Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Scorn of Excess

Everywhere I look this week, I see too much. Highways teeming with billboards advertising endless restaurant chains at best, and houses of ill repute at worst. Houses loaded with trinkets and furniture cluttering up every single inch of space. Kitchen pantries and restaurants full of junky, sugary snacks and processed foods. Ahhhhh. Stop the insanity. Please.

I am blessed—or cursed—with a penchant toward the simple, and this cuts across the mental, physical and spiritual dimensions of health and well-being. Thankfully my wife is wired pretty much the same way, so this creates unity in our marriage rather than tension. Our joint challenge is the surrounding culture that seems to want to clutter everything up and inundate us—and, frustratingly, our children—with junky ideas and junky foods. Stand up to the culture and you’re considered a snob or high maintenance. Give in to it, and you get sucked into the tepid, swirling whirlpool of consumerism, shallowness and overall mediocrity. I suppose that, at times, my family has fallen victim to all of these conditions.

There is excess all about, and to me it feels like a bottomless warehouse of crutches to be relied upon because possibly there is not enough reality or introspection inside. One resorts to overconsumption to not just serve practical needs or enjoy the products that are being consumed, but to fill a void or avoid dealing with something. It does not matter whether the product is toys, vehicles, gadgets, trinkets, trips, tabloid publications, alcohol or junky foods. The things being consumed to the excess become transformed into vehicles of delay, distractions to the mind and spirit so that the real, disciplined work of personal transformation can be put off as long as possible or blissfully ignored.

If you choose to live that way, I feel bad for you but I will spend only so much energy trying to “change you.” In the end, you have to make your choices.

But please keep other people’s kids out of this unhealthy cycle. I can only do so much for my own. In the context of my home, they experience a minimalist environment when it comes to commercialism and consumption. Our household is more about ideas, exercise, spiritual growth and open-ended questioning geared toward stoking the fires of critical thinking. I get really frustrated, however, when other households aren’t run quite so intentionally and my kids—naturally, being kids—come home full of junk in their heads and their bodies. And yeah, call me a snob or a control freak or high maintenance, but I’ve got a problem with that.

Sometimes I just want to scream at the culture around me: “Enough already! Turn off the TV for a while…try reading a book…try exercising a bit…clean the sugary junk out of your cupboard and help stem the ongoing rise in childhood obesity…STOP THE MADNESS!” Am I the mad one because I feel this way? Or am I one of a minority of voices being constantly drowned out by the din of excess, frustrated that others choose to ignore the diseased manner in which we are desperately avoiding looking inside by worshipping everything we can grab a hold of on the surface?

I recommend an antidote. It’s a book called Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster. Foster offers some specific mind shifts and tactics to gradually learn to counter the madness. Check out this work and others by Foster as well, and visit to learn more about Foster and his community of fellow writers.


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