The News According to Fear, Anger, Sex and Hope

This is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox: Hillary pulls ahead by a nose; Trump is a hairpiece away from the presidency; Bernie is being Bernie, and the people love Bernie ("hip-hip BERN-IE!"); the black box was found; the boy is alive though the gorilla is dead; the starlet has a new sex tape (click, click, click and watch her work); the temperature and the terror alert are on the rise; the hurricane is coming; stocks are more volatile than the San Andreas; employment is more fickle than manna; the robots are here; we're going to Mars; we're shooting past Pluto; we are our only limitation--other than Trump, who is a hairpiece away from the presidency. Some call the media a spin cycle, a constant tumbling of news (that is not news), which keeps us off kilter. I call it a mint, watch as they throw the machine into high gear, as they fuel the machine with fear, anger, sex, hope, shades of love, colors of greed. Out comes the money. ([tweetherder]What does it profit a man to report on the whole world and lose his gold?[/tweetherder])

"Tune in tonight for more fear."

"After this commercial break, more sex."

"Buy this box of hope."

"Tonight's angry political commentary brought to you by the good people at Sugar Soy American Porn Corp., Inc."

The stories roll. The emotions roll. The dollars roll. The saints look up from their pine boxes--they roll, too. "The soul was not made to withstand this sort of manipulation," they think; then, "Lord have mercy."

The things I believe about the nature of men are simple: we were made to fear only saber-toothed tigers and the rustling of leaves in the dark; we were imbued with anger to bring gift of reformation; our eyes were meant to see only as far as the horizon, our legs made to walk a few miles at a time; sex was meant for the love our life; love was meant for the wife, the children, the community; hope was given so that we might create; hunger was purposed to push us as far as the next meal.

The things I believe about the nature of the soul are likewise simple: it is tiny, child-like, eternal; it stronger than the body, but so often led by it; it can master or be mastered by anger, fear, hunger, hope and sex. Can I prove this? No. But stop and reflect. You know this is true; don't you?

The line between master and mastered is quite thin--this is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox.

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Shema-rica

Two weeks ago, the local preacher made reference to the Shema, the central prayer of Jewish faith. The introduction to the Shema reads as follows:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut 6:4-9)

For whatever reason, I found the word "Shema" pliable, began twisting it apart until I created the word "Shema-rica," and then began wondering, [tweetherder text="what is the Americana version of the Shema? @sethhaines #poetry"] "what is the Americana version of the Shema?"[/tweetherder] These thoughts gave rise to this poem.

*****

Shema-rica.

Hear oh America:

both polished people, and huddled masses of pulsing poor who rise and fall like the sea and the other shining sea glimmering in the setting gold of evening—

the lord your god is one. Hear oh America:

you stokers of the Appalachian whisky still, sellers of spirits, and you others who reek of prohibitionist’s perfume, program peddlers to the liminal lessees in some Ozark half-way house—

the lord your god is one. Hear oh America: you field plowers, cotton purveyors, frivolous fashionistas, marketers, miners, all you who pull threads of precious metal through earthen seams or human veins in worship—

the lord your god is one. Hear oh America:

that smell is profit’s smog, the clink of coins the price of prophet’s song; [tweetherder text = "here hidden in market's margin... is a God, maybe forgotten. @sethhaines #poetry"]here, hidden in market’s margin, in the up sale, or extended warranty, in capital greasing the wheels of our futures is a God, maybe forgotten.[/tweetherder]

Hear oh America, the lord your god is one.

On the Market Machine, Christianity, and the Idea Factories (Part II)

This is a continuation of my exploration of "Market Christianity." This piece might not be for everyone, fair warning. After you take a gander here, though, jump over to Amber's site for her series on revolution.

*****

1.

"I wish Christianity would stop being so profitable."  This he said over his cheeseburger with no hyperbolic flourish. It was an emphatic statement, less of wish and more of a manifesto.

To be clear, he used the word "profitable" in the sense of monetary return, not in the sense used by Paul when he indicated "all scripture is breathed by God and profitable for teaching..." (2 Tim 3:16) I don't suppose I blame him. He was a Christian businessman in a Christian business that was charged with the task of delivering competing metrics to its investors--a monetary return on investment to the investors, and a spiritual return on investment represented by lives changed. He'd seen the ugly side of things when the desire for inflated metrics set in, when the machine needed more money to grow bigger and affect more lives. 

Eventually, everything becomes about the money, powerful as it is. It is the unfortunate truth: in the free market, monetary return and spiritual formation are often at odds.

2.

The word profitable finds it roots in Old French, and was first used to convey the specific sense of "money making." In the west, we've perfected the process of profitability, have turned everything into a printing press for the Dollar. Goods, services, information, sex, self (celebrity), justice, mercy--these are all for sale in today's economy, all subjects of profit-motive. And make no mistake, profit is not a bad thing. By profit, we meet the needs of our lives. By profit, we are able to facilitate good and holy work, too.

The profit-motive, though, carries with it unique challenges. Before we consider them, lets first consider the apparatuses needed to generate profit.

An effective market cannot function without the following component parts: (1) raw materials; (2) factories to shape those raw materials into products; (3) marketers to inform the consumer of the latest product; and, of course, (4) the consumer to purchase the product. These component parts are neither good nor bad, neither holy nor evil. They are, quite simply, necessities of an effective market complex.

We see this playing out across a broad spectrum of industries. To take a simple example, in the winter, the consumer demands heat. A workman, then, chops wood (raw material), sends it through a wood splitter (the factory), and takes out an ad in the local paper that says "WOOD FOR SALE" (marketing), which lures the consumer to the point of purchase.

Consider a second example. Needing energy, the market demands coal production. A mining company extracts the coal (raw material), sends it to the power plant (the factory), and produces commercials letting the consumer know of its clean-burning benefits (marketing). The consumers, then, purchase the energy produced to run their homes.

These market mechanisms, just like profit, are neither good, nor bad. They simply are.

But what happens when the lumberjack or coal factory get a taste for the finer things money can buy? What happens when they thirst for more profit, for the increased growth required to generate more profit? In the same vein, what happens when the consumer wants more heat, more power? What happens when the market demands the constant production of the material?

By way of avarice and over-consumption, by way of the profit-motive gone awonk, we cause powerful problems: deforestation and strip-mining.

3.

Let's not be deceived. Every profit center is subject to the same pitfalls. No matter the market, if avarice and over-consumption sneak into the market apparatus, things go askew. We demand that the factories continue to produce, and produce, and produce. Raw materials become scarce, factories begin to wear out, the market becomes bloated. Eventually the cogs in the machine need replacing. Eventually the forests are no more, the tops of every appalachian mountain are scraped clean. Eventually, the market desires different products and businesses close, marketers are out of work, and factories shut down.

Do we delude ourselves when we believe that tie between commerce and religion is somehow immune from these results?

If Christianity is a marketplace, consider these questions:

1. What is the raw material? The message of God?

2. What is the factory? The messenger of God? The non-profit or missions organization?

3.  What is the product? The book? The sermon? The song? Worse yet, the objects of our ministry (the third-world, tribal nonbeliever)?

4.  Who are the marketers? The church? (Perhaps, here's where things have the potential to get wonky.)

5.  What is the price of avarice and overconsumption? Are we strip-mining the good news for gain?

Again, Christianity and the marketplace can function together in healthy and good ways. As I asked last week, without this joining of forces, what would have happened to the works of Augustine, Lewis, and even Voskamp? Would their works line my bookshelves, provide me with the encouragement I so often need? Without the ability of Paul to raise funds by making tents, would he have been able to advance the good news?

Anyone who argues that the Christianity has no place within the marketplace, then, discounts the healthy ways in which the market assists in the distribution of good and holy messages.

That being said, what happens when avarice and overconsumption creep into the Christian marketplace? What happens when the producers of the message seek growth for growth sake? Don't we require the factories to overproduce? Don't we strip-mine every raw material?

4.

There is a tension here. Can you see it?

We use the marketplace to disseminate ideas. The market, subjected to the authority of God, held in check to the power of God, can be a good and holy thing. The market gone awonk, though, is a beast. When it demands more profit, more consumption, and growth-for-growth sake (even if that growth might have good results, as in the case of fair-trade Christian businesses), it chews up and spits out the messengers of God, and robs the raw materials of their power.

And if I'm honest, this--I think--is the grand travesty of modern American Christianity.

I do not wish that Christianity would cease being profitable. That kind of desire might have unintended consequence. That being said, perhaps my friend was on to something with the insertion of one little word. Perhaps we should hope that Christianity does not become "so profitable." In the "so" we find the roots of greed. In the "so" we find the seeds of overconsumption. In the "so" we find a market imbued with too much power.