I try to avoid restaurant buffets because I have no self-control. I can’t say “No” to another round of something new. Those noodles. That egg roll. That sushi. One more slice of buffalo chicken pizza. A bowl of soft serve sundae to wash it down. Another Coke.
I can’t resist. I really can’t. Those empty plates need me to fill them. Those platters of food need me to try them.
Growing up, we were offered “All You Can Eat.” And I did my best to meet that challenge. Today, the new slogans don’t deceive anyone. “All You Care to Eat” sounds less gluttonous, until I admit to you that I care to eat it all, thank you very much.
Forget organic and sustainability and the local, slow food movement. I prefer to consume in all of the politically incorrect ways. I shop at Walmart. I sometimes eat at McDonalds. My appetite is insatiable for more food, more drink, more salt and movies and Legos and electronics and TV and podcasts and more, more, more.
After all, it is a virtue to consume. The economy needs my appetite. I hear this on the news. I read it online.
Consumer confidence is up, they say, and I smack my lips, happy to oblige.
Consumer confidence is down, they say, and I smack my lips, ready to take up the slack.
I pretend to believe what the advertisers tell me until I don’t have to pretend anymore. Advertising is not an evil profession, unless we worship brands like gods and treat slogans like gospel. On the TV show Mad Men, Don Draper plays a prophet of advertising. He explains his role like this:
“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”
And so we consume because it makes us feel good. We are hummingbirds eating our own weight in nectar every day. We are hogs at the trough.
In the 21st Century, we are learning to gorge ourselves on information and entertainment masquerading as information. We are gluttons for pixels, consuming our way toward some unnamed eighth deadly sin. I carry the buffet in my pocket, the entire Internet of humanity resting against my thigh for me to unwrap for a quick bite at any spare minute on any day.
I feel a bit like the apostles must have felt at the end of John’s gospel when their net was so full of fish they could not pull it into the boat. Don’t misunderstand. I know their enormous catch was a gift. After all, we need to consume some things or we will die. The problem is when we allow ourselves to be defined as consumers. Then we are just a collection of appetites, a community of open mouths wanting food.
I’m struck by Peter’s response. Instead of working to bring in the haul—the logical thing to do—he recognizes the miracle. Christ is the source of abundance, so Peter jumps into the lake to swim to him.
And they eat together. John doesn’t call it communion, but it’s hard not to think of the Last Supper when Jesus takes the bread in his hands and gives some of it to his disciples. Instead of wine, he shares some fish. There were plenty of fish that day.
If you are reading this on your computer or laptop or smartphone or tablet, you have plenty of fish too. Should you feel bad? Should you consume less? Should I?
The disciples did not throw back the huge haul of fish. Instead, they took it to Jesus and ate with him. Their abundance was not for only the disciples to enjoy. Our abundance isn’t either. Jesus tells Peter what we must do if we love him. Feed his sheep.
We consume, but we are not merely consumers. We use technologies, but we are not merely users. Happiness is not the smell of a new car. We don’t need a billboard to give our lives meaning. Yet Don Draper boasts, “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”
If you love me, Don Draper says, then buy stuff.
Jesus has different advice. “Do you love me?” he asks. Then feed my sheep.
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"More Than a Sabbath" Collection
- How to Fast the Other Six Days
- My Fast from Ladder Climbing
- My Fast from Earning
- My Fast from Competing
- My Fast from Producing
- My Fast from Consuming
Image by J. K. McGuire. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.