The Poverty of Excess [justin]

There was this little old lady from Pasadena who worked with the poor, the outcast, and the sick in India. Even in her frailty, she carried with her a ton of authority regarding humanitarian aide. Her strength came from a combination of faith and works in literally touching the lepers, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry. She knew what she was talking about because she lived it.

So listen to these words from Mother Teresa when she takes poverty and turns it on it’s head, speaking of the spiritual lack/want of the West.

“You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way.”

Consumerism is one of the leading horseman in this apocalypse of emptiness. It effects our souls, our relationships, our schools, our churches, and our cultural structures. Skye Jethani (author of The Divine Commodity) would define consumerism as a worldview that places the consumer at the center of the cosmos, and affirms that the goal of life is to satisfy one’s unmet desires, and avoid discomfort, by consuming goods, experiences, and other people. Contrary to this is the Gospel which through Scripture and tradition, as Jethani points out, tells us that formation into the likeness of Christ, also known as spiritual maturity, is not achieved by always getting what we want. It’s of some historical interest to me that some 500 years after the church/culture/world dealt with not being the center of the universe (Copernicus & Galileo), that anthropocentric thinking has come back around, this time on an individualistic basis of commodification.

For us Westerners [insert cowboy joke], we can get an idea of our poverty by, paradoxically, looking at our excess. I believe in redemption of methods and structures and institutions because I believe in the redemption of people. However, the depths of manipulation and misuse, whether intentional or not, that show up in us as a society is staggering. Sin is always crouching at the door. Some of my observations are hyperbole and exaggerated, which is duly noted, just don’t think that these points are too small to take notice of. When a pilfering happens, things are stolen little by little, almost unnoticed until one day everything is gone. If we’re not concerned with culture, we’ll become comatosed and unable to create a better culture (whether philosophically or physically).


Unintentionally, all of these commercials deal with cell phones. (For further exploration of how the digital age affects us, check out this page on digital gnosticism; the links are a couple years old, but still relevant.)

Verizon – HTC Droid DNA

Thesis Statement of Commercial:
It’s not an upgrade to your phone, it’s an upgrade to your self.

The age to come will have human development not as a matter of character and virtue, but maturity and growth will be marked by our accessories and tools. Ultimately we are unable to change ourselves, and as faith, hope, and love towards something other than our self disintegrates, there will (un)naturally be some type of surreal substitute.  All of this is a facade, however, that will continue to fail over and over again, which is good for business, after all, for to keep consumerism alive, we need something that satisfies for a moment, then leaves us empty, desirous of the next new thing.

* * * * *

Sprint – iPhone 5

Thesis Statement of Commercial:
I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.

I’m not going to even touch on the obvious political entitlements of the catch phrase, that’s pretty clear. What’s of interest here is the thought of always being on camera, capturing “priceless moments.” In 50 years from now will some kind of vortex occur where all videos will be of other people taking videos? Will anybody disconnect and unplug from their mobile devices in order to live in the physical with no shackles of the digital, participating in the moment with whom and for what it is, without thought of imaging it to others not present?

* * * * *

AT&T – It’s Not Complicated

Thesis Statement of Commercial:
Doing two things at once is better.

For our generation, multi-tasking has snorted a line of coke, drank a gallon of red bull coffee, surgically attach a third arm and is ready to go. Focusing on one thing, giving a single thought or object or person your entire attention is no longer natural… it’s a discipline. (I do think the acting and comedic timing is great).

Noticeable Social Deficits
gluttony is more than just food

Digital Waste – Compulsive physical hording might be something a few do that get’s recorded on an A&E series, but all of us are heading towards the essence of hoarding in our captivity of digital information, specifically in the areas of keeping an inordinate amount of emails and photos for no apparent reason besides “having the space”.

Filling Time – Facebook is an expletive tool, meaning it’s used to fill out our boredom, trying to convince us we’re not bored by padding our lives with fodder others have posted to convince themselves (and others) that they aren’t bored.

Wishlists – These little buggers make it easy to get something perfect for someone without needing to get to know the person; gift-giving turns from a heartfelt adventure of time, listening, and discovery towards another, to a trivial transaction.

Church Image – If a church market’s itself as “authentic” it loses some of it’s genuineness. If a church label’s itself as anti-consumeristic, it is in essence still playing into the commodification mindset. Ouch. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. (A co-worker of mine plays on a worship team and shared this side story with me recently. After an outreach concert, a Christian from within the crowd came up to the worship leader and said: “I thought you guys did really great. One thing though. Do you think that next time you could step back from the microphone the way Chris Tomlin does?” The guy was not being satirical.)

Buffet vs. FeastTheir end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Shady Maple is South Central Pennsylvania’s best known smorgasbord and is seated in the heart of Amish country (you know, those people who live simply). Did you know they have a Gastric Bypass Discount? Take a moment and let that sink in.


It’s easy to mistake a buffet and a feast as he same type of thing because of their similar extravagancies, but at their core, they couldn’t be more opposite. A buffet is about the food and ultimately about fulfilling yourself. A feast is about the honor and celebration and glory of another. At the end/beginning of all things, those who are invited, will be blessed to celebrate in the marriage supper of the Lamb of God.

Enter the redeeming part of the this whole consumeristic, emptiness motif that we all partake in to some degree: Christ emptied Himself in order to save us and tells us that we are indeed suppose to consume something, one thing: Him.

The cure to all this worldly excess and emptiness is a deep head/heart/experiential grasp of Jesus via John 6, something that can’t be conveyed by text, only through Spirit. Starting in verse 22, Jesus seemingly goes crazy, pointing toward cannibalism. He says things like unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can’t have life in you. He says, feast on me and be satisfied. People who originally heard this were offended and confused and turned away. I think we have the same response today. Hopefully though, even in dealing with a God who confounds, we will reply as the disciples did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

3 thoughts on “The Poverty of Excess [justin]

  1. Justin, this is awesome.

    In our world and culture, “efficiency” and “immediacy” are virtues, and things like “unlimited access” are inalienable rights. I think we, as followers of Christ and students of an ancient written Word, will lose track completely of true virtues, our actual rights as sons of God, and of the spiritual altogether if we do not value Scripture, meditation, prayer — all of which, for the most part, require focusing on ONE THING at a time, for possibly a LONG period of time. I think a lack of devotion — not zeal, or compassion, or belief — might be the main difficulty for coming generations.

    Side story:

    1. I am constantly asking kids at the youth center to take their earbuds out when I’m talking to them, to put their iPods/iPads away when we’re playing other games. I told a girl last week that “multitasking is an illusion,” and she looked at me like I had just told her that I was a professional naked mudwrestler. (Speaking of multitasking, even though I think it’s a sham, I think that commercial is great.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s