It's Advent, which means the consumerism of American life is in full swing preparing for Christmas, and I have never felt closer to it. For the last two weeks, Steph and I stayed in a hotel right next to all the big box stores in Emeryville. It was a madhouse. One Saturday it took her 45 minutes to drive two miles! Living right next to Best Buy and Target, I have never felt closer to the intensity of consumerism than I did those two weeks. To be totally honest, I felt more connected to materialism not just physically but spiritually as well.
You see, the reason we were in that hotel is that our entire apartment and all of our belongings have been contaminated with asbestos. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that all of our clothes and shoes, much of our furniture, many of our books and all of our electronics will be thrown out. And when I was talking with a new friend about the situation, I had a realization, "This situation feels like a pivot point. I could either become way less materialistic or way more."
A lot of folks think that when you lose all your things, you suddenly realize how little you needed them and how little value they held for you. That's only half true (and by the way, often spoken from a super privileged place, which I share, of being able to replace most of the things you've lost). The truth is, I did realize how little the stuff I had actually meant to me. I did realize how much less I actually need, and how much I really want to have less!
However, when you lose all your clothes, you got to buy more clothes. When you have to trash your computer, you have to buy a new computer. And the sheer act of shopping this much affects me. I start to desire stuff all over again. The rhythms, advertisements, smells, and sounds of the Apple Store and Nordstrom Rack start to worm themselves into my brain, releasing little shots of serotonin every time I drop an item into my cart. The truth is that no matter how little stuff matters to you intellectually, no matter how little you value things on principle, the materialistic/consumeristic machine of American society is built to operate on your desires, not your brain. It is built to go deeper than your principles...to your loves.
That's why, during the season of the year when we are most tempted by the promise of immediate happiness, we need the waiting of the Christian season of Advent. That's why, as we are impacted by the rituals and liturgies of the shopping mall, we need the counter-rituals and counter-liturgies of Sunday worship.
Worship isn't just an emotional outlet. Worship isn't just a place to learn new ideas. Worship reshapes our desires and re-centers our love so that our identity remains rooted in God and not in so-called "valuables." It makes us more likely to understand ourselves as God's children than "consumers." It helps us to desire belonging to God's Spirit more than we desire more belongings.
That's why I'm so excited to worship with you on Sundays. I'm being transformed.