Chapter 2 and 3
Having a lot of stuff can be very stressful; if there’s too much it becomes a burden. This is especially true if you are by nature, or perceived necessity, a hoarder. When a hoarder moves house, having lots of stuff becomes expensive, time-consuming and wearying. A friend of mine is a professional organiser who has helped a few people with chronic hoarding tendencies; these needy people become imprisoned by their compulsive accumulation of stuff, to the point where there is almost no room for them to live in their own homes.
In western society’s consumer culture, our stuff is important because of what it says about us. It used to be that clothing labels were hidden inside each garment — nowadays logos and labels are clearly marked on the outside of much of the clothing we buy. Clothing and other possessions communicate to others in society which ‘tribe’ we belong to whether it is socio-economic, cultural, geographical, philosophical, or just a passing fad. We don’t just go and see movies and follow our favourite music band or sporting team; we buy the merchandise — the T-shirts, caps, posters, books, pens, calendars, CDs, DVDs. Part of our identity is wrapped up in these things, this stuff, but it is often only a fleeting identification; with short attention spans, fickle tastes and an eye for the next passing bandwagon, our stuff can quickly become ‘so yesterday’.
In Chapter 3 Michael Raiter undertakes a rigorous analysis of the origins and characteristics of our consumer culture (Chapter 3). He is convinced that these societal developments are central to the way spirituality is expressed in society today (Chapter 2), and writes:
[Today’s consumers] are unlikely to surrender their autonomy to any individual or institution simply because he, she, or it might lay claim to some innate or traditional authority. They are free to choose. To experiment. To journey. They are wealthy, but their affluence has come at a price. They feel empty, disillusioned, and disconnected. It is this generation that is thirsty for spiritual water, and is prepared to taste any concoction that a vendor might offer (p 71).Taking this as our starting point, do you think that evangelical Christians might be affected by this general societal trend? Although Raiter doesn’t address this particular issue here, I think it’s helpful for us to ask some hard questions. What if spiritual dryness or thirst develops because of spiritual compromise — because we are struggling to live faithfully in a society that promises much but delivers little, that gives us choices that don’t satisfy, that keeps us busy and distracted so we don’t have time to think, that encourages us to focus on our own needs first? What if the reason we feel dry and thirsty for God is that we allow the world to make us unsettled, restless and impatient? Are we ‘double-minded’ (James 1:5-8; 4:3-8)?