Living in modern America can sometimes make for a surreal experience, allowing us to worry about problems which many people in many times would simply not be able to fathom. “Do I want the Steak or the Seafood?” “Does this outfit flatter my figure?” “I’m not sure if I can afford that new video game after I’ve paid off my phone bill.” These problems are very much artifacts of modern consumer living, artifacts of a comfortable first world life. But we still think of them as problems, and they still impact the choices we make. Does the reality of living as a consumer in the modern West cause difficulty in living up to the standards Christ has set?
I lead a comfortable life. I have an apartment which I have lived in for several years, which affords me a bedroom, guest room, computer room, dining room, living room, kitchen, laundry room, and 3 baths. For my wife and I this is a very comfortable amount of space. We each have a car, and we rent a storage space to hold extra furniture for the day we move into a house.
We have three computers, mine, hers, and a “public” computer, with a shared high speed internet connection. We both have smartphones. We have the luxury of electing to eat out when we please, and often eat out for dinner at least once a week. We have annual passes to a preferred amusement park, and have the ability to go on weekend camping trips or get away to the big city or a quiet spot away from it all for overnight trips several times a year.
And all of this makes it very hard to make any meaningful changes in my life. If I were to leave my job and go do volunteer work or seek more education, our bills would rapidly leave my family bankrupt and homeless. These many obligations I have limit the resources I can elect to devote to charity or those in my community in need. The knowledge that I have these bills coming due forces me to devote my thoughts, my emotional reserves and my effort inward to stave off my own fears, worries, and doubts, leaving less for me to give into the hands of God to do with as he sees best.
I strive to make the lives around me better. I reach out, I share the love God has shown me with others, I lend a hand at our Church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and I am eager to share Christian fellowship and ideas most any day of the week. But I know I could be doing more than I am. I know that I am affording luxuries for myself while others lack needs. I know that people are lost, worried, and confused that could benefit from a few minutes of my time if I took the initiative to find them. But I don’t always make those choices, and what is worst I often don’t even see them. When I ask myself if I want to buy a few new books or a new monitor for my computer, I don’t even think to ask “or give more money than I have been to the needs of others.” I don’t seek to promote a radical ascetic standard like the Fransiscans, but I do think that a lifestyle in which we forget to even consider giving to others when we have a choice with our time, money, and talents must not be one that is in full harmony with Christ. How much can we do for the least of us when we do not even think of them?
We are told to let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and that is certainly not I. We are also told to tend to the beam in our own eye before we rebuke our neighbor for the mote in his eye. I am trying to tend to my own house, and to confront the tensions and conflicts between living as a consumer in a market society and living as a servant to the needy as is my duty as a part of the Body of Christ. I’m not going to cast any stones today, but I will leave you to consider if you wish to do any housekeeping of your own.