Expect more, pay less

We live in a culture which tells us that we have the burden of inventing our own identity. It turns out, this is not remotely easy. So when we struggle, consumer brands are all too happy to step in and do this for us.

The consumer culture teaches us to get the best product for the least cost, hence the slogan of the Target Corporation, “Expect more, pay less.”

The consumer culture deeply affects how we look at the church, faith, and spirituality.

Dr Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Scott was a pastor of a large, multi-site church. He also worked for Forge Canada, which develops leaders and churches to transform their neighborhoods. Last spring I heard Scott’s lecture, “Consumed: faithful Christian practice in a consumer age.”

Scott says that Christians have always borrowed practices from the world around them. For example, many of the hymns we sing come from a different time and place. This isn’t necessarily bad. The problem comes when we adopt other forms without reflecting on what we’re doing.

Which brings us to our current condition.

The practice of buying and selling, of getting the best product for the least cost, has deeply affected how we look at the church. We go “church shopping” the way we shop for anything else. We want a church that “works for me.” If we’re not getting what we want at one church, we move to the next. And so we bring a transactional mentality to God. If “I do this” then “God will do that” for me.

The thing is, this has nothing to do with how God is formed in us. The life God gives us is pure gift from a creator who is infinitely powerful and wise and loving. We have nothing God needs. The process of God being formed in us is long and messy and it’s out of our control.

“Expect more, pay less,” means nothing to God. What God wants to do with us is way, way, way more than we expect.


Identity Crisis

Last week, when American Ryan Murphy won the Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke, NBC showed pictures of a book that he made for his mother when he was 8, titled “My Swimming Life.”  He drew a picture of himself doing the backstroke and wrote, “I hope my swimming life continues and I become an Olympian when I grow up. I hope I will break the world records. I want to be the best swimmer in the world.”

We love stories like that.

The same night, David Boudia and Steele Johnson won the silver medal in synchronized diving. The reporter asked David Boudia, “What does it mean to come out and medal here in the synchro event?”

David Boudia said, “I just think the past week, there’s just been an enormous amount of pressure, and I’ve felt it. You know, it’s just an identity crisis.  When my mind is on this, thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy, but we both know our identity is in Christ.

The reporter then asked Steele Johnson, “Well, Steele, your first ever Olympic event, how were you able to maintain your composure so well?”

Steele Johnson, “I think the way David just described it was flawless. The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not the result of this competition, it just gave me peace. It gave me ease, and it let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn’t go great, I could still find joy because I’m at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor, just one of the best people to be around.

“So, God’s given us a cool opportunity, and I’m glad I could’ve come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first ever event.”

Boudia/Steele had a completely different type of motivation.

It allowed them to find joy whether they won or not.

And their joy will last forever.


All lives matter

Last month, ESPN began its annual sports awards show, the ESPYs, with four NBA players taking a stand against violence and racism, and calling on people to come together.

Chris Paul said, “We stand here accepting our role in uniting communities to be the change we want to see. We stand before you as fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, and in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer, one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country.”

LeBron James said, “We all feel frustrated and helpless by the violence, but that’s not enough. It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing to create change?’” He called on athletes to educate themselves on the issues, get involved, go back to their communities and help rebuild and change them.

Good for those athletes for taking a stand, but is it really possible for human beings to change just by willing ourselves to do better?

The Christian faith says “no.” We invariably deflect blame from ourselves. We say the problem is with “those people.” When we do that, the next step is to look down on them and demonize them.

Our only hope is a supernatural power outside of us.

Tim Keller once audaciously claimed that the presence of racism is actually proof that there is a God. If there’s no creator; if we’re just a random collection of atoms; then what right do we have to object when one group oppresses another? If we’re not all created equal by a loving God, then isn’t it “natural” for the strong to oppress the weak?

But we do object to racism. Many people, perhaps most, instinctively know it’s wrong. It’s because we know deep down we were made for something more.

The God who created us is also working in our hearts to redeem us. We have to let Him have his way with us.

That’s the stand we need to take.