Over Christmas my wife and I watched the documentary, The Queen of Versailles. I was mesmerized. If you haven’t seen it yet, you ought to check it out.
There’s a word that sums up the supreme value of American culture, and that word is “more.” Whether it be our homes, our vehicles, or, yes, our cheeseburgers, our desire to consume has apparently broken out of orbit and headed for the stars.
It’s funny, kind of. But it is also worth thinking about that future generations are going to look at our culture and recognize that our entire conception of the good life is built around material consumption to as great a degree as possible. Past civilizations and ages built the Parthenon, the Great Wall of China, the Hagia Sophia, St. Peter’s Basilica, or, heck, the U.S. Capitol Building. We’ve built gargantuan shopping malls so we can buy more.
In The Queen of Versailles, the family depicted is involved in building the largest private home in America. There’s a fascinating scene where the mother goes on a Christmas shopping trip to Wal-Mart. When she reaches the section with toys and games, she just starts shoveling as many boardgames into her shopping cart as possible, without even really looking at what she’s buying. Sure, it is a picture of a person who is a near perfect image of the excess of the society in which she lives. But it is also a picture of a profound lack of creativity. To think what one might do with the resources that this family has at its disposal. But like most Americans, she only knows how to translate her purchasing power into greater consumption. She just does it to a much greater degree than most of us.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I would accept the criticism. I do think about this issue almost daily, and I am constantly trying to be aware of the way in which the culture in which I live forms me (or malforms me) in certain ways. It’s important first to be aware, and then to take steps to change one’s habits. Even if it seems like swimming against the tide.
For Christians, there’s a whole other level to all this. We have to be aware of the idolatry bound up in all of our conspicuous consumption. And we need to be aware of our calling to be stewards (not owners) of all to which God has entrusted us. Read Wesley on “The Good Steward.” It will be well worth your time.
I’m mostly trying to identify a problem here. As far as the practical steps we might go to live in holy ways, which are wholly counter to the culture around us, here are a few key concepts that must be a part of the conversation: community, spiritual disciplines, care of body, care of creation, biblical literacy, and commitment to accountability.