Enough [review]

Consumerism is the antithesis of contentment.  If we wonder why we are not content or happy or satisfied, in his book "Enough: Contentment in the Age of Excess" Will Samson explains that we have only to look at the advertisements and media messages to explain why our houses and cars are never big enough or good enough.

Samson posits further that consumerism has infiltrated our relationship with Jesus Christ in the opposite way.  We see jesus a low-cost, low-commitment counter to culture rather than the truly counterculture that Jesus represents.

Samson makes several damning points in his book that are relevant to even events in the past few months (long since the book's publication).  Today, we worry about Swine Flu and other communicable diseases.  Samson points out that the way we live our life can be a disease on our bodies, minds, and indeed our very souls:

...as nations gain wealth, they increase in the risk of major health problems...perhaps lifestlye disease is communicable.  You catch it through prosperity. (Enough, 101)
Our lifestyle of consumerism affects our theologies by making Jesus into a low-cost alternative and everything else into conspicuous consumption.

But why isn't our church doing more about it?  Why aren't we more involved in opposing this Tower of Babel-Stuff that we create?  Perhaps because the church communities are too enmeshed with the ruptures of its seams.  Samson points to our multi-cultural world that breaks our assumptions of Christian community that the past few centuries have found socially easy.  Community is no longer something we are socially pressured into; it is something we must now earn.  What would it look like?  Samson says:
It seems to me that in order to move from mindless consumers of stuff to fully participating members of eucharistic communities, we must find the actions and language that can bring those communities together and allow them to interpret the power of Jesus to provide broad meaning for our lives here and now. (Enough, 143)
I enjoyed the book and, gold for a pastor, I found several sermon ideas and examples. However, I can't help but wonder what Will would write today about our movement away from the Age of Excess.  His blog is long dormant.  But people are saying the Age of Excess is over, dead.  I disagree; I think it is just taking a breather, waiting on the wings to jump on the bandwagon again.  Will the Church be ready to respond when it does?  Or will we continue to buy more stuff?



Larry B,  June 4, 2009 at 8:09 AM  

I agree that the age of excess is merely taking a break. In fact there is an incredible dripping irony in the commercials that are out now applauding our new found frugalism with the sole intent of raising the companies bottom line.

I think the Methodist Church is poorly positioned to have any moral standing on the idea of excess. The church itself is picture of excess - revenues of nearly 8 billion if I recall correctly, most of which ends up going to pay for staff, pastors, superintendents, bishops, property and equipment. It would be blind ignorance to believe that we are using the 8 billion dollars we receive each year in a way that does not at least make a nod to excess being acceptable.

Secondly, I don't think excess is the right issue to focus on. It's endemic to our human condition. It's not going to go away. What the story of zaccheus illustrated for me was that our exposure to the church (as the church is Jesus for our times) should be so powerful that we are compelled to do something radically different as zaccheus did. Zaccheus could be considered a picture of excess, yet when he encountered Jesus, not only did he correct for excess, he became a giver. It isn't the job of the church to create a society where everything is radically different, but for those who do contact the church, their lives should be changed in a way similar to Zaccheus. That doesn't happen in the Mehtodist Church much anymore.

Stresspenguin June 6, 2009 at 3:31 PM  

I think the age of excess is most easily defined with the idea of more.

Where I think we are now is focused on "better." Instead of a bigger, faster, more expensive care, folks want efficient and versatile. Instead of having a 8 lb desktop in laptop guise, folks want netbooks or smart phones.

This is a good thing for churches. There's no way the church can compete in the land of "more." We eventually "more" ourselves to death. But churches can do "better." More focuses on things, but better...better needs people.

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