SOME COSTS OF MASS CONSUMERISM

By Jim Jordal

 "Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don't break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't serve both God and Mammon. “                                                                      Matt. 6:19-21, 24

 He said to them, "Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses."  Luke 12:15

 If you think we’re not caught in a vicious circle of mass consumerism, along with its small benefits and massive costs, you’d better retune your antennae because you’re not getting a clear signal. It’s an issue of great importance, yet few people speak out on it. Why? Probably because people either don’t recognize the trap they’re in, or because speaking out may cost them jobs, family, friends or even their lives. As the old saying goes: “It’s difficult to persuade a man of something when his livelihood depends on his not believing it.”

In the Scriptures above Jesus mentions several traps---all connected to spiritual matters. The first is fear of being short when retirement comes. Now there’s nothing wrong with prudence in matters financial, nor is it wrong to be well-fixed financially, since this is a blessing from God. What is wrong occurs when we fear our financial future so much that we forget God and his morality in our desperate search for financial security. The result is that we give too much attention to laying up treasures on earth rather than in heaven because our perception of reality is that we must prepare for disaster rather than blessing.

A second trap of mass consumerism is that our heart tends to follow our treasure unless both heart and treasure are brought into unity through God’s grace. What a tragedy that so many people seem willing to trade the peace and joy arising from surrendering our wishes to God for a mere set of temporary “things” that do nothing to enhance life except to provide bragging points and helping the growing rental storage business for all those things we own, but can’t fit into our homes.

Another trap is that because mass consumerism is so closely allied with what Scripture calls “mammon” (avarice for wealth), we cannot faithfully serve God unless we surrender our lust for money and what it buys. According to Proverbs 6:16-19 there are seven things the Lord hates as abominations to him: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that devises wicked schemes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief, A false witness who utters lies, And he who sows discord among brothers.” A similar list was compiled by Pope Gregory in about 600 AD, and included: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. So the trap of mammon finds us bound in the tightening coils of sin so completely that we sacrifice our thoughts, attitudes, and even basic moral codes so that we may have more of what we mistakenly think is the true wealth. How many people worldwide are destroyed every year by this vicious trap that measures the meaning of life by how many possessions we own or control? Consider the anguish of many caught in this trap as they moan over the meaningless of “things” when compared with the true wealth of knowing God and enjoying his favor.

And then there’s the issue of what mass consumerism is doing to the sustainability of earth’s resources, favorable climate, and pollution levels. According to a vast array of climate scientists the earth cannot continue the path we are on, with greed for growth and increased profits causing us to reject membership in some worldwide groups attempting to implement change, and to drag our feet at the prospect of any common sense being applied to the greed and pride currently driving U.S. policy.

God has promised us a change in attitude and values known as the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. He promises to give as a new heart receptive to his law, and a new spirit to motivate our actions. It can’t come too soon.

“‘WEEP FOR THE NATION”

By Jim Jordal

 “There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she has brought forth; neither is there any who takes her by the hand among all the sons who she has brought up”    Isa. 51:18 WEB

As I write this the TV is blaring about the latest outbreak of terrorism, with 59 people (at last count) killed and over 500 injured. The people shot were closely packed at a Las Vegas concert as the single gunman using fully automatic military weapons sprayed them with death from his perch high above the crowd. He didn’t even need to aim, but just shoot and kill as many as possible. He almost literally couldn’t miss!

It’s really no surprise as these things keep happening. President Trump responded with sympathy and condolences to families, but what can he do as events that boggle the mind keep us in a continual political and social minefield. Some want to limit the purchase of so-called military-grade weapons, but they are opposed by the gun lobby and the cries of 2nd Amendment rights advocates to bear arms. Others say more guns in public hands would lessen the problem because criminals would be more reluctant to attempt massacres against a fully-armed public. Others want to take action against gun manufacturers themselves, even though many legislators are beholden to gun manufacturers for large campaign contributions. So what to do?

What the nation lacks was bemoaned centuries ago by the prophet Isaiah as he sadly proclaimed the awful fact that when faced with serious trouble (captivity under Assyrian domination) his nation had “none to guide her” or to “take her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up.” What a tragedy, with thousands of vital young people, trained servants of God, and trusted military and political leaders, the desperate nation could find no leadership and nobody to figuratively take her by the hand of love and guidance.

And so we are today in America. What minimal leadership we do have seems more interested in warding off symptoms rather than fighting against causes. Because of the strangling grasp of the world system of corporate dominance over all forms of life, we find it virtually impossible to hold off the symptoms of this domination. The symptoms we view every day: abject poverty, endemic violence, struggling families, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and the widespread, threatening feeling of what French sociologist Emile Durkheim termed “anomie,” or a general feeling of purposelessness.

Where is our leadership when we most need it? Probably spending most office time in contacting financial donors, or scooting around the earth on fact-finding missions, or perhaps just refusing to run for another term in the hopeless battle for victory and the right to make even a small difference.

Somewhere along the line we as supposedly educated, intelligent people need to learn the difference between symptoms and causes. The symptoms we suffer with every day: the causes we can’t usually even identify because they are so well hidden by what I might call the practitioners of national destruction.

Yes, it’s time to weep for the nation as we slide into a world bleeding from as many social, political, and economic causes as you can count. But the biggest overriding cause is the age-old problem that humans, including leaders of every sort, think they are freed from the necessity of following the voice of God rather than the squeaking of men.

Earlier in the 51st chapter, Isaiah promises full deliverance for the people “in whose heart is my law” from the fear of what men can do to them: “ Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; don't you fear the reproach of men, neither be you dismayed at their insults. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool; but my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation to all generations.”

There’s the answer to the angst of America: Allow God’s law into your hearts, along with his already present grace. Then weeping for the land will a benefit and will result in needed changes in the causes of our trouble.

AS A GREAT SHAKING ROCKS THE LAND…

By Jim Jordal

See that you don't refuse him who speaks. For if they didn't escape when they refused him who warned on the Earth, how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven, whose voice shook the earth, then, but now he has promised, saying, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens." This phrase, "Yet once more," signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can't be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.                                       Heb. 12:25-29 WEB

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews enlightens us considerably--- if we choose to heed it. Many citizens today seem caught in a dilemma as they attempt to make their way through the growing minefield surrounding American public policy and its attempts to promote some sort of meaningful and safe world order.

Put simply, the reason we can’t seem to bring order to the earth is that we’re not interested in doing it God’s way, preferring instead the human way of awesome military power, massive productive facility, vast and often frightening technological change, unending propaganda, and wealth beyond imagining.

The “great shaking” Paul speaks of is well under way. Almost all institutional building blocks of our society endure various levels of shaking and decay. Government, the economy, the medical delivery system, education, the labor market, minority groups, finance, infrastructure, public and private debt---all reel under the stresses of inadequate funding, public distrust, revealed secrets and shaky leadership. Only the military seems relatively unaffected, and that fact alone says something very important---that we value military power as the final “fallback” position to protect our desire for world domination, couched as national security.

God has shaken the earth and its systems numerous times before, so the idea is not new. The prophet Isaiah uses it several times to signify great changes orchestrated by God. What is different today is that the shaking now is universal in scope---no one escapes because God has come forth to do exactly as the apostle Paul states: to shake systems and institutions severely enough to separate between those parts acceptable for inclusion in his kingdom and those portions not suitable.

Think about it! If righteousness, justice, mercy and truth were our main values in relating to the earth and its’ inhabitants, how well would our present systems match up? Take the distribution of income, for example. In theory, the major task of an economic system is to promote justice, freedom of choice, growth and economic opportunity as widely as possible. So how can we justify the present grossly skewed distribution of American wealth in which the top one per cent holds perhaps half our national wealth? And it’s not getting better, but worse as it seems that all income seemingly gravitates to the upper classes.

This unfortunate state of affairs (to the poor at least) arises from the fact that the system is rigged by law, regulation and custom to accomplish just that. The public looks to legislative bodies to level the playing field, but that’s virtually impossible because the function of creating law is left to those same people who benefit from it. So what options remain?

What seems needed is a complete change of values and morality in those who hold power over world systems. We’ve hoped that reason and altruism would work, but no, the system continues as before. So what is left?

What’s left is to once and for all consider God’s law as the basis for governing and protecting people from exploitation, domination and oppression. But we’re too educated to consider what God says, so the God-ordained shaking of world systems goes on at a frightening pace.

How much shaking will it take for us to finally get the idea?  I don’t know! But it does seem that disastrous affairs in Washington and elsewhere have not yet succeeded in capturing our attention. So the fateful dance goes on as evil and good separate under the hand of Almighty God.

 

 

AS DEEP PERVADING FEAR GRIPS SOCIETY…

By Jim Jordal

“Each night when I put my children to bed, I pray for them, and always pray that God would protect them from anything that could harm them. Usually I’m thinking of accidents, illnesses, animals, evil people…until tonight it never occurred to me to ask God to protect them from law-makers intent on destroying the services and programs they will need as they grow up, the education they deserve and the safety nets previous generations tried to put in place for them. Lord, protect all our children and help us leave them a world better than the one we inherited. Amen.”                                                        

This agonizing prayer came to me over the internet from Marissa Sanders, a friend now active in educational leadership in West Virginia. It got me thinking about the many sources of fear, how erosive and debilitating endemic fear can be, and what could be the reasons behind the fear now pervading the news media and law enforcement agencies nation- wide.

People can’t seem to put their fingers on the issue, but they all feel that something is desperately wrong in our society. Having no place to legitimately and effectively present their concerns, they lash out in miss-directed anger against all forms of authority. That’s why we hear almost daily of attacks against police, schools, government bodies and even completely innocent persons guilty of nothing more that “just being there.”

How tragic that those who care deeply for the welfare of their families and loved ones have a new fear taking shape---that the very people supposedly creating and supporting the “good life” should now be the source of their fear. But that’s what is sweeping Washington with the onslaught against Medicare and Medicaid, and the thought that somehow it’s O.K. to cut millions of needy persons from medical insurance in return for tax cuts for the top one percent. How on earth can anyone think that this impending travesty of justice is somehow acceptable to God? And how can anyone claiming to stand for justice accept such awesome hubris as that shown by supporters of this bill?

A similar, if not so personal, attack on justice is the attempted lifting of barriers and regulations aimed at protecting parks and monuments and other national treasures from incursions by corporations interested only at maximizing income. It’s happening right here in Minnesota as the Polymet Mine skirmish pits developers seeking to open massive open pit mines on streams entering the Boundary Waters Wilderness against the Sierra Club and hosts of concerned citizen groups. Supporters point to the 360 full times jobs and perhaps 200 more in supporting businesses, while opponents point to the sorry history of mining companies promising limited pollution that never materializes. Of course Polymet will put up reserves to help undo any damage to this national treasure. But past experience with greedy corporations indicates that damages may far exceed whatever funds are escrowed.

If these impending tragedies don’t cause you deep concern for the future of your children, perhaps they should. Scripture mentions several times that fear will accompany the “great shaking” of the earth’s people and systems as the Kingdom of God on Earth struggles to be born. Part of this process is that secrets will be revealed and those perpetrating evil will be exposed. So it’s no accident that Donald Trump. Jr. has been exposed for very-questionable activities concerning his contacts with Russia. One headline said the “White House is paralyzed” by these exposures, with more to come as the interest groups (read big corporations) and their shills scurry for cover.  

God says it’s time for the many injustices and oppressions under existing world orders to change or face disintegration. Yes, it’s a scary time, but God is still driving the bus, as Mary says, so just get a good hold and hang on for the ride---it’s going to be a doozy!

SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD  (PART TWO)

By Jim Jordal

Last week we looked at the first part of Jesus’ first sermon where he announces that his task is to “preach the gospel to the poor.” Today we’ll continue with the second of his duties, “to heal the brokenhearted.”

The daily news reveals only a small amount of the brokenness now increasingly pervading the land. The dreams held by so many of creating the “good” life for themselves and their families is fast disappearing as vast numbers of people realize their hopes are virtually impossible. So, what has changed to render the situation virtually hopeless for so many people?

Human beings desperately need hope that whatever assails them can and will get better. That’s a big part of why people migrate, join self-improvement groups, work hard, and vote for political parties ---all in the hope for future improvement. Without hope depression and psychological maladies afflict humans. Alcoholism and other addictions increase and suicide rates soar as a certain spirit of anger pervades society. Thus we witness rising assaults of various types and almost continuous confrontations between racial, sexual, age and cultural groups. And people come to the conclusion that the “glue” formerly holding society together has somehow melted away, leaving large groups of distressed, alienated, and near-hopeless people just drifting through life.

What’s happened is that money and power have finally won the struggle to dominate and rule. The public used to believe that the constitutional system of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” would prevent governmental excesses. But now that we need them, where are they? They are suborned and seduced by the minions of power represented by the one percent of our people holding far more than their share of wealth and power.

They now have sufficient power to dare to propose the new Republican-initiated Trumpcare plan to replace the hated Obamacare. If implemented as proposed, this austere plan will have the effect of denying desperately-needed health care for  some 24 million Americans over the coming decade, thus forcing them back into using even more expensive emergency room care. It would also allow insurance companies to reject sicker and older people from affordable coverage.

Proponents of the new plan should realize as they crow about “saving the system” that their efforts really constitute “grinding the faces of the poor,” as the prophet Isaiah so succinctly said (Isa. 3:15).  Not only are the sufferers without hope, but their faces are pushed down and ground into their desperation. The dollars saved by this onslaught upon the poor will help create the trillion dollar tax cut for the wealthy mentioned in Trump’s classic one-page tax reduction plan. Shame on those legislators who support this travesty of justice. 

This struggle of wealthy power brokers against the poor is not new. It has been quietly proceeding since the founding of our country, periodically reaching sufficient severity to cause public outcry. Back in 1896 it reached crescendo at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as the forces of elitism backing the financial gold standard (meaning generally tight money) clashed with bimetallists wanting both gold and silver because a plenteous supply of cheaper silver promised better times. Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan rose to the occasion with a gripping speech defining the struggle and its effects upon the poor with his never-to-be-forgotten message to the powers of wealth: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,”

But Bryan lost the election to William McKinley, thus the money powers continued their sway until the Great Depression again raised the issue of power versus poverty. Today we view the endless struggle once again in the medical care field. How many faces will be ground into the dust as the supposedly human right to have access to adequate medical care is minimized and removed from vast numbers of citizens who have little or no say in the matter?

Only by placing the issue on the agenda of justice denied will we be able to prevent this newest disaster for the poor. We need in our places of worship to recognize and popularize what Jesus said he came to do: “To heal the brokenhearted.” Only by doing this can we fully implement what Jesus clearly taught.