Today I bought a new album (which shall remain nameless, though as it came out today that narrows it down considerably, especially for those who know me) and as I purchased it in the shop I suddenly had this thought come over me, which has come over me a lot more often recently.
‘Do I need this?’
‘Why did I buy this?’
Now to be fair it’s a great album and one I’ve been planning to buy for a while by one of my favourite bands, it wasn’t that expensive and will get a lot of use. But that wasn’t the point.
Me being a deep thinker, these two thoughts very quickly went beyond the superficial and into why any of us buy anything, why we have possessions, why they are so important to us, and my eyes began to open.
It’s all about control.
When we buy something, we gain control over it. We gain the right of possession, we can do what we like, when we like, how we like with what we have bought without consequence (as long as its legal of course). But there is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of satisfaction we feel inside when we buy something we really want.
All of us feel it, no matter how much we deny it. It’s almost ingrained into us. This feeling of self-satisfaction and happiness. But it’s not just happiness we feel. It’s power.
Buying something and possessing us gives us power - and the more we possess, the more powerful we feel, the more control we feel like we have, the more independence we feel like we have.
But that feeling good about being independent is rooted in a lack of trust in anything and anyone else. It’s rooted in the consumer, dog-eat-dog mentality which says you can’t trust anyone else, that ultimately it’s all down to you to do what’s best for you and don’t dare trust anyone else, because all they will do is hurt you, take advantage of you and bring you down. In fact, it also can say that it’s better someone else gets hurt than you, try to avoid suffering and getting tied down as much as possible, and if you’re “foolish” enough to get tied down in a relationship there’s always the get out clause of divorce or selling the flat you bought together.
That’s the so called ‘consumer dream’ that we are sold from the minute we’re born. Apparently this is the key to happiness, this is what will give us most satisfaction and joy, it’s the only thing we can put our faith in - ultimately, ourselves. Of course, we love it, because it makes us gods.
And that can feel good. When things are good and we’re doing well, anyway.
The problem is that this idea only works for a few. It never works for everyone. The majority end up suffering - in fact, the reality is we all suffer, and because the consumer dream is all about feeling good, which never really delivers long-term, when we don’t then we deal with it very badly, and because our whole rhythm of life is geared towards achieving that dream we hardly have any space, any rest, any peace, and we don’t have community to support and encourage us at the difficult times, unless we are lucky enough to have grown up in a stable, happy family which is still together.
I experienced again today just how hard it is to be a Christ-follower in a consumer world and just how ingrained this consumer culture is into our thinking, feeling and routine.
I’m trying to be a disciple of Jesus, trying to have Jesus first in my heart, to worship Jesus not possessions and take joy from giving and serving, not taking and receiving. Jesus words about the road being narrow took on even more significance today, and there was something even more profound that I began to understand.
That being a disciple of Jesus is not something you can fit in to your ‘normal’ life. It’s not something to fit into your life.
It has to be the rhythm, the heartbeat, the soundtrack to your life. It has to be before anything. You have to retrain yourself to think, live and act like Jesus right from your very core, deep in your heart, in your subconscious.
We almost have to go back to the beginning, and start again. Retrain ourselves to think, act, live and breathe differently. So that we see everything - money, possessions, food, work, everything - in the light and context of Jesus, and those things, if we have them (and they aren’t evil in themselves), are merely a part of a life ordered around Jesus’ agenda and values. Enjoy these things in proper perspective, and be willing to let them go, for the sake of God.
Ultimately, the Jesus way is the total opposite. It’s surrendering control. It’s letting God take control of your life - not absolving responsibility, but being willing to take responsibility and make decisions in obedience to the way and calling of Jesus. It’s essentially saying that your life, and your body, and your gifts - which are ultimately from God anyway - now are no longer yours but His, to be used as He chooses for His purposes and cause. Our pastor put it brilliantly once, to be ‘change in Jesus pocket’. To make ourselves totally available for His kingdom and glory.
This is easy to say - not so easy to live, and its something I (and all of us) need to think about and spend a lot of time reflecting and meditating on, before taking some action. There are several communities in the US and UK who are trying to live out these values as community, and although I’m not saying all of us should do that (ideally maybe, practically, very difficult), I think they deserve greater examination and consideration, both in this and in the context of looking at Sabbath and rhythms of life.
Church is people you see. It’s a group of Christ-followers working together for the good of the kingdom, through serving their own community and the wider community, and through serving and loving each other, discipling each other, praying and worshipping together and being taught about how to be and bring Jesus into their everyday. At it’s best it provides a network of support in times of need and a place to celebrate in times of joy, and can be the centre of it’s local community. At it’s best, everyone in a church would be pursuing this Christ-like life, trying to be a real disciple. When you see that practiced in community, it is an incredible thing, a real blessing. That’s something we can all be aspiring to.
And it ultimately can only come if we’re willing to give up control and build God’s kingdom.
It’s amazing how far you can go from simply buying a CD isn’t it? Looks like I’m making some Progress...