I am more than a consumer.
Or am I? I keep acting like a consumer everywhere I go. I consume goods and services, I consume entertainment, I consume and consume.
This becomes a problem when I start treating relationships like goods or services. It happens far too often. I look at other people as if they are providing me with some sort of emotional or physical product, which I take and take and never have to give anything back.
I’m sorry if I’ve done this to you. You deserve better.
You’re not innocent in all this, though. You do it too. I know, because it’s ingrained in all of us. It’s the culture we live in, the worldview we inherit. You don’t notice until you go looking for it.
I’ve been on the other end of this. I have opportunistic friends who take but never give. I don’t much enjoy being around them. The reciprocity of a relationship pretty much defines its boundaries. The more two people give, the more it grows.
All this consuming has some consequences. I’ve come to expect that I will consume, and that others will consume. I need to be a certain way so people will stick around. My friends need to be a certain way or I’ll casually toss them aside and find better ones.
Another consequence is when our institutions start treating us like consumers. It’s bad enough when corporations stop thinking of me as a customer, a person with whom they are in some sort of (ever so tenuous) relationship.
It’s worse when it’s the church.
God’s standard-bearers on earth, just giving in. It’s easy to do. You stop thinking in terms of congregations, in terms of relationships, in terms of bringing people out of darkness and into light. You start thinking instead in terms of market share, in terms of audience, in terms of attracting people from there to here.
You start talking about benefits without talking about sacrifice. You start talking about Jesus as primarily a provider of good things. You start de-emphasising the bits of scripture that talk about difficulty. You don’t want to preach that, because sacrifice doesn’t sell.
Of course, Jesus does bring good things. He promises a lot of really great stuff. But that’s only half the message. It’s a soft prosperity gospel. It’s all pie filling and no crust, if you will (I hope you won’t; pie filling is terrible, awful stuff).
This might seem like splitting hairs, or not a big deal. Does it really matter, as long as you’re preaching about Jesus?
I think it does. I think it’s the difference between a fake plastic Christianity and the authentic Way of the early church. (Who, by the way, understood much better the idea of sacrifice.) One version of Jesus is attractive and incomplete; you can feel that when you’re around him. He doesn’t move like he’s real. He’s in the uncanny valley, somehow. The other Jesus is a complete Jesus. He comes not only to gather his saints under his wings, but also treading the winepress of the wrath of the Father. He is victory over sin and death, for now and forever, not simply spackle to spread over your cracking facades or salve to rub into your wounds.
I’ve experienced both of these Jesus’ (and more) in my wanderings through the landscape of our modern church. This is just me talking here, but I think the difference between a church that gathers to consume and a church that gather to be consumed can be sensed in the language you use.
Language is a big deal (too big to get into here); the way you talk reflects on the way you think. What is in your heart comes out of your mouth, after all. And it works the other way around, too. You eventually come to believe the things that you say.
When you talk about Jesus, what sort of language do you use? Are you talking the way scripture talks about him? When you go to talk about Jesus, are your descriptions of him freakishly close to some passage by default?
Or are you talking about him the way you might talk about your latest gadget, a company you really like, or a service you feel you can’t do without?
Are you coming to Jesus to consume, or to be consumed?