Wednesday, May 10, 2017

We Americans Are Far Too Easily Pleased

I am a cheating American.  I don't deserve your sympathy.

When we’re in the States, Gil and I often comment at how much easier it is to live the Christian life when we are overseas.  There’s something about being outside of our own culture that takes away much of the temptation to acquire more, to be more, and to over-indulge.  You have no idea what a blessed relief it is to be free from the constant barrage of television commercials, billboards, and the incessant push to buy more, more, more.  There is something incredibly humbling in forging deep friendships with people who (materially) have so much less than we do, yet have relentless faith.  And the times when we do go without electricity or safety or convenience have taught us much about contentment and perseverance.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

But even if I have had the benefit of living a good portion of my life in a different country, at the end of the day, I still am American.  Sure, I can reap the advantages of learning and growing from other cultures, but I still have my blue passport and my health insurance and my 18 pieces of luggage that I will lug back to Tanzania.  Yep, 18 pieces, people.  Sure, I can tell you that a lot of it is for HOPAC and other ministry purposes, but that’s still 900 pounds of Americanism that I will carry over the ocean.  No, don’t elevate me for what I have given up.  I am a cheater.  I get the best of both worlds. 

packing at the end of our home assignment in 2014

I have a love-hate relationship with America.  I love all that’s good—all that I see that sets America apart from so many countries in the world—but yet I hate what it breeds.  I love Costco, but then I read that America has over 3 million self-storage units at 58,000 facilities.  I love Target, but then I remember that the markets of Dar es Salaam are bursting with hundreds of tons of America’s cast-off clothes.  Americans have 44 billion dollars sitting around in unused gift cards. (The entire GDP of Tanzania is $45 billion).  But what do we buy our friends who have everything?  Gift cards. 

American cast-offs

Why is it that we Americans can have so much—and yet so often take all those gifts and throw them down the toilet?

Freedom leads to debauchery.
Prosperity morphs into greed.
Beauty turns into idolatry.
Convenience feeds laziness.
Opportunity transforms into pride.
Abundance becomes addiction.

Gil and I keep having the same conversation these days:  How does an American truly live the Christian life?  What should that look like?  When the temptation of excess is not only close by, but encouraged and celebrated?  When even good things, like food and sports and entertainment are so close to our fingertips at every hour of the day that it becomes practically impossible to turn them down?  When binging is no longer only associated with just food or alcohol, but also entertainment?  How do we enjoy the good gifts God has given us, like prosperity, opportunity, and beauty, yet keep those things from turning into greed and idolatry?  The line is so incredibly thin and so difficult to determine.  Sure, it’s easy to say, “American Christians are too materialistic,” but then when it comes down to deciding how much is too much, who knows the answer?

There’s got to be a way, isn’t there?  Can we find a way to take advantage of our prosperity, of our abundance and comfort and convenience, and yet use it for the glory of God?  Can we enjoy the gifts God has given us, and yet still live a life of self-denial?  Can we allow the beauty of America to sink into our souls and make us better people, yet steadfastly refuse to be satisfied in anything but Jesus? 

I don’t know the answer, but I know it starts by asking the questions.  Every single day.  And not allowing ourselves to be truly dazzled by anything except the cross of Christ. 

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis)

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