In preparation for our children going back to school, we are given a list of supplies needed, for their own use and sometimes supplies for the classroom as well. So we head off to the local office supply store or a general merchandise store in order to try to get as many items knocked off the list in one stop as possible.
Admittedly, this time of year irks me a bit because the kids won’t “make do” with items they used last year, with the exception of perhaps their backpacks and lunch boxes. I don’t see anything wrong with sharpening their old pencils, scribbling with the plethora of pens we have swirling in our junk drawer to make sure they still write, and using the same pink eraser that didn’t get used up last year. Obviously some items need to be replenished like paper and markers that have dried out, but every year we drop over $60 on new supplies while there are still perfectly good supplies taking up space in our home that aren’t “good enough.”
Even though I’m on the subject of school supplies, I do think our society has a mentality that buying things new is somehow better. I recently watched an interview with Professor William Cavanaugh from the University of St. Thomas in Toronto who identified this mentality as “consumerism.” I had to step back a minute and think about it because, in my mind, I’d always thought of consumerism as the act of being very “spendy.” I sometimes even think of someone who might be a hoarder or who is out shopping all the time whether they need anything or not.
Professor Cavanaugh redefined consumerism for me by clarifying that someone who is a true consumer is always in pursuit of the next new thing, never being satisfied with what is in their hands at the moment (unless they just bought it, of course). He goes on to say that this actually goes against our Christian faith because the only thing we should be yearning to consume is Christ himself in the Eucharist.
He also points out that we are moving away from a society that cares for one another because we are removing our “personal economy.” In other words, historically we have been a people who made things ourselves, grown our own food, and traded with others for things we are unable to produce for ourselves. Gift-giving was more personal because the items were usually made by hand with the recipient specifically in mind.
Today, our consumerism has gotten so out of control that often times we are heading into the store on the way to the party to purchase a gift that may or may not be a hit (guilty). Of course, we make sure to have a gift receipt with our purchase so the item can be returned for something the recipient would really like rather than having our gift go to waste.
Ultimately this all goes back to our stewardship principles. Are we simplifying our lives, are we scaling back so we can have time with our families, are we staying home and living within our four walls, cooking from scratch, enjoying each other and what we already have, or are we still in pursuit of the next thing the media tells us we can’t live without?
It’s time we start living intentionally, for Christ, with him and in him, so we may go out into the world and BE him.
“But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ’s family and being called by his wonderful name!” ~2 Peter 4:16