Thursday, February 14, 2008

Culture Shock 101

2nd semester is well underway here at Drew, and memories of India are fading fast. I know many people experience culture shock upon returning to the United States after they have visited a poorer country, and to a certain degree I resonate with that experience. What I didn't expect was how quickly I reacclimated to our consumeristic culture. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was flat on my back for a few days with a severe cold right after getting back from India, but if I'm honest with myself I know it's an excuse.

I've struggled with this aspect of American life for awhile -- the materialism, the emphasis on consuming goods -- and I was disheartened by seeing aspects of this bleeding over into India. Not that globalization hasn't done some good for the Indian economy, but there are terrible costs as well. With the matter of clean drinking water, I heard one economist say, "If the government can't provide clean drinking water, then what is wrong with Coca-cola coming in to supply that need?" On the flip side, this increasing privatization of public services is adversely affecting the poorest of the poor - those in rural villages and those in the urban slums.

It's not enough to try to be better. Of course, this is a step in the right direction, but by trying to live more ethically in this materialistic, consumeristic culture we are still participating in a system that hurts those who can't do anything about it. What would it look like for us to drop out of the system all together, or to buy from local businesses with ethical practices? To grow our own foods or buy locally, to shop at goodwill or the salvation army for clothes instead of driving out to the mall, to go to the library for books and music (or going to a used book store) instead of buying them new? What would it look like to cut down on what we bought every month, especially if we really didn't need it in the first place? Essentially, what would it look like for a significant number of people to be one level removed from all of this craziness?

I hope that this church plant can be a model for this kind of living, but I know that my husband and I need to make improvements in our life together first. There's a lot we can do before we're close to where we want to be: eat more simply, buy used products, consume less. In fact, we're going to try something different. We're going to not buy anything new (aside from things like lightbulbs or underwear or food...things you need to buy new) until Pentecost. Anything new will have to be given as a gift. It should be an interesting experiment, and one that we would love to get others in on! If you're interested in journeying with us, pray about it and leave a comment!

[Note: Increasingly, I will be posting more often on my new blog site: http://melissa.bechurchne.org. To see the posts of the whole community together, check out http://bechurchne.org/blog/. I'll still be using this site, but we'll see what it morphs into!]

1 Comment:

  1. greg. said...
    great post. i, too, struggle with consumerism in general, but more specifically, my own participation in it. i find myself getting so easily sucked in. i forget what the stat is but i've heard that the average american is exposed to something like 1200 advertisements every day. and these ads are all shouting at us, "you NEED me to be happy or satisfied or complete." it just finally convinces us time after time. i love your experiment and would love to see updates on how it is going. how easy/hard is it to maintain?

    thanks,
    greg.

    ps. i graduated from drew in 2005 and am a pastor not too far from madison in clinton, nj. thanks for your blog...

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