Monday, March 20, 2017

Make It Your Own (Part One of Five)


Is "conscious consumerism" a lie?
"When I was a child, my mother said to me,
"Clean the plate, because children are starving in Europe..."
So I would clean the plate, four, five, six times a day.
Because somehow I felt that that would keep the children from starving
in Europe.
But I was wrong. They kept starving. And I got fat." ~~ Allan Sherman
Consider Chrissy Teigen's $7,1000 pajamas.

When the world's consumption (and fascination with others' consumption) comes that far, the question of whether I should feel guilty over buying a non-sustainable bath mat at Walmart seems to be a moot point. But since I'm not Chrissy Teigen, and we all have our own rows to hoe, I do think there is a need for personal accountability. It's not just about government policy and corporate bad guys; I want to believe that individual choices do matter.

What are the important principles in our lives? What are the reasons that keep us going? Some possibilities:

* promoting community and relationships between people, including a local economy and traditions such as skills and handicrafts
* creating and maintaining living spaces that are respectful of the humans and other creatures who live there (for example, fighting a new highway that cuts a community in half)
* living orderly lives with integrity, or what Charlotte Mason called "straight living and serviceableness"
* living with contentment, trusting God for our needs
* not being like the Bible's "fat cows of Bashan," rich people who were impervious to the suffering of others
* communicating the hope that we have
* working for both justice and mercy
* valuing creativity (however we might define that)
* caring for creation
* strengthening and supporting families, in whatever areas we have influence: education, worship, leisure, business, medical care
* having "a single eye" (a Christian term akin to the currently popular "mindfulness")
* caring for weak and marginalized people ("no matter how small"), since they are individuals created in God's image

Charlotte Mason understood a lot about the disconnect between our "appetites" and the genuine desires that are based on principles such as those listed above. She said that the willful person (not the person acting with Will) was at the mercy of his appetites and his chance desires (Ourselves, Book II, pages 137-138). Will, for Charlotte Mason, was a good thing. "[Will] "implies impersonal aims...[it means] the power to project himself beyond himself and shape his life upon a purpose." For those who are willful, on the other hand, "life...is a series of casualties." But we are not to confuse the deliberate, disciplined force of Will with virtue: "it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy and even evil ends," or to get to a worthy goal by unworthy means.

We don't want to live our life as a series of casualties, meaning avoidable mishaps and disasters, or, at best, letting the stuff happen that just happens. Betty Crocker used to have an advertising slogan, "Bake Someone Happy." That's a purpose, a worthy goal. A cake mix and canned frosting may not be the best way to get there, but you never know.

We want to project "ourselves beyond ourselves." It's not all about us. We want to master our appetites, not have them master us. This doesn't refer only to food, but to all the good things we naturally desire. We want the discernment that says "enough."

We want to, somehow, get to those good places by worthy means. Whatever that means.

And what does that have to do with thousand-dollar pajamas and cheap bathmats?

Recently we watched an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, where (long story arc made short) there's an ongoing battle to find a bunch of aliens called the Xindi, who are developing a weapon to destroy the Earth. The crew of the Enterprise are being helped by another team of military experts, and their leader develops a rivalry with the Enterprise head of weapons, Lieutenant Reed. Near the end of the episode, the two men go overboard during a training exercise and decide to show each other who's boss. The next scene shows the two of them standing, covered with bruises, in front of the captain, who chews them out for being so egotistical and thoughtless as to risk each other's well-being in the midst of this campaign to find and destroy the Xindi weapon. 

Let's not beat each other up over minimalism. There's too much at stake.

In the next few posts, I will try to look more closely at how we can "own what we do" and make the most of what we own. Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here.  Part Five is here.

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