When I learned that 70% of our economy depends upon consumerism – people buying retail goods – I thought two things: 1) that doesn’t seem like a good thing upon which a country’s economy should be built and 2) there is no way I can or even want to do my “fair share” to keep the economy going. It was a relief to read recently that my “fair share” is much smaller than I anticipated. Apparently, the richest 20% of households account for nearly 40% of all consumer spending in the U.S. (LA Times, 12-15-10 A24) Whew! Somebody else is bearing this burden.
It is a comfort that the wealthiest among us are taking this responsibility to heart this holiday season. The “renewed fervor for handbags, shoes, jewelry and other indulgences at full price” (Ibid.) is projected to increase 7% this holiday season. One man, sporting custom made jeans, a Gucci belt, a Versace watch and Cartier glasses (a $7,000) outfit said, “It makes life interesting, being able to get what you want.” Wow, and all this time I thought what made life interesting was good music, good books, good friends, good conversation, etc., etc., etc.
I read the article about luxury shoppers deciding it’s safe to splurge again because they think the recession is over. The article increased my prejudice that most of the richest 20% don’t have a clue about the reality our country or even world faces. They are disconnected from and disinterested in the other 80% with whom they are travelling on this island Earth through the vacuum of space.
However, what most deeply disturbs me is the thought behind the spending, a thought that “trickles down” among the 80% of us who don’t have the option to spend frivolously. “It makes life interesting.” Life’s meaning and purpose, summed up in a receipt for purchases. Is life so boring for us, so uninteresting?
What makes life interesting for you? It would not surprise me to hear answers like these: helping other people, travelling, learning something new, spending time with family and friends, reading a book, my job, my faith, my church community. Most people are not like you however , because most people are not attached to any faith community. They don’t have the centering influence of a faith that helps them sort out what brings lasting meaning and purpose. Don’t you think that is something worth sharing, worth inviting others to experience?
The birth of Jesus is a centering time for us who are Christians. Yes, Christmas has been co-opted by the consumer culture which is why we need the community of Christ even more to support us as we parse out a deeper meaning and purpose for our living.