Monday, October 20, 2008

"I Shall Not Want" sermon, and what happened when Elijah broke the DVD player

A week ago I preached at our church, and the MP3 audio for the sermon is now available online at our church's website. The sermon (dated 10/11/08) was titled "I Shall Not Want," based on the lectionary text of Psalm 23 (and a little riffing off the other texts of Ex. 32 and Phil. 4). I was asked to fill in on somewhat short notice, so I repurposed a fair amount of my suburban workshop material on consumer culture. If you have a half hour to spare, you can listen to the sermon and get a summary of my book's chapters on consumerism and branding.

The week prior to the sermon, Elijah broke the DVD tray on our TV. We have one of those combined three-in-one TV/VCR/DVD players. A few weeks prior, Elijah had broken the VCR part, and it doesn't eject videos right anymore. It still plays them once you get one in, but you have to really fight to pry it out. And now the DVD tray is off of the track or something, and it no longer closes.

I had a section in my sermon about how in consumer culture, if we need something, we go out and get it ourselves. Our default setting is to consume. If something breaks, we buy a new one. Instead of automatically purchasing new things, we should take the practical step of first saying "I shall not want," and pray to see if we can do without it, or borrow it, or if God might provide it through some other means. And I mentioned Elijah breaking our DVD tray. (Now I had to see if I would really practice what I preach. Funny how our own sermons preach to ourselves that way.) I observed, in the big picture of things, we don't really need a DVD player. People have survived for thousands of years without one. So we would live without one in the meantime.

I have to admit, when Elijah broke our DVD tray, part of me wanted to throw out the whole thing and say no more TV/videos/DVDs, ever again. On the other hand, another part of me wanted to go out and buy a new TV. Maybe a nice big plasma flat-screen thing we can hang on the wall, out of kids' reach. (Or not.)

Ellen and I could still watch DVDs on my laptop, but I didn't want the kids touching it (especially since Josiah wrecked an earlier laptop by pouring milk on the keyboard). So Ellen and I were wondering if instead of replacing the whole TV, maybe we just get a cheapie thirty-dollar DVD player and use that with our current TV. Still, it felt like an unnecessary consumer purchase for something we don't really need.

Then yesterday, Josiah and I were playing Lego Star Wars on the Playstation, and it suddently hit me - hey, maybe we can play DVDs on the Playstation! We'd never tried it before, but sure enough, the Playstation also works as a DVD player. The game controller works as the remote control. So now the kids can still watch DVDs on the TV, through the Playstation, and we didn't have to buy anything new. Problem solved. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want.


Dianne said...

That is kind of funny. There was a day when people actually used to take the time to fix things but seems manufacturers don't want us to do that anymore! Good for you for waiting for a solution that enabled you to live out the message. God is speaking to me through Psalm 23 today also.

Carolyn Arends said...

Nice! Eventually, that's one less hunk of metal and plastic for the landfill, too.
What your post really has me thinking about, though, was the time my 4-year-old son got his finger stuck in the VCR (it didn't eject right and he was trying to get the tape out.) I actually had to call the fire department. I'm not kidding. So, proceed with caution ...

Chip Gorman said...

Wow, one of my favorite artists commenting here on this site! Al Hsu, you keep good company.

We're using The Suburban Christian in our small group and last Friday was the consumer culture chapter. The varied reactions were interesting. One had a defeatist attitude concerning things like avoiding sweatshop clothes--one person can't make a difference, and governments need to handle it. I think we talked him out of that position with the argument that it's both/and, and "if not us, who?" There were also the questions "How can you know the origins?" and "What can you do if you know anyway?" We didn't have very good answers to either, other than "don;t buy it" and "complain tot he company and the government."

Then on Saturday my wife and our oldest daughter went to see "Call and Response", a "rockumentary" about worldwide slavery and child prostitution. It was very well done and powerful, and showing for a very limited run in select cities (Thursday is the last night in Chicago. I'd be interested in your thoughts on it if you have had a chance to see it.) They handed out a card at the end with 33 responses you can have to the problem. I have not read all of the card but I definitely plan to study it--and share it with our group.

I am enjoying our discussion surrounding the book. It raises a lot of questions in the groups, and disturbs a lot of assumptions about our lives. Some are unconvinced each week as to whether the issues raised are "biblically-based" or just the opinions of the author. The lack of notes like "Ephesians 18:12 tells us not to live in large separate houses and ignore our neighborhoods" is throwing some of the folks. I think the consumer culture chapter hit on the most cylinders so far.

Al Hsu said...

Thanks for commenting, folks. Yep, Carolyn and I are mutual fans of each other's work. :-)

Chip, thanks for reading my book! Glad to hear that it's generating good discussion for you. I totally resonate with the defeatist attitude sometimes - it can be overwhelming, and we can't possibly know everything there is to know about where our consumer goods come from. That's why I counsel baby steps of investigating one or two items that you particularly care about and becoming informed about those. That's a lot more doable and less daunting. (And IVP is publishing a book next year by Julie Clawson, tentatively titled Everyday Justice, that unpacks the issues behind everyday things like coffee, chocolate, clothing, fuel, etc.)

I haven't seen Call and Response - thanks for the tip. I probably won't be able to see it until it comes to the library.

I understand the question about whether the book's content is "biblically based." The challenge, of course, is that Scripture doesn't talk in terms of modern suburban specifics of housing or commuting! It's not an easy topic to prooftext. But I'd like to think that I've been trying to think Christianly and biblically about all of the various issues and trying to connect the dots between biblical perspectives and modern realities. It's a bit of an act of theological imagination to situate Jesus or the apostle Paul in contemporary suburbia and imagine how they would respond to this context, but I think they would have us apply general principles of simplicity, hospitality, love of neighbor, etc. - we need to work all those things out in ways that make sense for our context and culture today.

(If you want, you can have folks skip to the end and read the epilogue - at the end of the day, I basically say that there's nothing new under the sun, and that we need to live Christianly in suburbia just as we would try to live Christianly in any time or place.)

Chip Gorman said...

Thanks for the response. I like the skip-to-the-epilogue idea. And I appreciate the difficulty. Sometimes we want the easy proof-text answers, yes? Life is not that simple, it seems, and there's not a proverb for every issue. I'm not leading the discussions, but I am pushing the group to understand that where you live and are affects your outlook/worldview, and that outlook needs to be challenged to ensure that it has good underlying assumptions. Some may be OK and some not--but the questions need to be asked.