Bondage

(Originally posted in Isa 61)

I don't need to tell you that you are miserable. I don't need to tell you about the hole inside of you. If you've ever responded to an advertisement with a purchase, then at least part of you knows that you are not free. And if you think that you are making an informed choice about your purchasing behavior, if you think that you can back off of or quit your consumerist impulse whenever you want, then I suggest perhaps you may be living in a little bit of convenient denial.

I don't consider it a moral failing or indicative of some fundamental brokenness that you can't help yourself. The world is broke and so long as we orient ourselves to the world, we are broke. The language you may be familiar with is "sin" and "sinfulness." It doesn't matter yet what we call it. You know what I'm talking about.

And it isn't just our consumerist behavior. Anywhere we look to the world to give us our identity and our meaning, we are going to reflect the world's fractured cruelty and insatiable narcissism. But I speak first of the bondage of today's empire because of the empire's laser precision at finding and exploiting the existential hollowness within us.

And when I say "empire," I'm not talking about the government or religious institutions, although both have come under its influence. I'm talking about the smooth, convincing voice that assures you that this car, this phone, this mop, this laxative, this pill, this soda, this pair of underwear will get you the respect, security and power that you deserve. You'll get the life you have earned.

And when we become sick of the mainstream, when we scoff at the poor fools who have been led like sheep to buy popular products, it sells you an alternative, tribal identity, that will not only fill the hole, but set you apart from the crowd. But it's the same garbage. And deep down, you probably already know it.

When we accuse the corporate beast of creating pain and inequality in the world, it throws up its hands sheepishly and says, "you got me," and then proposes that a new, green, fair trade product will repair the damage. But if commerce braids the ties that bind, what type of fool would believe that commerce will cut them too?

Well, I've been that fool for far too long. I think we've all been playing the fool.

I don't need to convince you that you're miserable, because you wouldn't submit to the empire if it hadn't identified it already. And I don't need to put my finger on the pride that believes that so long as we just purchase the right things and not too much, so long as we scream for justice when the pain is great that the market will do our repenting for us.

So what am I saying? That we all opt out of the system? Get off the grid and sew our own clothes? That would be a nice start, but it is still arrogant in its assumption that we can behave righteously by our own power. Besides, it doesn't fill the hole.

What I'm saying is far more inwardly radical. I'm saying that we need to hit bottom.

Admit that we are powerless against the empire. I mean, come on, cereal companies spend billions on marketing. Don't you think the deck is stacked against your 6 year-old?

Admit that our lives are unmanageable. We couldn't withdraw from sin if we wanted too. When a light goes on in the holiest of churches, a mountain blows up in West Virginia to get her coal.

We must look to the cross and see that we are so disillusioned in our pride that when God walks among us, we nail him to it. Recognize that the world is so wicked that in the end, it nails us to it too. Only then, in defeat, in agony, in humiliation and in surrender, only when we die with Christ, are we free to be raised by God.

We will be transformed.

And then what? New monasticism? Shovels digging wells in Africa? Street corner prophets with tracts in hand? Will we starve in alienation? Will we become the people we think we hate?

I won't sell it to you. Besides, a drunk who is dying shouldn't need to be convinced of the joy of a sober life. She has no choice. She is already dead. And so are we.

Only when we hit bottom do we know what hope tastes like. So let's hit bottom.