This year for Lent the community I’m a part of is taking time to focus on simplicity, particularly as articulated in this quote from John Stott which we came across in Common Prayer.
“Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment. Its motto is, ‘We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly carry nothing out.’ It recognizes that we are pilgrims. It concentrates us on what we need, and measures this by what we use. It rejoices in the good things of creation, but hates waste and greed and clutter. It knows how easily the seed of the Word is smothered by the ‘cares and riches of this life.’ It wants to be free of distractions, in order to love and serve God and others.”
Brilliant. Quite a challenge to actually live out in our culture, but brilliant in spite of and even because of that inherent challenge.
And as we read this quote and discussed what that looks like in our lives, I was reminded of a section from Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places that might be worth adding to the conversation.
“In our present culture all of us find that we are studied, named, and treated as functions and things. “Consumer” is the catch-all term for the way we are viewed. From early on we are looked upon as individuals who can buy or perform or use. Advertisers begin targeting us in those terms from the moment we are able to choose a breakfast cereal.
For those of us who are reared in North American culture, it is inevitable that we should unconsciously acquire this way of looking at everyone we meet. Other people are potential buyers for what I am selling, students for what I am teaching, recruits for what I am doing, resources for what I am building or making, voters for what I am proposing, clients for the services I am offering. Or, to reverse the direction, I identify myself as the potential buyer, student, recruit, resource, client, and so on. But it is consumerism either way.
I have no complaint about this at one level. I need things, other people offer what I need; I am happy to pay for and take advantage of what is offered whether it is food, clothing, information, legal or medical help, leadership in a cause that is dear to my heart, advocacy in matters of justice, or victims-rights that I care about. I’m quite happy to be a consumer in this capitalist society where there is so much to consume.
Except. Except I don’t want to be just a consumer. I don’t even want to be predominantly a consumer. To be reduced to a consumer is to leave out most of what I am, of what makes me me. To be treated as a consumer is to be reduced to being used by another or reduced to a product for someone else’s use. It makes little difference whether the using is in a generous or selfish cause it is reduction. Widespread consumerism results in extensive depersonalization. And every time depersonalization moves in, life leaks out.”