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Confronting our culture of consumerism

I have a love/hate relationship with my privileged status as an American. On the one hand, it’s great to have a couple of cars, a house, and stuff that I enjoy. On the other hand, as a group, we Americans, with just 5% of the world’s population, consume nearly a quarter of its resources. I lik…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I have a love/hate relationship with my privileged status as an American. On the one hand, it’s great to have a couple of cars, a house, and stuff that I enjoy. On the other hand, as a group, we Americans, with just 5% of the
world’s population, consume nearly a quarter of its resources.

I like the way World Racer Tammy Peters wrestled with it in her recent blog:

“My life has been blessed so abundantly. I
am loved by family and friends, a successful career, opportunity to
travel, health and a love for life. My typical day usually looked like
something like this:

“Virtually every morning I would wake up in my big fluffy white bed. Look over to see my warm fur ball cat, Bijou, sleeping lovingly by my side. Look in a full fridge full of my favorite foods. Make a selection. Take a nice hot shower. Put on my favorite make-up and perfumed lotions and potions. Stand overwhelmed in my closet full of clothes. Finally find the perfect suit with heels, accent it with jewelry and my favorite diamond encrusted gift watch. Grab my alligator briefcase, jump into my Jaguar headed to the office.

“Keep in communication throughout the day with clients then later to my loved ones. End the day with a scrumptious dinner, maybe a nice glass of wine. Possibly
see a movie or some other form of entertainment and retire for the
night just after making a mental list of all that needs to be done

“Or at least that is what I used to do. Today, life looks very different. We have been working in the rain forest on an orphanage in Chapare, Bolivia. So now I wake up in a damp sleeping bag, resting on the floor of my tent. Turn to my side and read some scripture to spiritually prepare for the day. Rummage
through the few clean-ish articles of clothing I have in my backpack
and find something that’s only been worn a couple times in the last
week or at least something that doesn’t smell like mildew. Hit the opening to my tent to scatter the resting mosquitoes and emerge to face the day, sans the make-up and lotions.

out to breakfast with the other 25 of my teammates chatting about
everything on their minds… I eat what is available, usually a roll,
maybe a fresh banana. My teeth get brushed in the spigot in the yard, surrounded by the attack roosters and mud puddles.

“At about 5 we finally rest and take a bath in the river. It is a beautiful river wide, clear, not too deep and a quick current. I started to pray and heard God say ‘Just let go Tam, I’ll take care of you!’ At that moment, I decided to trust and relax. The frustrations of the day were all washed away. As
I lay motionless in the water, I watched the tree tops pass by and my
eyes fixed on the bright blue sky accented with pure white brilliant
clouds. I walked from the river refreshed and feeling alive! I may not have my favorite glittering entrapments of home, but those things never made me feel as alive as I do here.”

What a great example of someone who has learned the secret Paul describes in Philippians 4:12. It’s an issue that www.StopConsuming.org takes on. Here’s how they frame the issue:

“Consumption is a serious issue. Consumption is a lifestyle,
a culture that is bred into us here in the western world. It is about more than
simply materialism–it is about how we see life. We as Christians are supposed
to live by certain principles of self-sacrifice and sharing. Jesus calls us to ‘love our neighbor as ourself.’ America, and American Christians continue to
consume materials and finances in astounding proportions.

“It is our hope that each of us will look inside our lives and
examine the difference between NEED and WANT. If we truly live by the teachings
of Jesus we should not allow others needs [both locally & globally] go
unmet while we satisfy our slightest want. Choosing to live a life that
satisfies your needs and curbs your wants may be the first step to breaking
this cycle of consuming materials that both Americans and American Christians
have adopted as a lifestyle.

* * * * *

At some point, all of us are stewards of what God gives us. We need to wrestle through how we’re investing it to help make his kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

Comments (5)

  • After only nine days living out of my backpack at WR training camp, I came home and this morning felt confronted by my closet and that I had so many choices of clothes to wear. And I don’t even have that much clothing, by American standards.

    this phrase echoed in my mind: “Living simply…and simply living.”

    “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but stores up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

  • I live in this same kind of tension… sometimes, I feel like I’m failing at being a good steward. Other times, I feel like a Scrooge who’s always looking for the next cheap way to be “radical.”

  • Our pastor spoke on “Consumeranity” His premise was in America our faith tends to be processed as consumers. Christianity might be more accurately described as consumeranity. He even said the American dream is really a nightmare and gave Britney Spears as an example. He said we are not about American dreams but kingdom dreams. He concluded we must be OTHERS focused! Until we have broken HEARTS for broken PEOPLE we can’t be like CHIRST.

    Then I read your blog today. Another “coincidence?”

  • Sandy,

    Much to meditate on here.

    My first cut is this: two practical suggestions –

    1. Your husband needs to see and appreciate your heart. Write out your journey in the form of a letter. Then take him to dinner and share your heart with him – help him understand how you got to this crazy place in life. He fell in love with you; he’ll love you for this too once he sees the big picture. Do not manipulate him or try to push him. You need to follow his lead, even though he may be lagging you badly. To do otherwise will produce a the bad fruit of disunity in your home.

    2. Realizing that your family deserves their own process and can’t catch up with you overnight, you need to be intentional. Help them get God’s heart by getting them on mission trips. Or volunteer with local ministries where you can help them see what you see.

    Hope this helps.


  • “…we should not allow others needs [both locally & globally] go unmet while we satisfy our slightest want.”

    That says a mouthful right there. It screams out at me. I cannot be the same anymore. Here’s the big question:


    How can I end this cycle of fruitless, cluttered, time-vacuumed life and start living as Christ did and requires me to? God is unquestionably changing my heart to walk away from the life I and many others in the western world are living, and take on the life how tammy has testified: led by God, fruitful for eternity, out of the rate race and living unto God. Do I tell my husband and child that because God is doing this in my life, you’re all coming with me? It’s unbiblical for me to leave them, nor would I want to. I am no longer my own unit, but a part of a family unit now. How do I live this life I so desire and crave? Do I have to wait and pray God moves upon them the same way? I’m almost afraid to wait, what if this desire God has birthed in me dies and I become numb and just existing again? God answered that question for me: He said if He has birthed this in my heart, He is well able to sustain it. So nevermind that last one.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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