I chose to read this book because I wanted to read something about curbing consumerism from a Christian perspective. Saying "Enough!" is something most of the Church has been silent on- or has proclaimed the exact opposite. Many of the church circles I traveled in growing up were very encouraging of the accumulation of stuff... it was a sign of God's favor.
I highly believe that, because Christianism has been largely silent on consumerism, God has had to seek out agnostics like Rev. Billy to get a message of contentment out to the world. So, I am glad to see that the Claibornes, Wallises, Sojourners,... and the Will Samsons, are getting a voice in the Christian subculture. Christianity needs to have a counter culture, not a parallel one.
Samson proceeds early on from a personal foundational statement:
I had two Volvos, three kids, and a five-thousand square foot house. Everything was coming up sevens. But, like a consistent majority of Americans, I did not feel content with the dream.
I related to this because 5 years ago, I made twice the money and had twice the house that I do now. However, now I am content, and then I was not. Contentment does not come with possessions. I had to downsize to learn that.
He observes that:
Most, I would guess, had more material wealth than their grandparents could have imagined possible. Yet for the majority it was not enough. It seemed they would never be satisfied.
He goes on to say:
Something deep within us, from time immemorial, causes us to want what we do not have.
He makes the case throughout the book that it is our consumerism and bottomless desire for commodities that undercuts our ability to develop community. Neighborhoods never truly form when people are working endlessly to acquire more so they can move to a bigger house somewhere else. And while we grasp to get more and find our selves increasingly empty, the church, for the most part, has offered no alternative.
Here are some other quotes from the book that caught my attention:
When we use energy without thought of consequence it seems that we are making one of two theological statements. Either we believe that the resources of creation are given to us without concern for their stewardship, or we believe that God is unconcerned with how we use the resources we have been given. Neither of those views seems consistent with what we can learn about God from Scripture or the tradition of the church.
I wonder if those who benefited financially from predicting the soon destruction of the world, and then used that money to build things in that world, might cause some to question their message.
Study after study shows that the average Christian in America is statistically indistinguishable from someone of another faith, or of no faith. The culture seem to have an attitude of "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," and we join in the party. But is this the correct posture for a follower of Jesus?
Too many of us who were raised as "Bible-believing Christians" have often approached scripture to affirm the things we wish to be against and to provide permission for the things we wish to do... Christians are just as likely to carry higher loads of debt, buy bigger homes than they need, and load those homes up with all manner of useless stuff.
Samson weaves the Eucharist and its metaphor throughout the book. If the book has one Achilles Heel, this is it. Not that I do not consider it important, but if your tradition did not teach this well or you do not connect here, you miss a fair amount of his emphasis.
For myself, I grew up in a church where 200 people drank out of a common communion cup. It took me years after leaving to overcome a subtle nausea every time I took communion. :)