Saturday, October 15, 2005

Hold the Mayo

OK I may regret this. Yet, it’s fun to risk a row now and again. Besides, taking a jab at American consumerism is always fun.

I came across this article at a site called The Sacred Sandwich. Some of the adverts were a bit biting. I hope it’s all in good fun. (OK I apologize ahead of time to Joel Osteen.) Nonetheless, the piece - in good fun or not- merits a read. Sarcasm may have its merits if we remain objective.

Buying the Wal-Mart Jesus

The new Wal-Mart Supercenter just opened up in my town, and man, what a sight! It’s a mammoth structure of utilitarian architecture that houses everything from a grocery to a garden center, along with every dry good you can imagine from fashion wear to office supplies. And people just flock there because it’s one-stop shopping, famous low prices, and a quick “get in and get out” affair. It is an amazing achievement in the history of American consumerism.

Oh, and don’t forget about the official Smiley Face mascot greeting you on every sign. It just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside as you spend your money to save money.

The only problem is that the former Wal-Mart building in town is now vacant since the retail giant moved its local operation to the new Supercenter facility. Hard to believe that twenty years ago this smaller Wal-Mart store was the shining Camelot on the hill for local shoppers. Now it’s just a castle ruin, an empty shell of its former glory as the company moves on to bigger and better things. Alas, a sign of the times, I’m afraid.

Prior to the beginning of this Sam Walton invasion, our town had a few Mom-and-Pop retail stores downtown, but they’re gone now, too. The first Wal-Mart that landed here soon priced those little shops right out of the market and made it too easy for the faithful customers of our local enterprises to be slowly seduced by the discount convenience of the new store in town. Hometown loyalty and one-on-one service be damned! Pretty soon, those slow-paced, family-run stores with creaky wood floors and clanging brass cash registers had to close their doors for good. Nobody valued their unassuming brand of commerce anymore.

So why do I bring all this up? Because it seems to me that many Christians today have been infected with the same corrupting consumerism that has given rise to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Their lives are no longer content with the eloquent simplicity of Jesus Christ and His Word, but now clamor for a wide variety of new and improved Christianized products to over-indulge their so-called faith. The congregations have moved out of the austere model of the small-town church, where unadorned worship to God rang forth, and have instead built for themselves Christian Supercenters in which to sell their worldly goods and services in the name of Christ.

You see striking evidence of this Wal-Mart mentality in postmodern Christianity every time you step into your local Christian bookstore and have to walk past shelf after shelf of shiny religious trinkets and trite bestsellers before you get to that little section of plain black Bibles in the far back corner. You see it every time you watch millions of professed Christians assemble in their multi-million dollar sanctuaries to hear feel-good sermons by Smiley Face mascots who offer heaven and happiness at a discount price.

Of course, it didn’t use to be like this. There was a time, believe it or not, when we survived just fine without the trappings of modern consumerism in our life. Long before the first Wal-Mart was built in my mostly-rural area, the presence of any kind of retail store was a rarity. All people really had back then was the Sears catalog. It sat there, prized like the family Bible, on the kitchen counter. Every member of the family had gone through that tome over and over again, memorizing the products that they dreamed of having one day. Yet they had no money for such luxuries and if they did, it was only due to careful hoarding of every stray penny they could scrape up. Sometimes they had to wait three years before saving enough money to buy that fancy hand-cranked clothes wringer so Mom didn’t have to wear out her arms twisting the clothes dry, unaided by modern technology.

Of course, when times got really bad, even the Sears catalog brought no comfort, except to supply a need for toilet paper in the outhouse.

Back then, we had a Great Depression caused by the blind self-indulgence of the Jazz age; and rural people in this area (through no fault of their own) were especially hit hard by it. These poor country folks didn’t have convenience stores, they only had each other. Families made just about everything they owned, and if they couldn’t make it, they had a good neighbor who could. It was a time when farming was so bad that it was more profitable to use their corn crop to burn in their stove for heat than to sell it for a lousy few cents per bushel. So the local families knitted themselves together and looked out for one another. It was a hard time, sometimes a desperate time. But with lots of faith, love, and patience, they got through it together as a community. There was no such thing as fast food outlets, shopping malls, or Wal-Mart Supercenters to bring swift temporal relief to their plight. It was a bare-boned existence that divided the wheat from the chaff, and forced humble folks to focus on the simple things in life that really mattered and to rejoice in them.

So you see, there was a time when Christians in this country were content with being lowly, meek, and poor in spirit. They served humbly in small congregations, read their Bibles faithfully, and prayerfully focused on the glory of Christ alone as they witnessed and brought aid to others. Over time, however, we became more prosperous and self-satisfied, and just like the Jazz Age, we began to borrow on a spiritual capital that we no longer possessed in order to gratify our ever-increasing desire for the things of this world. Soon, many churches became bastions of consumerism and began emulating themselves after the business world, until they finally transformed themselves into a kind of Wal-Mart Christianity.

The problem is, this over-indulgence in the churches will one day takes its toll and collapse like the stock market in 1929 because it is built on a foundation other than Christ alone. And when that inevitable day arrives in which we are stripped of our fleshy provisions and thrust into a great spiritual Depression, how will this rabid Christian consumerism provide for our needs and how much of it will quickly be engulfed by the fires of God’s testing?

In the end, it’s hay and stubble, my friends. All this Wal-Mart Christianity is just hay and stubble.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)

(For further reference see Isaiah 33:10-12 and 1 Cor. 3:10-12.)

The Bohemian Baptist is Copyright © 2004-05 by Chris Carmichael. All Rights Reserved


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