3 vows.

Our Northern (Western) culture is built on a lie. The lie is this: that technological, scientific and economic progress will lead to our happiness. Unhindered progress = unhindered happiness. And so in the name of progress we destroy one another and we destroy the earth. According to our idolatrous notion of progress any sort of restraint is a bad thing. Restraints are a hindrance to progress and therefore a hindrance to our happiness.

Humans then become consumers. What does it mean to be human? It means to consume as much as you can because this will lead to your happiness.

The scriptures tell us that we were created by God in his image. To be human is to be an image bearer. The question then becomes, whose image do we bear? If we give into the idolatrous notion of unimpeded/unlimited progress and growth then we will inevitably bear an image other than God’s image.

How then are we to live? If our cultural narrative is that unimpeded progress will lead to our happiness then what is the scriptural narrative? It is that our happiness is bound up in Shalom. The point isn’t to consume and progress without boundaries. The point, rather, is to live in Shalom with creation and with each other. In order for this to happen we must talk about restraint.

Restraint is not a popular notion in our Northern societies. We’re so used to doing more and wanting more and getting more that we rarely stop to ask ourselves if this is good. Let us consider for a moment that the earth has limited resources. If this is the case, then we cannot continue to live in a way that allows us to consume more than our fair share of the earths resources. We must also realize that the earth is not here to be plundered but rather to fall under the care of our stewardship.

Consider also the current global economic situation. Economies all over the world are crumbling. Something is wrong here and it is not a surface issue. It is not a matter of changing a few things here and there so that all may be well. Rather, the issue is deep and at the core of what we believe about ourselves and the world. Rather than an economy that knows no bounds and is continually growing we ought to seek an economy that flourishes. An abundant, life-giving economy. The other night I attended a talk given by the Dutch Christian political-economist Bob Goudzwaard. He gave an example of a tree. Tree’s are beautiful and organic. Yet even the wisest oak tree knows that the point of the tree is not to grow up to heaven! There is something within the tree (creational) that tells it it’s purpose is not unlimited growth. Rather, the purpose of a tree is to flourish and bear fruit. The same can be said for our economies. The purpose is not unlimited growth to the heavens, but rather, the purpose is for the flourishing of human life.

It is obvious, however, that our current culture knows nothing of this for we are only concerned with unlimited growth and progress. We know nothing of limitations or stewardship. We know not what it means to be content. Always wanting more.

During the talk last evening a woman brought up the point that during another important time period in Europe St. Benedict proposed three vows: a vow of poverty, a vow of chastity and a vow of obedience. Then she asked the following question: “What might be our vows today?”

As Christians we are people seeking to be shaped by God as we strive to live faithfully in the way of Christ. It is clear that our culture knows nothing of this. To be faithful to Christ in the midst of an idolatrous culture, then, means to embody an alternative way. The idolatrous way of living prescribed by our society is not reflective of the way of Christ. The challenge for the Church then is to actually live in a different way. This is difficult of course because our imaginations are so often shaped more by Bay St. than by the cross. And the way of Bay St. is far different from the way of the cross. However, often the task of living a different sort of way is overwhelming. We are generally the sort of people that like plans. We would be much happier if we could map out the way. This, however, is not necessary. What is necessary is that we begin with a step in that direction. This sort of drastic change will not likely happen over night, but, small step after small step (in obedience with the Spirit) will lead to transformed lives.

So then, what are three vows that Christians could take today, in a consumer-capitalist culture, in order to proclaim our faithfulness to Christ as opposed to our faithfulness to the idolatrous way of Bay St.? I would propose at least the following three vows:

1. A vow of generosity.
In the midst of a culture that seeks to attain more and more we acknowledge that it is good and healthy, even human, to show restraint.

Lord Jesus, save us.

In the midst of a culture that tells us we need __________ in order to be fulfilled we acknowledge that our fulfillment comes only in God’s plan of Shalom.

Lord Jesus, shape us.

In a culture that says “it is better to receive than to give” we follow Jesus who proclaims “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35).

We denounce the idolatrous ways of Bay St., Lord Jesus, lead us.

2. A vow of community.
In the midst of a culture that lives closed lives we strive to live a life that is open to our neighbour. We are caught up in and find our place in the organic community that is the Body of Christ.

Lord Jesus, save us.

In the midst of a culture that tells us the most important person is “me” we strive daily to love others more than ourselves.

Lord Jesus, shape us.

In the midst of a culture where communion is reduced to text messages and status updates we recognize the truth and beauty in simply living life together in order that our hope may be made incarnate in our lives.

Lord Jesus, lead us.

3. A vow of responsibility (stewardship).
In the midst of a culture of over-development and over-consumption we proclaim that enough is enough and we repent for the ways in which we daily wrong one another and the earth.

Lord Jesus, save us.

In the midst of culture that lives as if the earth is full of unlimited resources we recognize the sinfulness of our over-consumptive lifestyles.

Lord Jesus, shape us.

In the midst of a culture that views people and the earth as dis-utilities to be overcome on the road of progress we proclaim the inherent goodness and beauty of creation.

Lord Jesus, lead us.

Perhaps if we can find a way to, together, embody these sorts of vows we can begin to journey together towards an alternative way of life. One that is shaped more by the cross and the resurrection than by Bay St.

Our Father who are in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

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4 comments
  1. Erika said:

    Modern culture has been seduced, it is something that has been slowly permeating our society for a few decades now. The moral bar continues to drop in the name of freedom and capitalism. While both these ideologies are important, we have lost sight of what it is to be truly human. I shudder to think of what society will look like in the future for our children. You dont have to change the world – you only have to start with yourself and your loved ones. Educating yourself and others about greed and materialism. When ur out consuming, ask yourself if you truly need certain items. In order to stop the corporate machines we must individually & collectively stop co-operating. It is difficult, but we can curb a lot of unnessecary things and put our money into godly endevors. great piece JT!

  2. Orlagh Turtle said:

    Excellent Jonathan, may the Lord continue to give us all Wisdom and strength to always be faithful wherever HE places us…
    I love the simple word of this song…Keep your eyes upon Jesus, look full in HIS wonderful face, and the cares of earth will seem strangely dim in the Light of His Glory and Grace ( forget who penned that….I cried it often enough myself !)

    Amen and Amen…..Soli Deo Gloria

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