I didn’t know it was coming today, but I knew it would soon. Each year, about this time, I receive a large box of goodies, a cornucopia of marketing kitsch, from a high octane Christian ministry conference. I can appreciate novelty as much as the next guy, but I have to tell you that this annual overload has begun to annoy me.
In past years, we received slinkys and rubix cubes and playing cards and the “world’s largest conference brochure,” just to name a few of the many curios. And all of this arrives via the United States Postal Service in a rather large box, with impressive, slick packaging. The cardboard alone will make a sizable dent in our recycle container, not to mention all the wrappers and paper inserts and mounds of packing peanuts (which would actually be quite nifty if they were real peanuts and provided a snack) and assorted plastic toys.
Irony: this package arrives on Earth Day, of all days. Today, our local paper (in rural South Carolina, mind you) unveils it’s slimmed down, environmentally friendly format, a nod to sustainability, while my Christian friends send me trinkets by the pound.
The materials, the postage, the glitz. I’m no sourpuss, truly. But, somehow, I just find myself opening up their hefty package intended to entice me to register for their event and asking myself, really?
Now what would snag my attention is if one year they sent me a well-designed info packet (and they could even throw in a (one) comic book or a (one) pair of X-ray glasses if they wanted) and told me that the $5 per box they were saving would be spent on HIV meds in Africa or elementary school books in El Salvador or even to pay the way for other pastors to join the fun. Then – I might consider registering. That might be a conference that would speak to the questions I’m asking. That might be a conference where I would think I might find encouragement for the life I sense God urging me toward: simplicity.
All that said, these people are very smart and care ever bit as much as me (probably more) about truth and the gospel and have obviously fielded these sniping questions a million times (sorry). Certainly, I am not implying that they don’t care about issues of justice – quite the opposite, this conference has a fantastic reputation for leveraging its influence for such causes. And, of course, I contribute to excess myself in a thousand ways, all the time. Any charge of hypocrisy could be easily supported, I’m sure. I’m certainly not arguing for squelching creativity or arguing against lavish expressions of grace and faith. I guess I’m just reflecting on how this particular campaign strikes me (it is my blog after all) – and I’m hoping at least that in their marketing brainstorming sessions, they are asking more (better?) questions than:  Can we afford it?  Does it work?
Anything done in the name of Jesus deserves better questions than that.
Other good questions might be: What is actually communicated through this medium of marketing? What tone does this set for the way we envision the gospel when we gather for our conference? What kind of aesthetic does this build?
You know, I assume they have asked more (better) questions, I really do. Maybe they have simply arrived at different conclusion than I would have. Good enough for me. This is simply my opportunity to ask the questions myself. In my writing and my loving, in the way I promote my art and in the way I talk about God’s kingdom, what am I communicating in the way I approach it? what tone am I setting for how I envision the gospel? how does my action join God’s intent to make his world beautiful?
Excuse me, now, I’m going to make another run with the slinky down the stairs – it’s quite a kick.