We Were On Sundance Last Week. Then I Got This Letter.
"I recently watched your movie "What Would Jesus Buy?", and I was intrigued by the fire in everybody's eyes as they sang the songs... who were those people anyway? Did you take them from a local church or are they your close friends? That must have been a big commitment to go all the way across America and do all that crazy stuff...so the question is, how did you organize this whole thing?..." -- Justin
This man, Justin, self-identified as a Christian, is disoriented by the fiery commitment of that bus trip in 2005, from Times Square to Disneyland. He agrees that the orgy of holiday shopping is evil, but where does that fire-in-the-eyes come from, exactly? For Justin there is a missing role-player. He doesn't say it outright: "God is missing." That is what he means.
For many Christians, backing away from the products of the consumer life is not in and of itself a spiritual act. To be alone with your body on the earth - that is viewed as lonely, scary or disorganized. In our church we say that there is a "life after shopping." This makes the Promised Land within reach at all times. For us, living one's life through corporate products is shallow, repetitive, and ultimately absurd. As the ad imagery pounds us with promises of happiness, status, convenience and all the rest, the long-run logic of Consumerism is to make any independence from products completely impossible.
The god that organizes most American activity is the corporation. Consumerism and Militarism are two large cultures that have developed from the eternal fundamentalism of these businesses: always make more money. We've come to the point where if you stand anywhere in our culture and note the actions of the people you see, the getting in and out of cars, the waiting in line, talking into plastic gadgets -- there is a single harsh authority driving all this. In our cheerful American sort of way we are obedient to this god.
Now this god is in crisis. President Obama's approach is to save the system, to regulate the corporations' worst excesses. Many of us are not waiting for the corporations to regain control. There is a burgeoning life outside of the charts of Obama's economic advisors, outside of the dutiful daily recitation of the Wall Street numbers by the evening news. In the United States and much of Europe, there are declarations of independence, shadow economies, citizens who don't stand in those lines. And just as our church-without-an-apparent-god baffled Justin, those people have a fiery commitment that is mysterious, for these local economies are growing without the obvious god of ever-expanding profit. Rather, the playful trust of gift economies is central here, as is trading in a balanced way. Change and creativity are encouraged. But expansion for its own sake is as carefully avoided as loss.
If you back away from the product on the shelf, and turn and leave the mall - a new world opens up to you. Your body is freestanding, with nothing but its own life. Talking in an unhurried way with neighbors or walking across a field with a child -- we are powerfully full of information, visions, clarity, generosity and our future. We already have what the corporations want to sell us. We are born with that fire. This "whole thing" is organized for us by the god of the Earth.