Even before I was born, the gods of consumerism were setting traps to ensnare me in their grips. Once my parents announced that they were expecting me, their firstborn, the culturally scripted expectation was that the young couple would be showered with more gifts than expected. As their newborn baby, I would “need” clothing for every season and occasion, toys and trinkets, buggies and burping blankets, disposable diapers and even more disposable diapers. If my parents did as most parents do today and opt to know the child’s gender beforehand, then consumerism is sanctified under the guise of “nesting” as funds are expended to decorate a room in the marketed and socialized official colors of pink or blue.
But what does God deem necessary when a child is born? Consider the birth of Jesus, God’s firstborn. Did the Christ child have a new crib in a room freshly painted with hues of blues and faux-finished stars adorning the ceiling? Of course not, the blue that welcomed Jesus to our pre-franchised world was the blue of the night sky and there was nothing faux about the stars hanging above the manger.
Well, perhaps there was a baby shower thrown in honor of Mary’s newborn babe. After all, there were some Wise Men who did come bearing gifts! Not so fast…
First, scholars suspect that the Magi did not visit the Christ child at his birth but later, perhaps when he was a toddler or even slightly older. Second, the gifts weren’t exactly leisurely luxuries or status symbols. It is more probable that the gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh were likely the “currency” that the impoverished Holy Family used to fund their refugee flight to the foreign land of Egypt as a means of escaping Herod’s genocidal plan to kill the young King of the Jews.
Family. Food. Shelter. The resources for escaping persecution. This was enough for God’s own Son but it’s not enough for our newborns and it’s not enough for us today.
Today we live in an era of distortions. No, we can’t serve God and Money but if we serve God we’ll have money (or is it if we serve Money we’ll have God?). The American Dream of living at a higher standard of living than our parents has become Gospel but instead of giving us eternal life it entertains us to death.
Ironically, churches today divide over whether or not gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should marry, meanwhile Mammon has the church in her deadly grip and She struggles to breath much less speak out against this curse of unbridled capitalism. Consider that the divorce rate of heterosexual churchgoers is no different when compared to those outside the walls of the church. We know that one of the greatest stressors in a marital relationship is finances but we seem unwilling or unable to reflect on how possessed by our possessions Christians are today and how it is true, “’til debt do us part.”
We speak of sexual lust and implore that believers abstain from the distorted messages of pornography, but is not the lust of the flesh more than a distorted sexuality? What if most of television was viewed as a promulgator of lust, that insatiable desire for something unattainable? For example, what if television commercials, those deviously contrived 30-seconds of temptation designed to arouse us and want, no, lust after the false promise that the product being pimped could actually fill a void in our blistered soul.
It is time for the church of Post-Christian America to repent from its affair with Mammon. God is merciful and the church is never beyond redemption. Imagine the powerful testimony that even a single denomination, no, a single congregation, no, a single Christ-following family can make when they accept God’s gift of simplicity and the radical hospitality that comes with a life that has renewed priorities as it pertains to time, talents, and treasure.
Tithing 10%? Please, don’t set the bar so low when the community of Christ is called to demonstrate a radical generosity and commitment to one another so as to ensure that no one is with need. Of course, this level of simplicity and generosity also requires turning from rugged individualism and finding others who will embrace a lifestyle of living as a biblical, beloved community of oneness marked by deepening interdependence.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right