Paul L. Caron

Sunday, December 4, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: Shopping And Isaiah 6:5

New York Times Op-Ed:  Are We More Addicted to Shopping Than We Think?, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3Perhaps I should begin with a confession of sin: I’m more materialistic than I thought. I don’t like to think of myself this way. My heroes all lived simply, if not in outright poverty. St. Francis, St. Clare, Dorothy Day and, well, Jesus himself. My family doesn’t go on fancy vacations. I don’t wear nice jewelry or drive an impressive car. So I sometimes self -righteously assume that I’m immune to greed, materialism and consumerism. But then we moved into a new house.

Suddenly, I found myself walking through the flooring store, riddled with anxiety, convinced that the course of my life would be determined by whether I went with the red oak wirebrushed or the Cambridge hickory. Or should it be the white oak? Oh dear God, how is one to know?

I’ve spent more time soul-searching, poring over which dining table to buy, than I spent choosing a spouse. And when said spouse ordered the wrong color bookshelves from Ikea, only to discover that the color I wanted (walnut effect light gray) is entirely out of stock, I grieved like some beloved pet had died. What happened to me? I have lived in East Africa without plumbing. I spent much of my 20s among the homeless. Now, I search Pinterest for “patio furniture inspiration.” ...

My grappling with consumer culture reminds me of a story in the book of Isaiah about when Isaiah sees God, sitting on a throne with angels all around worshiping him. This vision of God’s holiness is so overwhelming that Isaiah freaks out. He says, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” The unseen evil in himself and systemic evil in his culture is suddenly visible to him.

To make a long story short, Isaiah isn’t ruined. He receives grace, atonement and a commission — he’s sent out as a prophet. But the point is that he didn’t realize that he was a “man of unclean lips” because everyone around him was too. He is steeped in sin and brokenness, so much so that he couldn’t see it. It wasn’t until he saw true beauty, holiness and goodness, that he noticed how messed up he (and everyone around him) actually was. It’s like that famous quip from David Foster Wallace about the two young fish swimming toward an older fish, who nods at them and says: “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” One fish turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?” Water, for us in America, is consumerism. ...

Being more like Isaiah than God, I take comfort in his reception of grace. I don’t have a clear solution about how to rid our lives of consumerism. ...

I hope I can stay in this house for a long while and fill it with lasting things: good conversations, friends, things we make, truthfulness, repentance, forgiveness, joy. I don’t expect that I, or many of us really, can completely escape consumerism, as entrenched in it as we are. I am not going to achieve perfect purity by any means. But I hope I can better learn, bit by bit, to be faithful to God, even in what I consume, and to hold it all loosely, with unclenched hands and unclean lips, awaiting grace.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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