Tired and Energized by the Consumerism Debate

Relevant magazine has an interesting interview with Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, on consumerism:

When you think, “How do I love my neighbor as myself?” it becomes just impossible to do that within the worldview of the American dream.

But I think what’s exciting is that Jesus has another dream, and Jesus is offering us another dream. Where it’s not even just this ascetic simplicity–give up everything and be poor–but it’s this idea that God created an economy of enough. God didn’t create a world of scarcity. But we’ve created poverty and need by not living out this command to love our neighbor as ourself.


I get so tired and so energized by the consumerism debate. Part of me agrees whole-heartedly. We need to buy less and live simply and give to the poor and love our neighbors, both across the street and across the world. And then part of me gets tired of it and says back off and says I’m already doing a lot and I don’t want to be some freak.

When it comes down to practical, day-to-day living it just gets hard. I’m typing on a laptop right now. Should I feel guilty for having such a pricey toy? Is it justified that it enables me to do my job, or is that just a copout? If I use it to help others think about consumerism, is that OK?

I’ve got a closet full of clothes and a house full of stuff–though less stuff than I use to have. Some of it is necessary. I need to mow my lawn. Though I don’t have a tweaked out lawn mower, I have a goofy manual push mower like you see in old cartoons. We’ve got a lot of clothes for our daughter, but the stuff that doesn’t fit any more we’ve loaned out to another couple from church. Those kind of things feel like a step in the right direction. But do they matter? Are they enough?

As with everything in life I suspect there’s a balance to be had. It’s just hard to find in the land of plenty.

A Dorothy Day quote Claiborne uses seems applicable (also fit with the Foursquare NextGen Summit ’07–I love it when these things overlap):

“The best thing to do with the best things of life is to give them away.”

One thought on “Tired and Energized by the Consumerism Debate”

  1. Thanks, Kevin. I really like Shane Claibourne and sometimes he really irritates me. He seems to be the evangelical of the moment.
    I think your last sentences hit it on the head. It’s hard to find in the land of plenty. Ok, I know I’m on the freakish end of things. That being said, so much of what we think is necessary somehow isn’t necessary to so much of the world. (take the lawn mower, for instance)

    I think a lot of it has to do with inertia; our lifestyles are normalized by the consumerism all around us, and because we’ve gotten used to it and the structures are all in place, it truly is so much EASIER to do what we’ve been doing than to change. (There are lawn alternatives. There are also mower alternatives Any of these options are way more difficult than mowing the lawn you have with the mower you have.)
    I’m in a little different place than you about this. I’m so upset by our use of this beautiful world, am doing everything I can think of to at least not be a part of its destruction, and feel like if I try and talk about it with anyone they will get offended or just roll their eyes. Freak.

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