Well, here’s a breath of Friday fresh air from the New York Times. It’s an article by Leigh Stein called “Influencers are the New Televangelists” and it compares modern-day social media quasi-spiritual wellness influencers like Glennon Doyle to religious hucksters from yesteryear like Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. The comparison is apt, in my view, even if the content of their message could hardly be more different. Read more
Posts from the ‘Consumerism’ Category
How will the post-pandemic church pay the bills? Clicking on headlines like this, along with the usual parade of daily updates, warnings and statistics have become part of my grim COVID daily reading ritual. Forever scanning the horizon in search of some sign of clarity for what the future might hold when it comes to public worship or the gathered life of the church more broadly. This particular headline, unsurprisingly, wasn’t particularly encouraging. According to a Barna Group study, 65% of American churches have seen donations decline during the pandemic. Incredibly, one in five churches may be forced to close their doors in the next 18 months. I don’t know if the same numbers would map precisely on to Canadian realities, but the general trends aren’t hard to recognize. Read more
A few field notes from a conversation with my wife over breakfast this morning…
“I think I might be able to get used to this social distancing thing,” my wife says. I think she might be kidding, but perhaps only slightly. One thing this virus has forced many of us to do is to fairly drastically alter the pace of our lives. We’re not running around to endless meetings and the gym and yoga class and chasing the kids’ sporting calendar and the social obligations that so easily clog up our calendars. We’re being forced to sit. At home. Often without anything pressing to do. Read more
Among my wife’s many laudable attributes (patience, longsuffering, etc.) is her keen sense of style. She has a unique sense of fashion and will routinely emerge out of long and laborious hours spent excavating thrift store racks with some quite striking ensembles. Where I see “ugly old crap” my wife sees boundless potential. There’s probably a metaphor or a theological lesson lurking around in that previous sentence, but I don’t think it would be convenient or flattering for me to pursue it. So I won’t. Read more
I don’t know, I guess I kinda just feel like something’s missing in my life… you know how people talk about that God-shaped hole or whatever…?
The person on the other end of the phone was young, a member of the disappearing (in church circles) and much-coveted millennial demographic. I was initially taken aback. I had been anticipating a riveting morning of responding to emails and doing a bit sermon prep while a blizzard raged outside. But wait, what’s this? A spiritually sensitive young person calling a church to ask halting questions about God, meaning, life?! It’s the kind of scenario that many pastors assume doesn’t really happen anymore. Except, well, maybe to other pastors in other places with bigger churches. Read more
Like many, I’ve been following with interest the story of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist whose words and actions have been galvanizing young people (and beyond) and dominating the news in recent days. Hers is a voice that speaks clearly and forcefully for a generation that is sick of platitudes and political inactivity when it comes to the looming climate crisis on the horizon. She is unafraid to speak fearlessly to the rich and the powerful—to demand action for the sake of future generations who will pay the price of the reckless and wasteful inattentiveness of we who preceded them. Read more
Further to yesterday’s post on the inevitably social nature of human desire, I was fascinated to read the following passage this afternoon in Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann’s book, The Joy of Missing Out. The quote comes in the broad context of an argument that living well requires being willing to settle for less, to not constantly be chasing after the latest experience, product, or achievement, and, specifically, at the end of a discussion of Søren Kierkegaard’s assertion that “purity of heart is to will one thing”: Read more
Jesus makes his way from the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem around 33 AD to our city in 2019. Jesus can do this because Jesus is alive and because Jesus shows up behind locked doors and along roads to Emmaus and over breakfast with confused disciples. Also, because, well, Jesus is God. He walks around our city streets to see what he will see. Read more
I was talking to an older friend the other day. His life has been hard in many ways—long years of manual labour, the loss of young children to a devastating accident, the death of several partners, a long descent into the pit of addiction and an emergence out the other side, a walking away from and a coming home to faith. Now he’s living out his remaining years on a slim pension in a small apartment. He has a litany of health problems. His medications conflict with each other producing unpleasant side effects. He can’t eat what he likes, struggles to sleep, moves slowly. Whenever I see him, we usually run through some portion of the above scenario. The last few times I’ve spoken with him, though, he’s had a different complaint—one that supersedes all of the others, one that may even, in some way, play a role in his deteriorating physical health. He states it baldly, unapologetically, without a hint of pretense or shame: I’m just so lonely. Read more
Canadians are, apparently, shaving an average of six years off of our lives due to our poor habits and lifestyle choices. According to a recent study, “alcohol, cigarettes, lack of exercise and poor nutrition… contribute to half the deaths in Canada and take six years off our lives.” Six years. That’s kind of sobering. Apparently, largely sedentary lifestyles supplemented with generous doses of fast food, booze and tobacco isn’t in our collective best interest and puts no small amount of strain upon an already over-burdened national healthcare system. Go figure. Thank goodness for long-term studies like this one to deliver these remarkable insights to us! Read more
A bit of a grab-bag of unfinished thoughts, provocations, and observations collected over the past week…
I spent my morning commute listening to the first few minutes of this week’s episode of On Being. The episode was an interview with Jonathan Haidt and Melvin Konner and had the delightfully breezy title: “Capitalism and Moral Evolution: A Civil Provocation.” I’ve not yet finished the episode, but I was struck by one line that I heard this morning:
As people become richer and safer, their values change.
I heard an advertisement on the radio while driving around today. A restaurant was offering one free glass of wine per person for every visit over a certain period of time. After
frantically altering my lunch plans and stampeding down to this restaurant for an 11:00 lunch snorting derisively at the moral decay and transparent desperation evident in such a marketing campaign, I got to making a few (mostly unflattering) comparisons in my head between restaurants and churches as I meandered along the errand trail for the rest of the morning. Read more
A few completely disconnected thoughts on an early summer Wednesday…
I went to see the latest Transformers movie last night. I wish I was joking, but, alas, it’s true. My kids are at the age where they have evidently graduated from little kid Hollywood crap to big kid Hollywood crap, so off we went. I was expecting very little and my expectations were barely met. Lots of explosions and digitally generated creatures and explosions and lame dialogue and explosions and tired old Americana and explosions and—oh, look! The robot trucks have discovered some robot dinosaurs and they will together vanquish the other robot things!—and mass destruction and chaos and explosions and a lame teen love story and a lot of very bad acting. And very loud impressive explosions. Did I mention those? Read more
I was sitting in a local Starbucks this afternoon when I saw the most absurd thing in the history of humankind: a big glossy advertisement for a product called an “Oprah Chai Tea Latte.” Alongside pictures of what I can only imagine must be very tasty delights indeed (iced or hot) was a (larger) picture of a beaming Oprah Winfrey, lending her teeth, her hair, her celebrity to this product. What does Oprah have to do with chai tea lattes, you might wonder? I certainly did. Did Oprah Winfrey make this chai tea? Did she create the recipe? Did she enjoy drinking this tea in some kind of unique way? Does she own the tea? Did she import it for our benefit? The advertisement didn’t tell us. It simply presented a picture of Oprah, a picture of tasty beverages and assumed that we would make (invent?) the connection. Read more
On the way back from a weekend conference, my wife says she wants to stop at the mall. Just for an hour or so.
I don’t like malls. Especially huge malls like this one. I don’t like the idea of the mall or the reality of the mall. I don’t like the orgy of reckless consumption that they represent. I don’t like the bright lights and the crappy pop music that bleeds incessantly through the speakers. I don’t like the labyrinthine layouts that seem designed to trap and confuse me, imprisoning me in the mall’s frightful and constricting embrace.
All of this not liking was pulsing through my brain as I (wisely, no doubt) replied, “Sure. Let’s go to the mall.” Read more
I’ve spent a good chunk of the past day and a half or so in a hotel room while my wife attends a conference. This has afforded me the delightful privilege of uninterrupted time for catching up on a bit of reading, napping, going for short walks. And for watching sports.
I love sports. I have always loved sports, whether this meant playing or watching. As with many Canadian kids, when I was younger it was mostly about hockey, but I could watch pretty much anything—football, basketball, skiing, tennis, track and field…. Even baseball, if I was particularly desperate. Not curling or golf, though. Never those. And not boxing (we had mercifully not yet been presented with the disgusting abomination that is UFC at that point). Even as a child, I understood that one must have standards. Read more
I distinctly remember the first time I heard about the work of A Rocha, a Christian conservation and stewardship organization that began in Portugal through the work of Peter and Miranda Harris, and has since branched out around the world. I was sitting in a first year Christian Thought and Culture class at Regent College in 2005 and Peter Harris was lecturing on creation care. Read more
This morning was an errand-running, back-and-forthing, radio-in-the-car-listening kind of morning. Part of the time was spent listening to an interview with the “The Minimalists.” Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn are currently on a mini-tour through Alberta to promote their book called Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. It’s a familiar enough riches to rags kind of story. A couple of young, single, fabulously wealthy young men gradually discover that money and stuff can’t buy fulfillment and happiness and they decide to downsize. They flee the trappings of corporate America for the mountains of Montana where they live simply, write books, start a website and a small indie publishing house, and do all kinds of other things to spread the gospel of simple and intentional living. Wonderful stuff.
Today, however, was not the morning for me to hear the clarion call to simplicity and minimal living. Today is a day when I am feeling less than enthusiastic about the merits of smaller and less. Read more