June 13, 2020

“Going sober means going without and that can be disquieting”

This week I have been pondering the realization that COVID-19 is driving people to protest and lawbreaking as much by a lack of entertainment and hospitality as by health anxiety, social isolation or economic privation.

People want to get out, to see people, be engaged in social activities, be part of the human party. Who doesn’t. But are there times to do without, to endure suffering, or even to suffering into quality life change – for the good of self and others? When is forced or voluntary sacrifice good, a noble effort for a worthwhile cause?

Pondering that I have come to this amazement…

It amazes me that entertainment and consumption are such big drivers of our national psychology and political philosophy (free to do as I please, to make me happy). You know What the American declaration of independence says (just the title says a lot!)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

And it seems the governed sees the priorities of life in the following ascending degree of importance!

  • Life,
  • Liberty
  • And the pursuit of happiness”!!!

All this is rather sobering; as defined below…

Sober. This adjective means the opposite of playful or drunk. … The most common meaning of sober is “not drunk”. Sober sounds a lot like somber, and it often means sad and quiet too, or sometimes too serious. Another meaning is to be logical or realistic about something. ww.vocabulary.com › dictionary › sober

Watching our nation respond to 2 months in COVID “house arrest” has sobered me – not sober in terms of alcohol but “sober” from the viewpoint of taking a more serious look at the situation, of my own pursuits – many of which are distractions; things such as entertainment and hospitality. But, according to the Declaration of Independence, they are the right of the people to define and pursue their prescribed “quality of life”.

This, as a concerned observer and a Christian disciplemaker is sobering. Here’s why…

First is the realization that many people our consumer based economy are unemployed, as a result of the take down of the consumption/entertainment segment of our market place. Take these headlines for instance;

  • CNBC: Nearly half the leisure and hospitality jobs were lost in April
  • CNBC: When will restaurants and bars reopen? Here’s what experts are saying

Second, is the “closer to home” news that I’ve learned from my friends and family, who have lost their jobs and necessary income as a result.

And that’s sobering – in fact, sobering twice. Two things have emerged, in my opinion, from the economic fallout of COVID-19. I’ve noticed, unmistakably, how much of our economy AND self-satisfaction is driven by consumption and entertainment. And I notice how upsetting to the average populace that, that is so…

Musing on “Consumption in America

Let me ask; is there a potential problem with “consumption” as a driver a national economy? And how do consumption and production relate – do they always complement or compete?

As you know consumption and production are twin sisters – but with different mindsets. What motivates them is often different too.

Sister 2 (production) wants to produce and she has two choices. She can choose to invent and innovate, and see if the “new thing” she’s produced will elicit any takers, “consumers”, who will pay for the “new thing”. OR, sister 2 can simply look at an existing market of consumption and play into it, seeking to gain a share of the action by simply providing what people want, the way they want it, when they want it, for the value they are willing to trade for the new, “same ole thing”; just doing it more creatively.

I guess that answers that – if production plays to the desire, the self-interest of a consumer, she complements her market sister. But if she chooses another alternative to self-interest, say altruism (meet the significant needs of a minority few, with a good or service that isn’t “needed” by the masses) or if she chooses an innovative product or service of an emerging need, with the hope of capturing market interest, she, at least for now, is a competitor to the existing system – and that often causes market havoc – when production resources don’t meet consumer demand.

The pandemic has been a market disruptor, stopping many existing consumer deliverables, and doing so from an altruistic perspective (stop avenues of socially-oriented consumption). And, though governments closures of certain businesses have not, in and of itself, provided innovative alternatives, it has stimulated them by motivating producers to do so (curbside instead of table seating)!

As you can see, the motivation for sister 2 also faces two differing options. One is to create market appetite. The other is to appease the existing appetite. And these choices affect expected or hoped for results.

These are the two considerations – one is the desire for a successful ROI; which is easier to assess with known markets; existing appetites. But the others choice is to play down the immediacy of more certain ROI in favor of an uncertain but hopeful altruistic benefit to produce a product of service that increases someone’s quality of life, etc.

In that scenario, her choice is to risk ROI failure while seeking to succeed in changing the world, or at least making it a little bit better for her neighbors (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Now she is competing with the known consumer interests. This we have seen as “non-essential” businesses have been closed in order to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 contagion growth bell curve

But what about twin Sister 1; the lady of “consumption”?

Mrs. Consumption; also has two primary choices, as well. She gets to choose the market she plays in. Sister 1 can settle in to the self-interest market and dictate to producers (Sister 2) what they will produce, by her twins spending habits (economic vote). Sister 1’s attitude or set of priorities says, “Make me happy or go broke”. With this attitude, she chooses to dictate, to compete, to force a market.

Or sister 1 can, in deference to sister 2, settle into a market mentality that looks to serve others, too, not unlike the woman of Proverbs 9 or wife of Proverbs 31 – to make a market of altruistic utility by how she spends her time, resources, energies and invention – “for what purpose, shall I change my consumption habits”, she asks? Then she answers with her toil, trouble, her cold hard cash and her consumption sacrifices or substitutes. Here she chooses others interests more important than her own (Phil 2:3). This way she humbly does what she can to serve her neighbors, while tending to her own needs. In this scenario she chooses to complement the best interests of society, while being content that she has enough for herself.

You saw this in the N95 mask debate. Some hoarded in self-interest. Others bought few or none in order for health care workers to have them, risking that the hoarders would take them all. And a third group changed their manufacturing capabilities to make masks rather than cars or pillows. And a fourth group forced the government to make them to make health care products, such as GM.

It was sobering to see these choices, these market and human nature factors in play.

Musing on “entertainment and hospitality in America

Next, let’s add to our American market place the intersection of “entertainment & hospitality” and see how it reveals national interests and human self-interest. This is a particularly interesting issue to me as a Christian, who values “success” as defined from a biblical theology (John 5:19, 30).

I ponder this issue with conviction because I am a movie lover, outdoor sport enthusiast, work in a professional sport league (NASCAR) and travel extensively (meaning I use the airlines, rental car and hotel industries as indispensable tools in my trade). Plus I have family members whose livelihood is dependent upon the hospitality industry.

Therefore, when I look more closely at those industries and seek a formal definition of their function, I find out that they essentially cater to a nonessential level of life; as the dictionary defines it – “a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience or gives pleasure and delight”. Perhaps that is exactly why the government (or God) shut them down as “non-essential businesses”, they add no direct impact on disease abatement? Instead they are viewed as contagion amplifiers.

In fact, this is what the “Dictionary” says; entertainment is defined as…“the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.’ And amusement means “to hold the attention of (someone) pleasantly; entertain or divert in an enjoyable or cheerful manner”. In other words, “entertainment is a product meant to make us smile, not to solve anything! Smiles are great, as long as they last, but they don’t change circumstances, only avoid or mask them temporarily.

Yes, most of us think it’s wonderful to be amused when you’re sad (or bored) – but, is it? When we’re sad, are we meant to be sad? And when bored, are we meant to do something? Scripture says there is a time for everything.. “A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:3, 4. So which is it, and how much; right now at this time of COVID-19?

The fact is, “Entertainment and hospitality (E&H)” aren’t a matter of life or death, right now – the authorities say COVID is. E&H don’t inform (educate) they don’t produce (serve the greater good through innovative utility) they don’t save (like a doctor or nurse, fireman or police officer) they mostly just distract, from sadness, though amusements. It’s a temporal balm.

So I muse and must ask, is there a better balm, a better route to take when sad, mad, disheartened or discouraged? Or is what the world needs now, more sports and entertainment, food and beverage, boisterous crowds and amusement parks?

I am smiling. Of course there is a better way. And that may just be the bigger point!

Obviously GOD…

If He hasn’t done this on purpose to try and coax a little attention out of us toward Him, and away from our favorite sports team or Hollywood celebrity, He has, at the very least, provided us with a better alternative than E&H!

For the confused – He proved His truth (John 8:31-32)

For the sad – He has provided His Joy (John 15:11)

For the agitated – He has provided His peace (John 14:27)

For the lonely – He has provided Himself (Matthew 11:28-30)

If you feel lost – he has provided His direction (John 14:6)

If you feel unloved – He has provide His love for you! (Jeremiah 31:3; John 15:9)

In fact God has provided all we need, for all the time. The issue really is, we will seek Him for our needs, and will we reach out to Him or to other forms of “help” in this time of need? Will we call upon the name of the Lord, first, or a friend, colleague, professional – a celebrity? It’s all a matter of faith; of where your ROI value is. for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved – Romans 10:13

Do we really think the world of entertainment, hospitality and consumption is the answer to our human longings during this stressful time of disruption and personal discomfort? Or would temperance, reflection, innovation, altruism, complementarian living, be the better life choice right now?

The fact is entertainment and consumption are traps. They trap us into the “World” (1 John 2:15-17) ensnaring us, keeping us from the liberty Christ came to give, for He has set us free. (Galatians 5:1, 2)

The world always offers a counterfeit to God’s “gold standard” of “the way, truth and life”. The World’s alternatives become dependencies, when they become our hearts focus for life.

Unfortunately, they (entertainment and consumption) have also become a standard part of the Christian church experience; keeping us dependent upon evermore services and sermons, musicals and conferences, to make us “feel” good about our faith, depth and orthodoxy when in fact, we’ve become consumers and spectators, rather than producers and mature.

However, with the freedom Jesus gives, we have all we need. We can break free of false dependencies and become independent adults in Jesus (Hebrews 5:11-14), becoming a more mature disciple and making disciples, as we help others – serve and sacrifice to produce and provide something meaningful and helpful. In Christ we can choose, like the example above, to help, not hoard from a motivation of giving, growth and development (Genesis 1:28), rather than self-interest and consumption. Consider this…

God provides the power we need to exemplify the virtues we should exhibit during challenging times – this is our vertical umbilical cord to allow us to thrive.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness, self-control... If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22&-25

God also provides “fellowship”, horizontally, with each other, enabling us to encourage each other, so we can survive loneliness by a spiritual connection as members of the body of Christ.

All those who had believed were together … and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need… with gladness and sincerity of heart Acts 2:44, 46

Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:25

That’s it. That’s what’s on my heart this week; that is what I am musing about. My observation is that we are addicted to happiness; that is, that our appetite for self-fulfillment is blunting our will for self-sacrifice, temporary as it currently is. And if those polar opposites are too severe a baseline to accept, can we agree on a happy medium called contentment, as Paul defines it in Philippians 4?

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things [c]through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

If so, can we also agree to let God guide our appetites and austerities, as well as our production and consumption decisions at this critical juncture of societal disruption?

Talk to you next week…