extending a personal matter that makes no more difference than if one likes Irish Spring or Dial. It is hard to get excited about the intricacies of how your coffee tastes for too long.

What’s more we are all a little ADHD, it seems. There is quite a bit of science around now about how all those video games and other media absorption has even changed the way our brains work, and it is not for the better. We have a hard time paying attention if a conversation is too long; we have much more trouble if we are supposed to maintain a lifelong commitment to the cause of Jesus.

Plus, we are so overwhelmed by our rapacious power elite in the empire that we tend to be reactors instead of actors. I don’t mean nuclear reactors ready to blow (although we may feel oppressed enough at times), I mean we don’t feel like we have the power to do anything. We just react to what is thrown at us (like Jim Crow laws in PA) instead of acting to build a church that can undermine the system the same way it did the Roman Empire.

The good thing about the Olympics is seeing how many people can compete at such a high level of proficiency. We are an impressive creation! They inspire me in so many ways to get into shape. Not only could I lose a few pounds and do a few sit ups, I could pray again, and I could act on all those inspirations that the Lord has planted in me for planting the church. I love how almost nothing I do in the name of Jesus is aimless. And the finish line is so great!

Answering those Who Teeter…again

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”  Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.  Matthew 19:27-30

The philosophers and scientists of our time have applied a lot of brainpower to finding out as much as they can about the natural proclivities of the rest of us. We are analyzed and tracked exhaustively so that what we want to consume will be delivered on demand. The Egyptian slaves of old built pyramids, we buy things. All this year the nation has breathlessly watched the statistics to see whether the big American consumption behemoth will start to eat ravenously again and so propel the stockholder’s profits and create those elusive jobs. The wise men of the age nervously watch to see if their predictions about what we want are right.

You can tell that I resent their science, can’t you? I resent big, powerful, faceless entities relentlessly using data collected on me to create products that are the images of my inmost desires. Essentially, they keep trying to get me to buy myself! – or at least some grainy image me or faint whiff of my desire. As much as they work on it, they’ll get more adept. Really, doesn’t it seem like the powers don’t even sell products anymore, they just sell just the hope of having the experience of being ourselves? We have fallen into a weird self-consumption; every day we get tempted to take a bite out of “ourselves.” We seem to be trying to get a self by eating ourselves. If you don’t notice you aren’t full yet – the advertisers do.

The recent Jeep commercial we were subjected to before Young Victoria (or was it Nine?) is a good example. I live. I ride. I am. Jeep. I wonder why the powers can afford to spend a bazillion dollars on that nonsense. It must be because it speaks to what a lot of us believe, and so brings a return. I think it feeds us our own delusions and sin and then gives us a Jeep to assuage the insatiable hunger for something  — we buy things that can’t satisfy, but we’re used to accepting the sensation of momentary fullness as something. It is like eating a diet of candy canes. We seem to generally like that.

As you can see in the scripture, Jesus feeds us what we don’t know we want. He does not base his actions on data he collects from us. He has an entirely different idea of consumerism. Jesus feeds us what we aren’t. It means transformation. When Jesus says, “Give up all your nonsense and come make sense with me, in every sense of the phrase,” it might initially seem like a bad deal. A Jeep seems like it might be worth it, in comparison. But, the Jeep only looks like it is all about wind in our perfect hair. One can’t buy freedom like that. Even if more elementary school teachers brainwash more children into thinking freedom can be paid for with our lives, it still will not be true. Jesus is better than the Jeep. He says, “Make a total allegiance to me and you will not miss anything you desire. Love turns to LOVE.  Family to FAMILY.

I am not sure we believe that allegiance to Jesus will transform our stuck-in-the-mud desires into fully human desires. A lot of us spend a whole life teetering, twittering and vacillating between Jeep and Jesus. I’m not denigrating the process of decision as I hope you will see, nor am I even saying that the way to Jesus can’t be through Jeep. But I am lamenting whatever pain teetering may bring to us. (If you’re not experiencing teetering, this may just irritate you, beware).

I think teetering makes forming community hard. I felt like writing this note to you because I watched some brilliant people trying to do some brilliant community formation the other day and they ran right into some people who just couldn’t get out of their Jeeps to do it. To be a part of the mission, their recruits had to leave what they were already doing to join in with a new brilliant thing that was being formed. They just could not do it. They could not heed the call the whole way; they wanted to adapt the call to match what they were feeling. They wanted to compromise and “sort of” be a part. When they heard someone suspect that the community was too radical, they backed away. They pondered and pondered until the window of opportunity passed and they had slid into some other pursuit.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The recruits might have just as well been considering becoming a Christian, or making a covenant with the others of Circle of Hope, or just coming to a meeting in a regular fashion. (Or, to be honest, it would be the same thing on the antichirst side — they could have been called to not be a Christian, not commit to some “system,” or never be “in or out” of the boundaries of some meeting). Or maybe it sounds familiar because someone went through a similar experience when someone who loved them would not marry them. Or maybe you’ve read Matthew 19 before and felt with Jesus as he struggled.

No doubt you felt with yourself as you struggled, just like the first followers of Jesus. Transformation is hard. I don;t think we should underestimate how hard the change from unreconciled to reconciled with God is – especially since sin has retrained our hearts!. Reconciliation with others – even sticking with people we love, much less dealing with those we hate, is hard. Making a covenant, racial reconciliation, peacemaking! – we aren’t always feeling it. We feel like getting a Jeep, or at least like having wind in our hair — and if we follow the training of the people who apply the science around here, that is about all we will feel. It is amazing how often we trade Jesus in for a desire that is undeveloped. But it is not so amazing that we can’t have sympathy for those who asked Jesus, “What then will there be for us?” People are  always wondering that. And Jesus doesn’t mind answering the question….and answering it again.