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“What you want is not what your need”
I testify to this maxim with some many parts of my life:
We could go on; you can plug your own needs and desires in here. The point is that what we want is often different from what we need. Abraham Maslow famously penned his hierarchy of needs in descending order:
The Maslow Hierarchy shows our level of need – with things like self-actualization (creativity, originality, morality) and esteem (confidence, relationship with others) taking much more space in our lives than the pursuit of our basic needs for survival (this is only true in developed countries of course). In our poorest moments we spend vast amounts of capital and time on existential pursuits at the cost of our basic needs…purchasing expensive rims for luxury cars when we don’t have health insurance or buying scratchers and top shelf liquor while our children wear tattered clothes. These are exchanges of safety and necessity for esteem and self-realization.
The twist comes in our modern welfare state. Our federal benefactor provides our basic needs in part through cheep imitations that leave us in a heightened state of insecurity and scarcity. For example, we receive the illusion of safety through the stimulation of foreign war and the abdication of our personal freedom; we receive the illusion of provision through subsides of GMO foods and agro-industrial manufacturing; we receive the illusion of affection through endorphin releasing simulations of sanctioned pornography or tariff free, globally produced goods. Whether it is a $100 iPhone that should cost $2000 dollars or a $1 burger that should cost $11 we mollify our basic needs through the cheap substitution of subsidized products and experiences. The production of cheep foods in the US liberates more of the average income to pursue the higher “needs”; however, these same productions cost us in the quality of our lives by causing obesity, heart disease and cancer. Without these subsidizations we would be forced to center a greater amount of our capitals on basic needs…which may produce a greater degree of happiness and satisfaction.
The spiritual realm is not so different. The world of churches has often turned into a realm of spiritual benefactors…providing goods and services for a populace that eagerly consumes them. Mike Breen calls this spiritual feudalism…alluding to the dynamic of client/patron relationships that take place in Western Christendom today. Churches often provide the illusion of spiritual depth, genuine faith and Christian living that indebt the client to the church while pacifying the actual needs of the soul. The false provision the Church proffers often corrodes the living soul. Purchasing the product of premature spiritual authority and realization means we will never actualize our spiritual potential through the longue durée of following Jesus; acquiring the goods of a self-help or prosperity Gospel directs that we will never ascertain the depth of character found in the spiritual sojourners life. In an age of online sermons, digital worship, NYT bestselling books, and multiple satellite services we can curate our spiritual oeuvre to own liking and to our own detriment.
How do we overcome the malaise of our multifaceted, postmodern, spiritual mural?
As long as we are comfortable with the provision of cancer creating, disease inducing food that is filling at a cheap price we will never be free of disease and premature deaths; As long as we are comfortable with the provision of cancer producing, spiritual pandering that creates spiritual dependents, we will never be free of the spiritual impotency and weakness that leads to consumerism and hypocrisy. If you look at the hierarchy that Maslow laid out…only after focusing on and realizing our basic (spiritual) needs will we realize our greater needs for realization and identity. We need a faith that is ready for the long haul of life in Jesus, awaiting the trials of trust and discernment and producing the determination of the committed, not the consumer.
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We can either build our own EMPIRE or join in the coming of the KINGDOM of God…but we can’t do both!
Our ideologies can become the idols we set up and worship in the name of progress, freedom and safety. Hail Jesus as King and joining his Kingdom is the only driving force for a disciples life.
Here are some thoughts that are quite embryonic…I’d love your feedback and collaboration.
It occurs to me, as a history professor, that one of the greatest challenges we face in understanding historical context is to be objective with our biases, presumptions and approaches to understanding different people and places. This continues to be a problem for Western cultures as we interact with other cultures around the world (the “White Man’s Burden“…) – we assume we understand things that are strange and foreign to us.
A regular assignment I give to my American history classes is to blog on the “connection between technology and psychology”. A core element of this idea is that we are inevitably controlled by the things we create…not always for the better, but sometimes for the best. It is very hard to envision our lives without the technological wonders we come to appreciate – smartphones, cameras, the Internet. On a historical level, this is why we have such a hard time understanding the morality and ethics of the past. For instance, it is hard for most students to grasp why feminism and gender equality did not become a more pressing issue and unified movement before 100 or so years ago. Why weren’t women demanding systematic equality centuries early? Because people in general were not questioning oppression and equality. As technology advanced (literacy and communication) and social theory developed with it (the Enlightenment and human rights) we were drawn into a higher ethic of behavior…one where inalienable rights existed for all people. Without understanding the historical and cultural context of this development…patriarchy seems absolutely ludicrous. But placed within a framing story the raison d’être becomes apparent (even if unjustified).
So my thought is this…is there an evolutionary nature to our ethics (different from evolutionary ethics)? As we grow in our capacity to understand and engage with the world we live in are we called to an increasingly higher standard of moral duty? For the breadth of human history global poverty was not a problem…as industrial production and globalization created this problem new medias in international communication technologies have brought this plight to our front door. Because we in the developed world are aware of our brothers and sisters in their squalor, we have a responsibility to engage with them.
As our capacity increases so does our responsibility (inserting tongue into cheek to refrain from Spiderman quote). For instance, when most post-moderns read questionable situations within Scripture (polygamy, warfare, deception, slavery) we have no basis for empathy. We cannot realize that this world was one of famine, barbarism and hubris…survival was the point of this world. In western, 21st century America, survival is not on our mind, so there is no social benefit for polygamy. However, if we can supplant ourselves back to a time of patriarchy and piratry…being widowed under these circumstances would spell certain disaster. Polygamy can be an act of mercy and generosity in this world…not just an act of sexual depravity, exploitation and control. As we grow and evolve on an social level (food and medical assistance, housing supplements, benefits and employment) vestiges like polygamy no longer find justification. The same could be said of indentured servitude and the development of credit, or industrial waste and environmental sciences.
In a world of abundant information, social mobility, global communication, financial freedom and political democracy we have more freedom and responsiblity than ever before. Having a micro computer in your pocket means that you are instaneously plugged into the problems of our global village. You are not only informed, but have the ability to advocate for others, inform your self, fund causes, plan events, etc. all from your mobile device. So…if our ethics are to evolve with our technological advancement and intellectual competency where does that leave us? Do you think there is validity to that notion? Are there other connections? Examples?
Christianity has achieved apparent success by ignoring the precepts of its Founder.
-H. Richard Neibuhr
I AM OPPRESSED
At least I choose to stand with the oppressed…that is part of what it means to be a Christian. To represent Jesus to everyone demands that we identify with those that are oppressed, isolated or hurting – Jesus did this habitually.
After yesterday’s horrific series of events – a major bombing in Iraq, the terrorism of Boston and the suicide of a local teen – we need some Good News. The world is a dark place and we can choose to participate in the darkness, or refute it.
Here is the deal…one of the ways we overcome darkness is by identifying and advocating for those on the brink of being swallowed by evil. People take bombs into public places because they believe lies about themselves and the world they live in; they feel their options are taken away; spouses cheat on each other because they are isolated; teenagers kill themselves because they feel hopeless and alone. Jesus’s self proclaimed mission was to bring good news to the poor, oppressed, blind, rejected (Luke 4:18). The Good News is that God values and loves them, going to extravagant lengths in order for them to participate in his Kingdom, in the righting of wrongs, in the salvation of the world. We proclaim that Good News by embodying it!
When I say “I am gay” it is not because I am attracted to men, it is because homosexuals and heterosexuals alike are my brothers and sisters; when I write “I am stupid” I do so because those who haven’t had the educational opportunities that I have are just as valuable as me; when I declare “I am fat” I reject the dichotomy that values people on their weight and body image…I am one of them, they are one of me. When we isolate, bully or reject others for their differences we destroy they Good News instead of live it.
I am bullied – that is not hyperbole, I was bullied in grade school. The reason that is present tense is simple…it never leaves you. If you have been bullied, you will always sympathize with those who have been bullied; if you were once over weight, you will always know what it means to feel ostracized because of your image. The isolation and hopelessness that such actions create in us lead to desperation: suicide, terrorism, abandonment, addiction.
The Bible clearly calls us to love those who are on the outside:
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)
May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:4, 12-14 NIV)
It seems clear, the response a Christian is called to give towards oppression begins by:
I worked with teenagers for years as a youth pastor and school teacher and we continue to have a lot of young people in our church congregation…I can’t think of a single better thing to instill in them as a new generation of people figuring out what it means to follow Christ, than to have them eradicate bullying, gossip, clicks and isolation in their schools and communities.
The bottom line is: we are called to humanize everyone (gay or straight, terrorist or solider, waitress or stripper, murderer or saint, poor or rich) because we are all human, all weak, all needing of mercy and forgiveness. Until we view the “other” as us, we will perpetuate the lie that we are better than others and more deserving of God’s goodness (Romans 3:23)
I AM OPPRESSED…