I’m a Consumer Christian

The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself it is not hungry. {Simone Weil}

Give us this day our daily bread. {Jesus}

Much ink has been spilt (with good cause) resisting the soul-numbing prevalence of hyper-individualism, where we view God – and then in turn people and neighborhoods and natural resources – merely as raw material for the pursuit of our isolated whims. The gospel tells me that my comfort and the satisfaction of my every impulse is not the goal of the universe. Bummer.

In the church, we have created a cottage industry around denouncing consumerism, and I understand the revulsion to this spirit of our age. I too am frustrated to no end when we belittle the mystery and beauty of Christian community by our penchant for using churchy experiences with all their gizmos and “energy” the same way we down a can of Red Bull: guzzle, toss, grab another when wanted. Yum. I recently read that at some churches, you can now get your pastor delivered via hologram. Truly, I am at a loss for words.

I’m concerned, however, that the way we talk about all this sends the message that there is something wrong with our cravings and the hope to fill our unmet longings, something unseemly about our hunger. I’ve seen shame attached to the notion of someone coming to the church community without arriving ready to give. Jesus invited the weary people to come, to come and eat, come and drink, come and rest. To hear some of us, we only want the people who are ready to come and work, come and plug right in “doing mission.”

I once heard a young pastor on the speaking circuit say, with a swagger: “We aren’t here to meet your Christian needs. If you’re a Christian, we aren’t really here for you – we’re here to be on mission for those who don’t know God.” It came across brash. He sounded revolutionary, a bad-ass pastor. He prompted a lot of laughter. I wanted to cry.

A while back, during our Denver years, Miska and I were exhausted. Serving God had worn us out. A church up in the hills welcomed us in. We attended on Saturday nights. It was a peaceful space. We heard the Scriptures and prayed some prayers (or didn’t). We sang along with a few songs and soaked in the gospel. We didn’t sign up for any ministries or serve on any teams. We dropped checks in the offering plate, and we (usually) showed up on time for church. Other than that, not much. Oh, we did attend a small group. Twice.

We were consumers, and it saved my soul.

Jesus’ first miracle was wine at a wedding in Cana, an extravagant act intended for no good reason other than the peoples’ consumption and joy. The Psalmist describes our want for God in visceral terms: hunger, thirst, cravings. Jesus gave us a table with wine and bread as the retelling of the Great Story. At Jesus’ Table, all we do is come and receive; we gorge on grace. We do not come to Jesus to work. We come to rest. We come to allow grace to work on us. The Christian’s work is what happens when resting people find the free life of the Spirit flowing among them. Work is what we do when the Kingdom has taken root and joyful obedience begins to sprout. But first, we rest. First, we consume.

The gospel never calls us to myopic self-centeredness. The kingdom of God moves and (re)creates and leads us to lay down our life and give ourselves away. But who can say exactly when – or how? The new creation I first encounter is God’s love that pours and pours and pours into my soul. And I must drink it in. I must consume it, a man desperate and starved with nothing much, for the moment, to give.

10 Replies to “I’m a Consumer Christian”

  1. Thank you, Winn. This really woke me up. I've been a short-sighted jerk, and I've realized I'm just as hungry and thirsy myself.

  2. perhaps using the term "relationship" would help here. I feel like the critique of contemporary Christianity is really more about "commodification" than it is "consumerism". Obviously we need to consume energy or else we die. The problem is when this consumption is not understand as part of a relationship.

  3. I'm with you, Anonymous. I think relationship is the crucial center. You're right on.

    My concern here is that I believe some of us who are critiquing consumerism / commodification have in turn (unwittingly, I'm sure) done the same thing, on the other side of the coin. At times, we have commodified Christians for the purpose of mission. And that's no better – and not true relationship or true mission (God's mission, anyway).

    Thank you, Lindsey and Jonny.

  4. Very thoughtful, and freeing, after years of service and buying into models on either side of the issue…which of course suggests there is truth on both sides. Perhaps it is in part our overeagerness to do it our way, not God's way. Trying to fill our human emptiness with our desire to be the BEST servant, the BEST Christian, the BEST church, instead of first simply accepting grace.

  5. What a gift to read this today. I keep referring to this as a tension, which maybe it is, or maybe it's just a wholehearted plunge into the ocean of God's love without all the accompanying analysis. At least for today. 🙂

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