Just a consumer or Just Consumer?

A New Unity Sunday Gathering

 

We gather together this day to find joy together
to find growth and possibility and wonder
In a world that subverts our truest longings
And distracts us with shiny things
May the light of our gathering open our eyes to what is truest and most valuable in our lives
Together, let us turn away from what we are supposed to want and toward what really matters.
Let us turn toward compassion, connection, and love


Readings

 

The Land of Plenty by Leonard Cohen

Don't really have the courage
To stand where I must stand.
Don't really have the temperament
To lend a helping hand.

Don't really know who sent me
To raise my voice and say:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

I don't know why I come here,
Knowing as I do,
What you really think of me,
What I really think of you.

For the millions in the prison,
That wealth has set apart -
For the Christ who has not risen,
From the caverns of the heart -

For the innermost decision,
That we cannot but obey -
For what's left of our religion,
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

I know I said I'd meet you,
I'd meet you at the store,
But I can't buy it, baby.
I can't buy it anymore.

And I don't really know who sent me,
To raise my voice and say:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

For the innermost decision
That we cannot but obey
For what's left of our religion
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

 

Ferenc Máté, from “A Reasonable Life”

“We seldom consider how much of our lives we must render in return for some object we barely want, seldom need, buy only because it was put before us...And this is understandable given the workings of our system where without a job we perish, where if we don't want a job and are happy to get by we are labeled irresponsible, non-contributing leeches on society. But if we hire a fleet of bulldozers, tear up half the countryside and build some monstrous factory, casino or mall, we are called entrepreneurs, job-creators, stalwarts of the community. Maybe we should all be shut away on some planet for the insane. Then again, maybe that is where we are.”


Message, by Andy Pakula

 

Once upon a time, there was a fish that that swam to the surface of the water in which she lived. She saw the reflections and light as she always had but on this occasion, she decided to do something very strange - to swim straight for that light as fast as she could. She backed up to get as much speed as possible and broke through that barrier, finding herself leaping through non-water which we know as air. Enlightenment came to her at that moment as she realised that she and her sort live in one sphere but that there are others. Water was all she knew but now there was more.

She returned to her friends and family to tell them the amazing news. They sent her to a fish psychiatrist for her obvious delusions.

We all live with shared cultural assumptions about the way the world is. Like a fish in water, we don’t imagine that there could be anything other than what there is.

If we do recognise that there is more or other ways of being, we might not quite get sent for help, but we can be fairly sure it will be hard to get anyone else to listen.

The assumption I want to talk about today is consumerism - a way of being that dominates our society and almost everything in it - but an assumption that is mostly unexamined and unchallenged.

What’s amazing and wonderful is that - in this congregation - amongst you - are many fish who have seen the air and who have become aware of our condition and know that there are other ways. We’ll have some time a bit later to share some of your visions of air and how you’ve come to challenge the assumptions of water!

                                                                     Image from www.deviantart.net

                                                                     Image from www.deviantart.net

Consumerism is a word with several different definitions and ways of understanding, but the one I want to focus on today is the meaning that Ferenc Máté was talking about in our reading. Ferenc Máté is an author who has written about simplicity. Consumerism is not just about consuming, because we all need to consume to live. Consumerism is consumption elevated to a highest value - to a way of life - to the greatest good. Consumerism is a way of life that goes far beyond need or even desire. It is a hunger for more and for newer that can never be fully satisfied.

Consumerism goes hand-in-hand with the notion that businesses must always grow, that however much we have we will and should have more as time passes, and that a good and proper life is about striving for more and newer things.

Ferenc Máté points out the absurdity of the fact that living a simple life is condemned as lazy while destroying the land for progress is considered virtuous.

Voluntary simplicity is the opposite of consumerism. It is air to the water of consumerism as it challenges all of the water assumptions of what living is supposed to be all about.

I am not an economist, so I will not dare to try to take up the subject of how our economy depends on companies getting ever more profitable and gross domestic product increasing infinitely. But what is true is that this assumption has driven members of our society to become oriented toward consuming as the greatest way of living. “Retail therapy” is a term that so clearly shows that we should expect buying to bring relief from pain and sorrow. Shopping is what brings satisfaction.

But it doesn’t. In fact, if purchases were actually satisfying for anything more than the moment, our whole system would come tumbling down. Author Phillip Cary describes how this works:
“To be a good consumer, you have to desire to get lots of things, but you must not love any of them too much once you have them. Consumerism needs children who do not stay attached to their toys for very long and learn to expect the next round of presents as soon as possible.

When consumerism succeeds, our attachments are shallow, easily broken, so we can move on to the next thing we're supposed to get.”

Consumerism thus dangles joy in front of us, but it is a manufactured joy that turns to dust so quickly we are immediately left wanting more and jumping for the next shiny thing.

Consumerism is designed to make us want. If it satisfied that want for too long, it would bring about its own destruction.

And real satisfaction - the satisfaction of greater simplicity and the joy of depth and time and relationship - is lost in the frenzy to get more.

Consumerism replaces our true happiness with a fake one that breaks as quickly as its shoddy products do.

And, of course, consumerism has no place for justice. When we want more and more and faster and newer, we also want cheaper - and that comes at the expense of workers everywhere.
This is the water in which we swim. It is water of which most members of our species - which some have renamed Homo Consumericus - live and do not question.

But many of you have seen air - have found ways - even small ones - to challenge the assumptions of consumerism.

Please write a few thoughts on the fish image you received in your handout this morning. Then I’ll invite a few of you to share briefly and everyone can pin their fish up on our lovely new pinboard in the kitchen! Let’s listen to the fish who have come to recognise the water we live in.