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Consumption and Identity

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Consumption and Identity

Tom Elenbaas

So... I eat apples whole. Yes... the whole apple, core and all. Somewhere I heard long ago that apples contain small amounts of cyanide. When people ask why I eat the whole apple, I tell them that I'm ingesting small amounts of cyanide to create an immunity in case anyone ever poisons me. (Ok... I was influenced in the 80's by both James Bond and The Princess Bride.) I wrote a few days ago about trifling with evil by ingesting daily doses of small amounts of evil. Our diets are steady intakes of small amounts of poison that, I think, slowly shapes our deepest self - our heart and soul. We are at the heart of it, consumers. We consume food, we consume media, we consume raw resources to fuel our lives, we consume words, we consume a lot.

Interestingly, Jesus tells us that what goes in person doesn't defile them in Mark 7, verses 15 and 19. He says it's what "comes out" that is defiling. In his day, the religious authorities were worried about food that defiled, that was impure, and Jesus (along with Paul after him), says that foods in themselves are not impure. But I don't think that means that what we consume (literally or figuratively) is banal or neutral. The question becomes, what is the causa sui of what comes out of a person? Again, as I've been writing lately, how are we shaped?

Here's an interesting thought on the topic from a book called Veneer:

A consumer culture revolves around manipulation - of your emotions, of the truth, of reality, all to sell more products in a culture obsessed with consuming. We manipulate our way toward a bigger and brighter future, noblemen in the court of society, just trying to keep up.... Consumption and identity have dangerously coalesced. [Veneer, Willard & Locy, pp. 56-57]

"You are what you eat," so the old saying goes. Maybe it's better to say, "You become what you consume" because we are shaped by what we consume. The thing is, Jesus is saying that the thing in itself is not good or bad. It is the consumption of it, the appropriation of it, the overuse of it, the abuse of it (whatever it is), the gluttony of it, the possession of it that shapes us, and then "what comes out" is the product (we produce what we consume) of our shaping. 

So, in the church we often talk about daily devotions, personal quiet time, bible reading, and prayer. Why? Why do the monks and others "pray the divine hours" every day? The reason is orientation - orientation to the consumption of the things that shape for good. Paul says this: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8]

Paul and Jesus are encouraging us to be careful what we consume, because our identity can and will be shaped by our consumption. That is the purpose of fasting. Fasting isn't to lose weight... it's an ancient spiritual practice to disconnect a person from the things we cling to, that shape us, that have become idolatrous - and to reconnect us to the God who provides all things for sustenance, joy, and enjoyment. Fasting is the spiritual practice of reconnecting to the source of all good things and finding the power of goodness and identity in Him rather than in the things which can become obsessions, compulsions, and requirements of daily living. Have you ever said, "Ah... no, I couldn't live without it." Time to think about a fast.

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