Most of us have had those moments – when we almost step outside of ourselves and see the world around us with new eyes. I recall one such moment lining up at my local supermarket one Christmas Eve. My wife and I had just returned from visiting a church mission in the slums of Manila, in the Philippines.
There we had been welcomed into homes the size of our bathroom, constructed from rusty corrugated iron by people with beaming faces beaming of joy in the simplest of life’s pleasures.
Now here I was in wealthy Australia, surrounded by overloaded aisles of groceries, yet completely aware at that moment of the stress that these very goods were placing on the crowds, as they swarmed madly in the Christmas consumption rush.
The realisation dawned on me just how enmeshed in the consumerist dream I was, and we all were, in our economically prosperous nation.
God’s design from the beginning was one of abundance. Genesis describes a planet filled with beautiful and rich vegetation for humankind to enjoy; a world that God – in his generosity and master plan for human stewardship – declares “very good”. In fact, so confident is God in what he has set up that he has the audacity to rest!
And yet as we look around, we see the hallmarks of scarcity, not abundance. Rather than being content with all that we have, we constantly strive for more in the worry that we might not have enough, or in the fruitless pursuit to keep up with others. Who has time to rest and simply enjoy what they have?
Perhaps the most telling example of consumerism’s grip is our nation’s appetite for debt. Australia’s 2018 Christmas consumption saw us rack up nearly $30 billion of credit card debt or a sobering $1,863 per person. We are now offered new ways of fuelling our appetite to spend money we don’t have, with the rapid rise of ‘buy now, pay-later’ providers such as Afterpay proving very attractive, particularly to young people.
It would come as little surprise to know that the ratio of household debt to income is at an all time high – we are a nation in love with debt.
In my work as a financial counsellor with The Salvation Army I have seen the strain that so-called ‘consumer debt’ can place on people. Often it’s those on moderate incomes just keeping up with credit card and loan repayments whose circumstances change – health issues, relationship breakdown, change in employment – spiralling them into cycles of debt and the associated drop across all areas of wellbeing.
The Biblical vision of the good life is a simple one in so many ways. In Micah 4, the prophet’s utopian dream that “everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” speaks of contentment within community – where each family has enough to live on, and can do so free from the threat of exploitation and invasion.
We see the continuation of exploitation patterns that the Old Testament laws tried to protect against and that the biblical prophets railed against in our society today.
Consider the ease with which people can access harmful credit products with exorbitant interest rates. Look at the way that the gap between the world’s richest and poorest is growing. And sit with the harsh realisation that for many Australians our decades long economic growth has not brought relief from cycles of poverty.
I expect creative ideas and solutions to these issues and others around financial wellbeing will come as we journey together, but here are four tips to help us all move a little closer towards the good life God intended.
- Embrace habits of gratitude
The secret to contentment! Build practices that remind us that God has made a world of abundance for us to enjoy, with enough for all if we are willing to share.
- Practice mindful spending and
Consider Leo Babauta’s beautiful practice for mindfulness to counter our urge to spend here.
- Raise our voice about issues
This could include campaigning for a rise in Newstart payments, fighting for changes to responsible lending laws and lobbying the government to increase its foreign aid budget.
- Find others who are looking to live the good life…and inspire each other!
I see Consumed as a space to do just that. To wrestle with the firm grip that consumerism has on each of us. My earnest hope is that the ‘moments’ we all have will provide a real catalyst for change. And that together we can inspire one another on towards God’s master plan for the Good Life.
Jono Dorse spends most of his time talking to people
about money! Working in the financial capability space with The Salvation Army
Moneycare service, and as an accountant (amongst other things). He loves
working on projects that help people explore how radically good the good life
can be and he hates shopping.