Friday, May 25, 2007

Book discussion chapter 4: Consumer culture vs. Christian creativity

I'm about to leave for a week, but before I go, let me note that L.L. Barkat and Charity Singleton have blogged about chapter 4 of The Suburban Christian, on how suburban consumer culture works and what we Christians can do as alternatives. My main thesis here is that suburbia tends to be a commercial culture, that we are consumers, not producers. L.L. comments:
When this is our approach to life, we are engaged in "financial transactions rather than exchanges of mutual relationships." (p.77) Hsu discusses the consequent adverse effects, including a system which can more easily abuse workers across the globe. But it struck me that we also suffer in this setup.

We suffer a loss of connection, to people and the meaning of work. We suffer with a diminished sense of our own purpose. (Thus being highly attracted to books that offer a purpose-driven life.) We suffer from lack of volition and creativity.
Good thoughts, L.L. I suspect that all of us have a stronger sense of vocation, calling and purpose when we are engaged in the work of making culture rather than consuming culture, as Andy Crouch might put it. I think one of the ways that we can counter consumerism is by practicing the discipline of creativity. The opposite of consumption is production. L.L. says that it's the difference between going to a movie and making one's own. She models this by posting a great little pictorial slide show that her kids made. And here are Charity's reflections:
I remember my growing up places as being centers of production, allowing for both creativity and creation. We always had a large garden, and even when I was very young, my parents set aside a small space for me to grow some vegetables. (It wasn't until later in life that I appreciated the work involved with gardening, however!) The food we couldn't eat during the growing season was canned or frozen for winter, and must of the things we ate every day were prepared from their most basic ingredients. But more than that, most of my clothing was homemade; even some of our furniture was built by my dad or handed down from previous relatives who had constructed things with care. And I was given great latitude to create from paper and wood and string all the wonderful things children are wont to make.

This kind of lifestyle was one suggestion that Al shared in The Suburban Christian for countering the cultural influence of consumerism. Rather than being chiefly identified as consumers, we should try to become creators or producers in as many ways as we can. This not only takes us out of the consumer cycle, which always has a newer or better product for us to buy. It also helps us bear God's image to each other and the culture at large.

Of course we aren't all going to be able to raise chickens or spin wool, but we can exercise our creativity by creating and building things, even things we need. I have a small garden which will provide for some of my own food over the summer; I also try to make my own bread when possible. My mom makes all of her own greeting cards (like Al's wife, as he mentions in the book). And my dad has made several pieces of furniture for his own home and mine. I have friends who knit and crochet, making practical items for themselves and others. Another friend made all the window coverings in her home.

As Al says, "All of us have different ways that we express our creativity; all of us can be makers of one thing or another" (TSC, pg. 88).
Thanks again, Charity and L.L., for engaging with these ideas. In many ways, consumption is unavoidable for many of us suburban Christians, and we need to find ways of consuming more Christianly as well as ways of countering consumerism with creativity, simplicity and generosity. And as I've blogged previously, there is hope for us shifting from a consumer culture to a producer culture. What other kinds of creative, creational alternatives to consumption do you practice?


L.L. Barkat said...

Today, my 10-year-old daughter is making a dress for her upcoming birthday party. This is creative on more than one level, as the fabric is both her birthday gift (which she participated in picking out) and an opportunity to "produce."

I've also taken to going outside once a day, in any weather, to connect with God and to rest in his creation. This in itself has been the source of much new creativity. I wrote (and sold) an article about it. I began to wonder what I could eat that existed on my property and have begun a journey into the world of wild edibles (making pine needle tea is surely a creative endeavor!). I'm caring more for my own property.

I could go on. But the point is that once we begin to think this way, life gets pretty interesting.

Anonymous said...

Al - This was such a great chapter. I also really appreciated your thoughts on simplicity as an alternative to consumerism. (I might have to do an auxilliary post on that too!) Funny how simplicity now also is a spiritual discipline, whereas in the past, it was just a necessary way of life. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

mk said...

Thanks, especially, for this chapter! It is so difficult to live this out, but so essential as God's image-bearers to continue to use creativity, and show a positive counter-culture to the world. I blogged a little about this here:
What I find most difficult is that one must consume products to exercise that creativity (buy fabric, or in my case, yarn and painting supplies), and there are always new and interesting things to consume to be creative. The scrapbooking industry is a very expensive case in point. One solution is to try and find tools and supplies which do more than one thing, so you don't wind up consuming even more "stuff" to have your creative outlet. So in essence, we need to even be creative with how we choose our supplies with which we will be creative...confusing and circular, but I can't think of another way to say it!
thanks again, and God bless. marykate