Thursday, March 8, 2012

Consuming Religion

Many of us live in a world with a lot of choices, sometimes an overwhelming number of choices. When we’re shut out from those choices, we feel deprived, as, indeed, we may be. But the sense of deprivation does not depart us even when we have lots of choices. Indeed, we adapt to having all those choices and can crave more, for one of the thing we learn in a world of lots of consumer choices is that more consumption is better.

Of course that is not always so. Religious values and spiritual practices of gratitude, generosity, mercy, care of the stranger, care for the earth, and love of the Holy recall us to the choices that matter most. More opportunities for generosity is not necessarily a good thing, for it can mean that there is great suffering and iniquity. But choosing generosity more often, as a habit of being, can be a good thing, adding to the world’s blessings and our own satisfaction, granting us another way to love the Holy, even if the generous acts we do might limit our consumptive choices. If they don’t limit our consumptive choices, how generous are those actions? What are we really giving?

Trained to consume, many of us have adapted to expecting more from our religious institutions and from each other. Because we can look forward to a new generation of computers or new fashions or new and improved whatevers, we learn to expect the same from each other. It is a terribly unmerciful and ungenerous adaptation. I know people trying to nurture healthy families and yet driven to work longer and longer hours because each year or each quarter they are expected to do more with less. Religious leaders have the same pressures, because we bring those expectations that we ourselves labor under to our religious institutions. We can expect more from each other, but a merciful and generous expecting isn’t quantitative in the items we produce, but qualitative: together, we learn to be more reverent, more loving, more generous, more forgiving, more kind.

“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Jesus tells us this week.

How are we treating our houses of study and prayer and mercy as part of the marketplace? How can we turn again, back to the Holy, back in generosity and mercy to a different way of being? We have been given the blessing of choices. How shall we choose reverence? It is a Lenten discipline for every day of the year.

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