Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Consumerism- The American Dream?

I was re-reading some essays I had written a while back, and I was struck by this one. It really captures the frustration and urgency I felt at the time:

Watching tv, it would appear that everyone in this country is absorbed with fashion, the ins and outs of Hollywood, and making money. The American Dream has been twisted into a self-absorbed quest for more possessions. It's all about how much you have, and then showing it off to everyone else. But is that the most important thing? Is that all life is about? 

What's going on in the rest of our world? How can fashion and entertainment be important when basic survival needs aren't being met? Or when people are worried about being surrounded by constant civil war? Or the people forced into labor without fair pay? Or those torn from their families, loved ones dying from disease and poverty? When I think about these people- and they're out there, everywhere- it makes me sick to hear about the trivial vanity that so concerns our society.

I'm tired of listening to our nation complain about our economic crisis. I know it's important. My family has been affected by it, too. We're technically at poverty level right now. But even at that, we're rich beyond what some people in our world could ever hope to be.

So we can't buy a lot of stuff. Do we really even need it? What gets cut when you don't have enough money? All the superfluous things you can do without. But it begs the question- did you really need it to begin with? 

How do we reconcile our need for wealth with what's going on in the rest of our world? What about people who live in true poverty? How can we justify our pursuit of wealth, as opposed to helping other people? When faced with wars, oppression, slavery, sex-trafficking, extreme poverty, etc- how can we be content with our small scope of the world? When our life is done, will we really be satisfied that we made a difference? Do we even want to make a difference? And if not, why not? 

Imagine what could be learned if we switched places with someone less fortunate. 

Maybe we'd see how completely frustrating, wearying, and burdensome it is to not have enough money to cover the basics. Maybe our perceptions might shift, too. Maybe we would realize that we don't need all the other stuff- fashionable clothes, the newest electronics, and luxury cars. It's not as necessary as we believe.

There's a beauty in simplicity. In knowing that you can walk away from your things without regrets. There's a freedom in knowing you can survive with just enough. That your stuff doesn't own you. Like the song says- "what you have is what you need, and everything is else is only greed". We don't need any more than what we already have.

People are always, always, always more important than things. I guess that's what I have to remember when I'm frustrated with our system. The economy isn't my focus. Fashion and entertainment aren't my focus. People are my focus. So instead of getting exasperated about our culture, I have to remind myself what to focus on.

Last night we watched the VP debate. There was a lot of talk about the war in Iraq. Darfur was briefly mentioned, as well. The moderator asked if America had the resources or the energy to intervene in the genocide. Afterwards, Ted and I shared our frustration about our nation's perspective. We are currently in a war to protect our economic interests. It has been very costly- financially and with human lives. But when another country is involved in mass murdering its own people for a decade, we aren't sure if we can afford to intervene. What is wrong with this picture?

It's really hard for me to sit here, typing on my laptop with the tv droning on in the background. I look around my living room at all my things. I feel safe here. I have everything I need. But halfway around the world, there are people dying right now. They don't feel safe. They don't have their basic needs met. They have a constant fear of being murdered. Their world looks hopeless and frightening.

I think about the Holocaust. We know now about the events that took place before America became involved. All the horrible killings, the torturous experiments performed on people, the raping of the human soul and spirit that continued for so many years. If I had been alive then, if I had been aware, would I have done anything to help?

I've watched 'Blood Diamond' and 'The Last King of Scotland' and others. They depict the horrors of war-torn Africa. The mass genocides, the power-hungry war-lords, the way wealthy white men played them off each other and prospered from the fighting. And every time I see more, every time I'm made aware of another atrocity taking place, I feel more and more helpless. What can I possibly do to make a difference?

I've done research into the issue of human trafficking. How it involves people being enslaved, forced to work without pay, their bodies sold to the highest bidder. Their choices removed, their lives threatened. Even children being forced into prostitution, just to please the sick fantasies of rich men. It is absolutely horrendous that such things are happening in our world- right now, as I write. I can't even fully comprehend it. The more I learn, the more angry and frustrated I feel. What can I possibly do to help?

I believe that people are valuable. Each person, regardless of their age or race or economic level or country of origin. The people living in Africa and Haiti and India are my brothers and sisters. We each contain desires, feelings, dreams, fears, needs. When they hurt, it affects me. But I sit here on my couch feeling totally helpless to do anything about their suffering.

If the harvest is ready and the workers are few, if God just needs willing vessels and we answered the call, then now what? Why are we stuck, going in circles?

So Ted encouraged me to use what I have around me to channel my angst. My writing, my songs, my artwork. Even though what I really want is to go straight there to the people in need and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. I want to hold them in my arms, remind them that they are loved and valuable, encourage them to keep hoping and dreaming.

But right now, I can't go. I can't do those things tangibly for the people suffering in those places. All I can do now is pray for them- desperate prayers for rescue and salvation from the evil surrounding them. All I can do is advocate for them, raise awareness of what is really going on in our world. Call people to wake up from the rat race that smothers out our compassion. All I can do is use the tools at my disposal- to make a difference in my sphere of influence. It's not enough, and it won't be the end of my efforts.

With all my being, I promise I will go there someday, somehow. But until then, I will do what I can here and try my best to be satisfied until that day finally comes.

12 comments:

Joy in The Truth said...

Hi, Michelle! You are a winner! Check out my post from yesterday! :) Please be sure I have your information!

May His faithfulness fill you!

Sharon

KimDoll said...

Wow, I really loved this. I feel exactly the same way and couldn't have put it better myself. There are so many times I feel so selfish and guilty for having the things I have and yet, at the same time, I feel such pressure to constantly pursue more. Like being wealthier than the grand majority of the world isn't enough bc others around me want luxury that they've come to see as necessity and it makes them uncomfortable if others around them don't have it too. So sad.
Anyway, I love that you and I share feelings in this regard.

faerie enchantment said...

Its so true how our society is consumed with being so superficial, I agree with you, this post was amazing, and I enjoyed reading it.

Magic and Much Joy!
Lisa!

Mary said...

Michelle nice to meet you. I came over from Faith Folk. I will be back to visit many time I feel. I am finding so many like "hearted" women through blogging.

Blessings dear one!

Renee said...

Michelle I want to applaud you for this post.

I believe it is so important to bring this out to the light.

Thank you.

Renee

ClassyChassy said...

I found your blog thru another one I was following - your blog title was intriguing. Love the words you chose to express your thoughts - thanks for a nice post.

Vern ~ Inspired said...

I am new to your blog and wanted to encourage you with what is going on in your heart and with your upcoming speaking opportunity!
May your passion grow with His wisdom and strength as you keep praying and being obedient!
It will be neat to watch how He directs you!

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it!

Be Inspired!
Veronica "Vern" Hutcherson

trisha too said...

live simply, so that others may simply live.

i read that somewhere long ago, and it has always stuck with me . . . we have so much in this country, and yet are so greedy and self centered, we don't even realize how blessed we are.

("found" you via Pam's, by the way)

Linda said...

This is a powerful post Michelle - you write extremely well and can clearly say what we are all feeling. I love the phrase 'beauty in simplicity'... something we all need to remember.
Thank you...
Linda
oxo

Jennifer Snellings said...

Hi Michelle!

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and for your kind words about my artwork! How fun that we live near one another! I'm in McKinney.

I really enjoyed your blog and your writing is amazing! What powerful words which lead to such great thought. It is so easy to take our lives here in the US and all that we are blessed with for granted. We recently became sponsors of a sweet little girl in Africa through World Vision. It doesn't seem like much, but I'm thankful right now we can make a small difference in her life and that of her family/villiage's.

Thanks again for saying Hi! I look forward to getting to know you better! :)

Jennifer

morningDove said...

i'm with you, love your heart. I had been praying too about how to get involved with stopping human trafficking and that very day i met a retired police office headed to Cambodia involved with International Justice Mission www.ijm.org. just one of many organizations ministering.

ZoeY said...

A beautiful post. My faith in humanity is restored when I read things like this. Thank you.
Zoe

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