Suburban Oppressian

From Consumerism to Stewardship
From Materialism to Simplicity
From Individualism to Relatedness

These are the issues that one of my friends from Fuller Seminary addresses from a youth ministry perspective, in an article for Fuller's Theology News and Notes.

You can read the article in it's entirety here. Below are some excerpts:

In suburban America the powers of consumerism, materialism, and individualism have become so all-pervasive that we scarcely recognize them any more. When combined, these forces have resulted in enormous pressure on teenagers to strive for success in all that they do in order to achieve the “American Dream.” But any force which compels us to pursue a dream which isn’t God’s is an oppressive one.

In 2003, teenagers in the United States spent $112.5 billion. There were roughly 20.5 million teenagers in the U.S. in 2003; therefore, on average, teens were spending more than $100 per week, primarily on clothes.1

Whereas the American dream necessitates that teenagers derive an identity from what they consume, God’s dream is that they learn to be stewards of all they have—indeed, of all of creation.

During one of the years that I served as a youth pastor in an affluent suburban megachurch, we held a New Year’s Eve all-nighter. One of the intended draws of the evening was the contest prize of a donated car. You can imagine my surprise when the newly minted 16-year-old who won asked, “Do I have to take the car?” as he was sure that his parents intended to buy him something newer and nicer. It was an incentive we were not to repeat.

Jesus lived unencumbered by worldly possessions, yet he was able both to give freely and to receive joyfully. Because so many evangelical suburban churches proclaim a gospel which emphasizes going to heaven when you die (as opposed to seeking to give people a taste of heaven on earth such as we are taught by Jesus to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer), the painful grip of materialism on all our people, especially our teenagers, goes largely ignored.

Finally, as leaders, if we are not modeling a life of freedom from the oppressive forces of consumerism, materialism, and individualism, any and all other efforts are rendered meaningless. Jesus’ message had credibility because he preached it with his life. More than attractive and entertaining ministries and programs, the great need of students in suburban America is to be invited into the lives of men and women who are practicing the way of Jesus.


Redefining what it means to be black in America

I was listening to NPR this mourning, (it's what I wake up to every mourning) when they highlighted something that I thought I was witnesing when I lived in LA, but wasen't sure of. It is this, that according to a small majority of minorities, class, not race is the defining issue. This is not to say that racism is no longer a factor, but rather that classism and values are larger issues. Here are some excerpts from the NPR program - Redefining What It Means to Be Black in America by Juan Williams.

The split in the black race comes down to a matter of values, according to the poll. In response to the question, "Have the values of middle-class and poor blacks become more similar or more different?" 61 percent of black Americans said "more different." White Americans agreed, with 54 percent saying there is a growing values gap between the black middle class and the black poor; 45 percent of Hispanics agreed, too.
At the same time, 72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, "values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar."

A poll released by the Pew Research Center, in association with NPR, finds that 67 percent of black men and 74 percent of black women think rap music is a bad influence on black America. In fact, 59 percent of black men and 63 percent of black women think the whole hip-hop industry — from the jailhouse fashion of pants hanging low, to indifference to work and school — is equally detrimental to black America.

This leads to what may be the most important finding in the poll: 53 percent of black Americans now agree that "blacks who can't get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition."
White America (71 percent) and Hispanic America (59 percent) agree that racism, while still a factor in American life, is not the principal force keeping poor black people in poverty. The more oppressive force, they seem to be saying, is a lack of strong families and the prevalence of values that do not emphasize education, hard work and perseverance.

It is important to note that this is not some Pollyannaish view that ignores the reality of racism. Sixty-eight percent of blacks say they deal with racial discrimination today in at least two of the categories of experience cited in the poll: such as applying for jobs, buying a house, renting an apartment, applying for college, shopping or dining out.
But even with that hard-edged view of how often they have to deal with discrimination, a majority of black people say that regardless of the race of an individual, a black person can make it in America.
That is a very different tune from the one the rap lyrics want you to believe — the one that says black people are all victims unless they are society's thugs, pimps and criminals.


Praxis and Theology

My friend from Fuller, Kyle, said this over on his blog: I wish I lived during an era when doctrines meant something. When deliberate theological reflection was imperative and ubiquitous. When it was taken seriously, by clergy and laity, because it was believed that right thinking engendered right living and right living engendered right thinking.

I responded with this: I think that one of the reasons for the perceived dichotomy of theology and praxis, is an actual dichotomy. Not that there should be one, but church history shows us some of the many reasons that a dichotomy developed.

While I appreciate this post, I think the responsibility of changing people's perception lies with you and I and other theologians, because the way past theologians debated and conducted themselves was wrong, and to some degree, rightly led to this dichotomy.

Theologians, particularly those that disagree, need to pastorally model a type of discourse and love that simultaneously elevates our unity, and our differences. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I think your dead wrong here and here, and further more the negative implications of your position is thus and such." While at the same time modeling a respect and love for our fellow human, our fellow Christian, that only the Holy Spirit can enable.

You can add to the conversation here.


Labels and Seminary

I've been going over all 274 of the posts I've written over the past three years, most of which were written while I was living in Pasadena, attending Fuller Seminary. Why? Mainly to add labels to them, labels which you can now view in the right hand column. This will also help me locate posts I've written, when I want to refresh my thinking (and past thinking).

What is interesting is scanning all of this relatively useful babbling of mine. It reminds me of all these classes, and all this theology, much of which I really love. I have to say, I really miss Fuller, and will alway enjoy my memories of my time there and the wonderful people I met.

Here is a link to a list of other bloggers that went to/are attending Fuller.