Thursday, January 15, 2015

Paradise (nearly) Lost

"I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism. This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us. I was trained as a marketer and advertiser before I came to Christ, and when I look at the power of consumerism and of the market in our lives, I have little doubt that in consumerism we are dealing with a very significant religious phenomenon . . . . Consumerism is thoroughly pagan." - Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways
I experienced the lure of consumerism first hand earlier this week. After last year’s oppressive winter, my wife and I determined that we need to have a “cold weather survival strategy.” The resulting plan includes some warm weather and sun so, when our friends suggested we join them for a five-day vacation to Cancun, we jumped at the chance.

I will admit that I was not entirely comfortable with the idea. There is something that seems a little unfair about bailing out of Antarctica while our friends and family stay behind. Even though this is the first vacation my wife and I have taken in over twenty-five years that didn’t involve me working, or attending a conference, or our kids tagging along, I still felt a little guilty.

My discomfort abated considerably when we arrived at the Iberostar ParaĆ­so Del Mar. The resort was simply amazing. We spent the first few hours with mouths agape at the wildlife, the pristine beach and the pool. The marble colonnades and the verdant landscaping were incredible. Tracy and I remarked to each other how humbled and blessed we felt to be able to enjoy such a sublime setting together.

The next morning we sat down with the concierge to learn what to expect from our five days of paradise. She went through the meals we could expect to eat and helped us make reservations. She talked with us about the beach and the pool and the activities we could participate in. She explained the nightly shows. (Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Mexican theater troupe performing disco cover tunes complete with a live band and dance team!)

But then she did something unexpected. After telling us all that we could do, she told us what we couldn’t. She explained that our blue wristbands gave us access to two areas of the resort. But, if we wanted full access to all the resort, we would need to upgrade to a different wristband. Want to float
down the lazy river in tubes? You need the gray wristband. Want to enjoy the wave pool? Gray wristband. Want exclusive access to all the amenities, including the water park at the premium hotel? You got it. Gray wristband. It’s ironic, but our “all inclusive resort” turned out to have some exclusions after all.

Now here’s the thing: I was completely happy with my little corner of paradise until Shakira (yes, that was really her name) told me that there was more, and that – for only $70 more per day – we could have it all.

Truth is, that sounds a lot like the lie that the serpent told Eve. “You can have it all, Eve, just bite the fruit. God’s holding out on you. He doesn’t want you to be like him, but you can have it all if you’ll just take a little taste.”

And that is the challenge for most of us, I think. You got the 16 GB phone. Too bad, we just debuted the 64 GB. That 48-inch flat screen? So last year. Only one carat, and its not a princess cut?! Bigger. Better. Faster. Pricier. The god of consumerism whispers in your ear and mine, “Wait. There is more.”

Some sharp commenter will point out the deeper irony of me blogging about wrestling with consumerism after enjoying nearly a week at an all-you-can-eat-and-drink, cater-to-your-every-whim resort. Nevertheless I am grateful that Hirsch’s words came to mind as I sat at the Shakira’s desk. They reminded me that enough is enough. That I don’t need more, and that I can receive God’s provided blessings – including a vacation like this one – with grace and gratitude, knowing that the lure of consumerism is always present, tempting me to miss the goodness the Giver by overlooking the profound generosity of His gifts.