Christian Practices are built on the notion that God encourages us to live out our lives in certain ways. Consumerism focuses on how we deal with stuff (material possessions) in ways that deepen our relationship with God, other people, and the whole created world. Christian practices can help us figure out the difference between good stuff and bad stuff and let go of stuff we don’t need. We're told to get jobs that will be fulfilling - monetarily fulfilling, socially fulfilling, stuff fulfilling. You can't be whole without a lot of money, cars, getting all the new gadgets you can, at least one recreational vehicle, a TV in every room, and this list goes on. A lot of us grew up thinking we needed to own certain things to be whole people.
George Carlin says that for many the meaning of life is stuff. Carlin says, “A house is just a place with a lid on it to put your stuff, while you go out and get more stuff. Sometimes you have to go get a bigger house so you can get even more stuff.” He talks about going on vacation to visit other people and there is no place for your stuff because their stuff is piled everywhere. If you get too much stuff you have to put some of it in storage. There’s a whole industry dedicated to piling up our stuff. When you go on vacation you have to bring some of your stuff with you. Not all of it. Just the stuff you need. Two bags, a carry-on and the stuff in your pockets. So even though you’re a long way from home you’re ok, because you still have some of your stuff.
So what is the deal? What is this obsession over materials? And how does being Christian fit in with it all? How can we be a Christian in a society that insists that money is everything, social status is everything, and having everything we want is a normal feeling? How do we balance career, family, goals, and being a Christian? What does the church say about stuff and money?
Think about how we use our money and stuff. Do we hoard it? Are we frivolously spending what we earn? Are we willing to help those in need- whoever they are? And what about the Bible? What does it have to say about money? Jesus talks about money a lot, and in many different ways. For example, we are told that a widow gives all that she has while others only give of some (Mark 12:41-44); a rich man is to give all that he has (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30); it is hard for a rich person to get into heaven (Mark 10:24-25, Luke 21:1-4); and that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 25:14-27:
14 "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' 21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' 22 "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' 23 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
24 "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' 26 "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
How would you summarize this teaching? In our culture, how do our possessions define us? How does Jesus define his servants? We might be defined by the kind of car we drive, the clothes we wear, the house we live in. Jesus defines his servants on the basis of their willingness to risk for the benefit of their master.
Paul says to Timothy (1 Tim 6:17-19)17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Paul is affirming than an attitude of faith leads to a lifestyle of kindness, generosity, and sharing. What stands in the way of that lifestyle? What are the “realities” that cause us to hold back our resources for our own benefit?
Consumerism is about choices. We look for ways to be Christians in the world we live in, at home, in the work place, as we walk down the street, while we grocery shop. In fact, the very stuff we have and the money we earn can be and is a part of how we can be and are Christians in the world. And just because we do not have money or stuff to give to others, we always have ourselves to give.
We use our gifts to help those in need, be it through our money, our stuff, or even our bare hands. As we live and work in the world, we can be mindful of what we have been given and who has given these gifts to us. And the best way to use these gifts is to share with those around us. We can share the stuff that we have, and the money we have earned, in a way that will serve God and serve other people in this world. That is what God has given us: the talents we bring to this world to use in our relationships, not only with God, but also with everyone we meet. Ask yourself, how do I use my stuff, my money, my talents? How can I use them to help out my fellow human being-no matter their background? Who is my neighbor? How can I help those in need?