Consumers or Creators: Being of the World or Being God’s People
By S. Michael Craven
After more than ten years of serious study and careful examination of culture-what it is, how it’s formed and its present influence on the church-I find that Americans generally flow in one of two directions. They either tend toward being consumers or being creators.
Consumers, the overwhelming majority of late, could be characterized by an inclination to formulate their sense of self from the outside in. The true self remains hidden-in many cases unknown-and serious self-examination is hindered by countless distractions and diversions. Contrary to the quiet life, consumer’s lives are intentionally filled with noise, activities, and things that aid in avoiding serious thought, introspection, or reflection. Instead, consumers survey their surroundings in constant search of things, experiences, and associations to construct their self-image. They choose fashions and possessions not because they satisfy an aesthetic appreciation or meet quality standards as much as they serve to convey a particular image of themselves to others.
Consumers tend to seek experiences or, more accurately, replicate the experiences of others whose image they think is popular, cool, or “hot.” This is the impetus for the interest in no-real-accomplishment-necessary celebrities. Does anyone really admire Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from the MTV series Jersey Shore or Paris Hilton because of any serious achievement or virtue? However, head to Florida or South Padre Island over spring break and you will see this imitation of vacuous experience on a grand scale! Visit your local university or high school-including many church youth groups-and you’ll see it institutionalized as “youth culture.”
Additionally, because consumers tend to live on the stage of the superficial, they frequently fail to form real or meaningful relationships. Instead, being self-absorbed, consumers tend to see people in terms of network connections whose ultimate purpose is to benefit them, either now or at some point in the future. In essence, consumers tend to see relationships as merely a means to their own selfish ends. Sadly, American culture, by and large, encourages and promotes this consumptive approach to understanding ourselves and society. This may help explain the decline of community in America that contemporary sociologists have observed.
On the other hand, there are those who today are truly countercultural; they are creators. Rather than draw their identity from outside themselves, they attempt to develop their sense of self from the inside out. Creators bring things to fruition. They don’t look at the world as something to posses or see people as a means to an end. Instead they see the potential for what can be in the world and believe relationships with people are the desirable end itself. Creators are thinkers; they reflect on themselves and the world around them. They are curious to know why things are the way they are and what can be done to improve the world where improvement is needed. Creators attempt to discover what is true, do what is good, and bring forth beauty.
Suffice it to say that of these two categories, Christians should be creators. But what does this mean? Am I speaking of creators in strictly an artistic sense? Not necessarily. I am speaking of Christian creators in the sense of bringing shalom into the world. The Hebrew word shalom is most often translated into English as “peace,” but this hardly does justice to its full biblical meaning. “Shalom is an exceedingly rich concept, a comprehensive word dealing with and covering all the relationships of daily life, expressing the ideal state of life in Israel and, indeed, the entire world” (Linthicum, Transforming Power, p. 36). Shalom is an all-encompassing concept that concerns personal health (Ps. 38:3), security (Judg. 6:23; Dan. 10:19), long life (Gen. 15:15), prosperity (Job 5:18–26; Ps. 37:11; Lam. 3:16–17; Zech. 8:12), and successful completion of an endeavor (Judg. 18:5; 1 Sam. 1:17). In other words, shalom is God’s best for the entirety of life-personally and socially…
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