A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience with a local car dealership. I had gotten a letter in the mail from Subaru Motors that with my lease was about to end I ought to go in to my local dealer to talk about my options in relation to my current vehicle. And so I did. Now I must confess I don’t do well with car salesmen, I feel weak and stupid around them. They’re also not very good at answering my direct questions which leaves me frustrated and confused. This time around it was no different. Yet this time around they remembered who I was – the pastor at the red church down the road. When I was there in February to get a car for my wife they found this out and preceded to tell me where they go to church. In fact, the sales accountant is a regular church goer at one of the churches in our valley. Anyways, during this experience they were pushing me to lease another car telling me that it would be really easy and worthwhile because of the equity I had in my current lease. When I spoke about purchasing the vehicle they kept going back to the idea of leasing. When I asked how much equity I would have in the car they said they couldn’t tell me at that time but to first get it all fixed up and come back set up the lease and then they could tell me. I then left the dealership and went home to tell my wife.
A week later my wife and I went to the dealership and asked more questions. Interestingly enough, they couldn’t remember all of the details of my recent visit and they tripped over their words and contradicted themselves. In fact, I again asked the accountant “how much equity do I have in the car to put towards the next lease?” to which he said, “Oh, none.” Hmmm, interesting because a week ago he said he couldn’t tell me until I came back with my car all fixed up. Again, we realized they really wanted us to lease because that meant money for them whereas if we bought that meant only money for Subaru itself. My wife was pretty angry when we got home. And I became more angry as I thought about how the “church going” accountant was pushing me to do something that would benefit himself more than me. And that’s when it hit me. Christians in America are incredibly lacking in their collective consciousness. I knew this before but dealing with this on a very personal level at this time in my life really bothers me.
You see I have no problem believing that the accountant goes to church regularly, in fact I’m pretty sure he does. But what I have a problem with is the fact that he, a Christian man, was blatantly trying to take advantage of me. And this probably never struck him as being wrong or at least as incredibly dehumanizing and therefore not pleasing in the eyes of God. But I can’t necessarily blame him for this because we American Christians don’t approach our neighbor in such ways, we haven’t been taught to put our neighbors needs above our own on such a level. Sure we’re taught to be good to one another on a very superficial level. Being nice, helping the old lady cross the street and being pro-life. But when it comes to the deeper stuff like not taking advantage of my neighbor on an economic level we fail big time. I believe that this is due to our individualistic approach to life which is embedded in our psyches as Americans.
When all that matters is me and my personal relationship with Jesus then oddly enough our neighbor will take a backseat. If all that matters is what Jesus has done for me then his claim and call on my life isn’t really that significant – at least not enough to cast off the elementary principles of the world. If this is all that matters then it’s really easy to ignore all the other things that Jesus said and did before being crucified on a Cross for me. If you don’t buy what I’m saying then I point you to prosperity churches in America and notice how they are growing. Take a look at the “Christian” section in your Barnes and Noble and you’ll see that they’re mostly filled with self help gurus such as Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Joel Osteen and so forth. These authors and their messages are but an out growth of how our individualism has shaped the message of Jesus, of how our culture has shaped Christianity.
But what’s even more sad is how such things don’t even register with us in the “Orthodox” churches despite the fact that the prophets have a whole lot to say about such issues. Just take a quick glance through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of course Amos. The constant big sin that is confronted is the Israelites failure to show justice and mercy to their neighbor, they care more about profits than their neighbor’s well being. And these very sins are indicative of how they perceive God, for you are what you worship. When Jesus comes on the scene he goes at it with the Pharisees because they put their law above their neighbors needs. Always remember that the Pharisees were good men, very moral and upright. Their fundamental flaw was their desire to uphold the law no matter what happened to their neighbor.
And yet today I am afraid that our collective consiousness is far worse. This is so widespread and more influential than we realize. Just look at the Missouri Synod, we have two seminaries and 10 undergraduate colleges that take student loan money to continue their operations whilst leaving the students to foot the bill, more particularly future church workers. It’s as if Nehemiah 8 doesn’t doesn’t apply whilst we pat ourselves on the back for continuing “true” Lutheran education that is derivative of a system that for the most part no longer exists (prep school, junior, senior colleges). Yet look at what we have so long as you don’t look at what is happening to our neighbors, those whom we send out to you. Do you see the disconnect? Do you see the failure at a collective consciousness? And what’s interesting is that those who fight this are those who remain loyal to the institutions and the frameworks of thinking in the current culture. The answers usually come in comments like “tough!” “you don’t understand the real world” “oh get over it” and list goes on. But what about our neighbor? How can such living and thinking and approach to the world around us be God pleasing? How?! Please tell me!
Yes, we American Christians have a poor collective consciousness, worse than we realize because as I said earlier we are so incredbily informed by our individualistic presuppositions. It’s hard to get outside ourselves isn’t? Part of the problem is that we have been taught that the Christian faith is something that can go alongside of the culture. Hence, the idea of the separation of church and state which is so often emphasized and recalled. Yet, there wasn’t such a distinction for Jesus of Nazareth and only poor exegesis would argue so. The Gospel is meant to take hold of all of us, it redefines what we know and how we see the world. Hence Paul’s call to nonconformity in Romans 12. And yet it seems as if the world has the upper hand. It seems as if it’s the world first and Jesus second for many of us American Christians.