Today, it’s trendy to denounce consumerism and individualism. But do we know what they are? Consume This! looks for a new way to be Anabaptist in the 21st century by highlighting habits taken for granted. How are thought, faith, and action connected?—Eds.
I remember waking up in the morning to the music of The Price is Right, with all its game-show hype and excitement. It was easy to be drawn into the glitz and glamour, participate in the purchasing “games,” and imagine the joy of winning. How thrilling that I, too, could be “the next contestant onThe Price is Right!”
This popular show epitomizes some of the attitudes created by consumerism: life is better with more; wealth can happen to anyone with a little bit of luck; another person’s loss is my gain; and don’t miss out on the happiness money brings!
But as Christians, we must look behind the glitzy “doors” of consumerism, past the cars, boats, and dream vacations. Since we’re called to worship God through our every breath, how can we get away from this Price is Right mindset of consumption? How can our consumer decisions be acts of worship to God? And how can they show love to our neighbours?
Church planting in an upscale neighbourhood
Recently these questions moved to the forefront of my life when my husband, three children, and I moved to Vancouver’s Westside, where a tear-down house is on the market for more than $1 million. Our neighbours enjoy BMWs and Caribbean vacations and spend thousands on renovations, landscaping and designer clothes. The rent on our home is triple our previous mortgage payments – needless to say we’re forgoing home ownership for this chapter of life.
As we start a new church in this upscale neighbourhood, how will we call people to live in freedom from the chains of consumerism without judging their lifestyles? How will our new faith community nurture a response of generosity not guilt, sacrifice not shame, as we live out our God-given calling as stewards of this earth?
It begins with humility. Our new neighbours in this posh community have taught us much about caring for the environment through avid recycling, local shopping, and choosing to walk or take transit in lieu of a car. I never owned fabric grocery shopping bags until I moved to Dunbar – now I can’t leave home without them!
We spend much less on gas than when we lived in the suburbs, know our produce market owner by name, and visit our neighbourhood library on a weekly basis. And if my kids have their way, they will have their non-athletic mother on a bicycle before the fall leaves hit the ground.
It goes beyond charity. One of the core values of our new church plant is sacrificial living. While many people in this wealthy neighbourhood donate to charities and write cheques for good causes, we desire to call people to something deeper – a kind of generous living that includes relationship. It means spending time each week befriending a person in need, partnering with a non-profit organization, or intentionally teaching our children about the freedom of an other-centred lifestyle.
It spreads through invitation. So far I have found that most people understand the emptiness of consumerism, but don’t know of any other options. They achieve status, wealth, and toys but are still searching for joy and contentment. Our family volunteered with Gather and Give (www.gatherandgive.org), a local organization that provides kits of donated household items to low-income individuals and families moving into new homes.
When I discovered that they could not provide basic items, such as blankets and towels, to their clients, I emailed a list of needed items to some of the moms I’ve been befriending at our kids’ school. This simple invitation to participate has spurred a number of families to begin to look at their lifestyle and consider connecting with a family in need.
It leads to encountering our Creator. As our church plant evolves, we desire to create a faith community where people are not commodities, where value is not derived from bank accounts or university degrees, where the environment is cared for as an act of worship to the Creator.
The sobering thing is that it must begin with our family. Are we raising our children to seek the next jolt of spending or to live with hands open in gratitude? Will I enviously compare myself to the lululemon fitness moms who walk by me on the street each day or will I be content with God supplying all of my needs? How will my attitudes, as a follower of Jesus, lead others to encounter their Creator?
It’s an ongoing journey. Sometimes I wonder why God brought us to such a wealthy neighbourhood. I was a music pastor’s kid who never expected much financially and the large footprint of our rental house seems to contradict my desire to live responsibly.
Yet already God has taught me much about my own ingrained tendencies towards consumerism, has inspired me to learn from those around me, and has opened my eyes to the chains holding this neighbourhood in bondage. Although we live in a wealthy community, I hope that our neighbours will see that we live differently, giving us opportunities to speak hope into their lives. As a new faith community develops in Dunbar, following Jesus together in our everyday lives, God’s invitation to grace, restoration, and shalom will spread into the lives of many more.
The realities of our new neighbourhood have invited us to consider how to worship God and love our neighbour through our daily lifestyle. There are no easy answers on this journey and I look forward to wrestling with transformative questions as a community, allowing God to speak in and through us.
Who needs The Price is Right? Money can’t buy the joy discovered on this journey!
–Rebecca Stanley and her husband Andrew have recently started a church plant called Urban Journey in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Vancouver. They will begin meeting in the local community centre in December 2008