Swirling Vortex of Retail

I went to the mall today. I just needed a book on managing an Airport network from Barnes and Nobel but after buying it I decided to wander into the mall and eat at the food court.

What a sad place. I looked at the store windows and saw immediately the lie. In the windows the models and mannequins are slim and beautiful. The clothes hang on them perfectly. The lighting is placed specifically to make them look their best. There isn’t any mustard on the sleeve of the jean jacket or creases in the lower back of the blouses imprinted from a long ride in the car. It is imaginary.

Reflected in the glass that separates us from that world I saw the reflections of real people. The man with the large gut that strained his t-shirt. The middle-aged couple pushing their baby in an oversized baby carriage, neither looked particularly attractive and both looked like they needed sleep. Their clothing chosen for functionality over aesthetics. I saw my own reflection. I need a haircut and a shave. My clothing fits loosely because it is more comfortable that way. I don’t look like that male model on the poster, I am nondescript. I blend in.

But there we all are. We are walking through the shopping wonderland than tells us what we need to be happy and then packages it so that we’ll come to them to get it. As if they know what we need. As if they could package it. As if they could profit from it.

Then I see the group of girls who are juniors in high school (who are followed by a similar group of boys). They are trying desperately to look like the models. They have bought the lie and are trying to live it. Next week they’ll have to come to the retail temple and offer their sacrifices of plastic to get the next thing to keep them at the top of the ever shifting social structure. It never ends my friends, it never ends.

So what is a Christian to do? One answer seems to be that we eschew the entire mess and crawl into an enclave somewhere. We only buy from companies that have a fish symbol on their logos. We homeschool our kids. We get rid of the television. We only listen to Christian radio and Christian music. We isolate. This is the Protestant form of monasticism.

Another answer is to try to blend in. Dress, shop, talk, act like them but all the while we have a secret joy in our hearts. We can make our churches compete with whatever they have going on a Sunday AM or Saturday night or whatever. Worship as concert, preacher as entertainer.

The most common way is neither of those, as surprising as that seems. The most common way amongst American Christians is to just live in the midst of it as if it is all normal. Oh sure, we’ll avoid Abercrombie and Fitch because they’re immoral. We don’t listen to rap or heavy metal but K-LITE radio is fine, nothing there is too offensive. We shop just like everyone else: we shop as if owning stuff defines us. Jesus is a option in the American lifestyle. A little Blockbuster, some Claire’s, a touch of Pier One, gotta have some Gap then sprinkle it with Jesus when we get home.

Keep in mind that I currently include myself in this entire thing. I am just as deeply involved in all of this as most everyone else. This isn’t countercultural Tim judging the unenlightened masses. We suburban Americans all live in the same basic fishbowl, swimming in the same water, eating the same fishmeal. It is the world we live in.

I’ve had a chance to step back a bit because for the past three months my life has been constricted to school and work. Today was the first day in a while I got a chance to get out and do something unstructured and impulsive. So what did I do? I went shopping of course. That is what suburbites do.

But is this “Christian”? I think we’ve come to believe that it is. This is what life is like. This is just how things are done. Isn’t this how we do church? The term “church shopping” isn’t inappropriate or accidental. We go to the church that meets our needs and has the programs we’re after. I have even heard about people who choose their church based on which night of the week the AWANA program is! Shopping and choosing. A little of this, a little of that. We like the music. The pastor is a bit longwinded at times. My kids have friends in the Sunday School classes. The youth program fits our schedule and it isn’t teaching heresy. We attend retreats that show us how to be better dads or husbands. Sometimes we feel challenged and convicted.

Isn’t it a lot like the mall? There is an image behind glass that is attractive and unattainable by us. But there are people who will tell us what we need to do to get there. But when we look in the glass and see our own reflections, they don’t match.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. ? James 1:22-24 (ESV).

There must be more than shopping. There is something that we’re supposed to be doing, to be “being” that we (myself not only included but as and example) are not. Jesus fits like another commodity in our lives. We have the right words to confess, we sing the right songs and carry the right study Bible, but we aren’t who we think we are. We’ve look in the glass of the shop window, stared intently at our natural face and having turned away, we’ve forgotten who we are and look for the next bargain.

There is a way out of this quagmire. I know there is. And I want to find it. I want to live my life like Jesus really is God incarnate. Like God really was born in a stable. Like he really did heal and preach the kingdom. Like spikes really did pierce his hands and feet. Like he really did hang from those spikes on a Roman torture device. Like he died bearing the burden of sins. Like he really did come to life from death after three days in a cave. Like his actually ascended into the sky and vanished from his friends sight. Like he really is coming again to rule and judge and reign. Like he really is my savior and not just my latest

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