Archives For Consumerism


Can Something Beautiful
Arise Out of the Rubble?”

A review of
Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

By Gerard Thomas Straub.

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

Gerard Thomas Straub.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Hidden in the Rubble - GT StraubI very much appreciate books of this nature that are written from the center rather than the perimeter.  It’s always easy to make critiques, give judgments and render analysis when you’re in a safe chair on the outside looking in.  Those objective perspectives can sometimes be helpful, but writings that come from the heart of one who is in the middle of the “story” carry with them a certain passion and power.  This is one of those books…informative and thought-provoking and at the same time filled with a real sincerity of heart that easily draws the reader in.  Knowing little about Haiti myself (much to my discredit) except for what I see and hear on the news, the verbal images he paints and the insights he gives are invaluable to those of us who would like to know and understand more about our struggling neighbors to the south.

In his opening pages, the author shares with us an entry out of his journal:

Despite the magnificent natural beauty of Haiti, Haiti is an ugly place because wide-scale suffering is accepted and allowed to flourish.  People are quick to offer an array of historical, social, and political reasons for the poverty, but no one really wants to end it or at least there is no collective will to end it.  The government is corrupt.  The infrastructure is woefully inadequate for the growing population.  Haiti is a dismal place, teeming with anger and rage and broken, empty promises. From my perspective, at least on a purely rational level, the situation in Haiti is virtually hopeless.  No amount of well-intentioned “projects” is going to make a difference.  For things to change, the hearts of people in Haiti and around the world must be broken.  We are all to blame for Haiti.  The only hope I see resides in an understanding of Christ and the demands of the gospel.  And that understanding begins with entering more fully into the mystery of the humility of God. (xx-xxi).

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766243: Gotta Have It! Freedom from Wanting Everything Right Here, Right Now A Review of

Gotta Have It!
Freedom from Wanting Everything Right Here, Right Now

By Gregory Jantz with Ann McMurray.
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2010.
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Reviewed by Adam Navis.

I am suspicious of mixing Christianity with anything that could be categorized as self-help.  Christ did not die so that we can have a 4-hour work week, or retire at 50, or lose weight, or finish a triathlon.  So when beginning Gotta Have It! Freedom from Wanting Everything, Right Here, Right Now (Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, with Ann McMurry) I was skeptical.  I think that living simply is wonderful, beneficial, even helpful in drawing closer to God.  But I doubted there was a biblical mandate for cleaning your basement and de-cluttering your closet.

Luckily, Gotta Have It! is not just about selling your extra stuff on e-bay.  This book is only secondarily a book about simplifying your life.  It is primarily a book that asks the reader to consider what fills their life and how those things meet the needs of the soul.  It is about excessity, a term Jantz coins to explain the twisted human experience of turning excess into necessity.

“Excessity is about feeding our wants and desires, while at the same time starving our true needs.  The more we starve what we really need, the greater our hunger grows, causing us to stuff ourselves with more and more of our wants.  After stuffing ourselves full of our wants, we find that we’re still starving, empty, and desperate-and the mad cycle repeats.” (15)

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“Our complicity in the age
of ‘Cheap’ Oil and Hypermobility

A Review of

Interstate 69:
The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway

By Matt Dellinger.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Interstate 69:
The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway

By Matt Dellinger.

Hardback: Scribner, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Interstate 69 - DellingerDriving back home to Indianapolis from Evansville one night last year, a city in the southwestern most tip of the state, which I’ve only been through this once, I pulled out my Indiana road map to figure out how to get home. It was late, and so I started along the route that looked quickest – not a common choice for me, but there I was. And after just a couple of miles, signs began to appear to tell me that the Interstate was ending. I checked my map, and sure enough, a thick red line stretched all the way to Indianapolis, but it wasn’t here. I realized my mistake, as this was only, as my state-produced map indicated in its margin, the I-69 CORRIDOR, which I knew about only vaguely at the time, mostly from its huge opposition. And so, I took state roads back to Bloomington and on to home, much as I normally would.

I relate this incident because it seems now, as it did then, to indicate the power of an image – in this case a line drawn on a map – as representing a complex set of desires and hopes, beliefs, fears, and narratives about how the world works (or should work). The dream of Interstate 69, reaching from Canada to Mexico, via this route through Indiana, and down through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, has been in the air for multiple decades now, and its history tells the story of transportation in the States. Matt Dellinger’s Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway starts down in Evansville, and winds down the path of the proposed I-69, meeting its advocates and adversaries all along the way; tracing the routes of rivers, trains, and state roads that all predated the Interstate system; and telling the stories of cities – large and small – that stand to feel the effect if I-69 ever reaches them: what the effect will be is the driving motivation behind anyone interested in the I-69 project, and is telling of broader beliefs about cities, economies, and communities; read this book with an atlas in your other hand.

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320364: Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet A Brief Review of

Green Mama:
The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet

By Tracey Bianchi
Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.

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Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.

It’s hardly a secret that evangelical Christians have arrived late to eco-awareness and environmental protection.   Thankfully, more and more of us have embraced care of creation as part of our God-given responsibility; a way to work, quite literally, for the Kingdom of God.  In her book Green Mama, Tracey Bianchi offers multiple ways to incorporate better care of the environment into our everyday lives.  She supports her information with solid research and softens the fear with compassion and understanding for those who might not be ready to make big steps, yet.

Bianchi, herself a mother of 3 young children, understands some of these facts and some of the research she writes about can become overwhelming.  She encourages the reader to avoid compassion fatigue, both in oneself and in thrusting it upon our children.

Bianchi addresses a wide range of topics, from teaching one’s children to simply love the earth by learning about local animals and habitats to ways in which less chemical-laden products can be used to clean our homes.  She isn’t naïve, she knows all these things may be super overwhelming for the newly convicted, and she repeated advises the reader to pick just one or two things to change at a time, in order to avoid giving up. At the end of each chapter, Bianchi suggests some ways to evaluate your current choices and then make minor changes (e.g., shorter showers, reusable water bottles, reading labels thoroughly, buying more organic produce).

Bianchi offers many way to further your own research, through other books as well as online resources.  Each chapter includes multiple additional resources (websites and books).  Her “Green Mama Guide” at the back of the book is an additional easy way to find out more information.

Overall, Green Mama is an invaluable resource for people beginning to explore how to take seriously God’s command to care for creation.  It would also work well as a check point for people who may have gotten bogged down on the journey.


Excerpt from:

Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.

Martin Lindstrom.

Paperback: Broadway Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Newly released in paperback!!!

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom – Excerpt


A Brief Review of

Crave: Wanting So Much More of God.
Chris Tomlinson.

Paperback: Harvest House Publishers, 2010.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Read the first 3 chapters of this book on SCRIBD! ]

In the new book Crave: Wanting So Much More of God, Chris Tomlinson explores in really basic terms our desires, how they are formed and how they affect our lives.  Desires are fundamental to our existence as humans and yet to many of us they remain mysterious forces.  Especially in a consumerist culture in which our desires are constantly being preyed upon by corporate advertising, we need some serious theological reflection on our desires and how they are formed into (and out of) the way of Christ.  In Crave, Tomlinson offers us an engaging introductory look at our desires that is part memoir and part spiritual reflection.  Crave would be a good choice for discussion in a Sunday School class or Bible study group.

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A Brief Review of

Witnessing Suburbia:
Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture
Eileen Luhr.

Paperback: U of California Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

“I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Just like Quiet Riot did
I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Except that they were talented
I’m rockin’ the suburbs…”
— Ben Folds

The story that Eileen Luhr tells in her new book Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture is a familiar one for me, because it was in essence the story in which I grew up.  This story is described by Luhr in the book’s introduction:

This book is a history of the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the “Christianization” of popular culture – twin pillars of the conservative shift in national politics during the Reagan-Bush era … [It] contrasts the old Christian Right – with its dogmatic resistance to youth culture per se – and the new “rock” evangelicalism, which embraced cutting-edge cultural forms and media in order to institute moral reform and broaden the impact of its proselytizing efforts.  These processes, in turn, abetted a hegemonic conservative politics grounded in uniting possessive individualism with home-centered “traditional values” (5).

Although Witnessing Suburbia is intended largely for academic audiences, Luhr tells the basic narrative in a compelling and very readable fashion, and we would do well to read it carefully and reflect on it in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are many disturbing themes that Luhr unmasks here, but in short we begin to see the many syncretisms of American evangelicalism in the eighties and nineties – inextricably mixing the Christian faith up with right-wing politics, individualistic consumerism and family-based traditionalism.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I grew up in this era (graduating high school in 1992) and to a large extent was a Christian swept up in the youth culture of the times.   For several years, the primary genre of music that I enjoyed was Christian Heavy Metal (incidentally the subject of one of the book’s finest chapters).  Although I was on the fringes of this movement, I never really got sucked into the mainstream of Christian youth culture, and indeed it was perhaps my familiarity with the broader youth culture (particularly punk music, and its frankness in revealing the powers that be) that help me resist such an assimilation.  I’m sure it helped too that I never exactly fit the economic mold of middle-class suburban culture.  Luhr’s work here is brilliant, illuminating the dark depths of a history that has gone largely unnoticed.  I hope that it will spur in Christian circles much reflection on the Gospel and culture.  Luhr’s narrative in Witnessing Suburbia reveals a lot of “being conformed to the pattern of the world” (Rom 12:2) in recent evangelicalism, and in illuminating this cultural domestication, it has the potential to nudge us in the direction of transformation and the renewal of our minds.


Just in time for Christmas, here is a 28 page excerpt from:

Advent Conspiracy:
Can Christmas Still Change the World

By Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ ]

Click here to read our review of this wonderful book!


A Brief Review of

A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Dylan Thomas.

Illustrated by Ellen Raskin.
Paperback: New Directions, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

A Child's Christmas in Wales - Dylan ThomasNew Directions Press has just released a lovely new edition of Dylan Thomas’s classic Christmas piece, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.  The book, a square paperback of 5-1/4 inches is the perfect size to fit in a coat pocket (or a stocking!).  Thomas’s poetic telling of his childhood memories of Christmas in early twentieth-century Wales are punctuated with elegant and simple woodcuts by Ellen Raskin.  Raskin is a renowned illustrator who has worked on a number of significant books over the last five decades, but my favorite is her work on the first edition dustjacket of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time.  Thomas’s writing, here, though not really a poem in form, is infused with the same vivid, sensory imagery that makes him one of my favorite poets.  For instance, near the beginning of the book, he captures a quintessential boyhood experience:

It was snowing.  It was always snowing at Christmas. December in my memory is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeer.  But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats.  Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes.

Thomas leaves no sense unfurled here, and while some might dismiss his work as nostalgic sentimentality, the beauty and wonder of his depiction of a Christmas celebration that is not overshadowed by consumerism stirs up a storm of possibilities in the imagination. May all of our Christmas celebrations this year be full of the frivolity and child-like joy that Thomas poignantly recalls here.


The audio recordings of  all three THROUGH THE CONSUMING FIRE conference speakers are now available on cd. The cd’s are $5 ea (basically just the cost of materials and time for copying, etc.), but if you buy all three We’ll throw in a bonus cd with MP3 recordings of most of the workshops.

Main Speakers:
– Will Samson — Community and Contentment
– Kelly Johnson — St. Francis, Stewardship and Filthy Lucre?
– Shane Claiborne — Creativity in Resisting Consumerism

Unfortunately, Kelly Johnson’s talk was a little lower quality because our computer crashed during it and we lost our soundboard recording and had to use a recording made in the audience. (Thanks, Mykel).

If you want a set of the recordings, here is a link to pay for them $15 + $3.95 S/H (If you’re here in Indy, I think PAYPAL will allow you the choice to pick them up and save the S/H fee…)

Order Individual CD’s: