Our parents complained that "the world is going to hell in a hand basket."
It's closer to the truth to say that "the world is going to hell in a shopping cart."
Your soul, not to mention your budget, is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout lane. You say, "How?"
You've carefully filled your cart with the needed items outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that's slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker begins tallying up the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a four-pack of AA batteries, three candy bars and a magazine for enquiring minds.
If your 5-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a new Pez dispenser, a Mylar balloon with a Disney character on it and a plastic "cellular" telephone filled with tiny bubble-gum pieces. Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet we must run to get to the checkout counter. Things we would never intentionally have gone in search of now languish under our fingertips inviting, no insisting, that we grab them.
Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth-shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasingly voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.
After a bad day, our parents sighed, "The world is going to hell in a hand basket." Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is "going to hell in a shopping cart." For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purpose are summed up by the mantra, "I shop, therefore I am." Raging consumerism has left Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" far behind. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God's revelation to Moses, "I am who I am; therefore, you are."
Like the rich young man in the gospel text, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our "stuff." This young man was so possessed by his "stuff" that he could unstuff himself neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in-control, in-charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus, the rich man clung to his human illusions of power and control.
Where do we fit in this story?
Pastor James "Skip" French is the pastor of Highland Christian Church, 1500 Forest Hills Blvd., Bella Vista. Opinions expressed are those of the author.