[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0664261280″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/5171iHjhW8L.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”216″]Living Faithfully in a Materialistic,
Consumer-focused, and Unjust Culture
A Review of
More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess
Lee Hull Moses
Paperback: WJK Books, 2016
Buy Now: [ [easyazon_link identifier=”0664261280″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ] [ [easyazon_link identifier=”0664261280″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link] ]
Reviewed by Ellen Painter Dollar
I gained many things from years I spent in a small, nontraditional coffee-house church in Washington, D.C.—my husband, lifelong friends, the realization that some Christians actually take both Jesus Christ and social justice seriously. And a heavy load of confusion and guilt over how I should think and feel about the literal stuff of life.
My church was a countercultural place, and many members were particularly critical of American consumer culture. I understood that our culture teaches us to seek well-being and security in money and possessions, when we can only really find those things in a relationship with God. But I also loved how I felt when I wore quality clothes that fit me well. I loved creating spaces in my home that were lovely to both look at and be in. As a person with a physical disability, I saw my car not as a climate-changing enabler of laziness, but as a vital tool for my independence. In short, I loved God and I also loved my stuff.
I understood that my love of stuff required moral scrutiny—Did I really love those clothes because of how they made me feel or because I wanted people to admire me? Were my home furnishing choices really about hospitality and comfort, or allowing glossy magazine spreads to dictate my needs? How does my spending on such things affect how much freedom I have to give money away? How is God calling me to address the disparity between how much I have and how little most people in the world have?
But I also distrusted the frequent theme of detachment from the material that cropped up in sermons and conversation. Aren’t we, as believers in a God who created the world and all that is in it, as followers of a God who inhabited a human body with all of the bodily needs that our stuff meets, made to abide fully in the material world instead of detaching from it? Aren’t we called to find God not in some higher spiritual realm where food and clothes and comfort and beauty don’t matter, but right here where they do? In this incarnational faith, doesn’t matter matter?
In the nearly 20 years since I left my odd little church for mainline Christianity, I’ve let go of a lot of the shame I carried around back then. I’ve tried to honor the created world and my physical and psychological needs without succumbing to rampant consumerism. But I’ve largely done that work on my own, finding few resources to help me reconcile Christianity’s firm foundation in the material and Jesus’s warnings about money and possessions, few conversation partners for figuring out an “ethic of stuff” that’s both theologically sound and doable.
So when Lee Hull Moses reached out to me a couple of years ago after she read an essay I wrote on why I no longer feel guilty for wanting a beautiful home, I was both intrigued and grateful. It turns out there are more of us around than I knew—Christians searching for ways to relate to money and possessions somewhere between extreme asceticism and the prosperity gospel. In her new book More than Enough, Moses provides a straightforward, honest, and practical resource for thinking about what it means to live faithfully in a consumer society from within an incarnational, countercultural faith.
A strength of Moses’s book is that she names the awkward and hypocritical truths of this conversation up front. She acknowledges that even having a conversation about how to relate to our possessions assumes the privilege of being able to choose how much we spend and on what. She admits that she spends a lot of time thinking about how to be a responsible steward of resources, and also drinks expensive take-out coffee from disposable cups and drives a minivan when she could walk. She knows that gratitude for what she has is vital—and also not enough. “I know,” Moses writes, “that I can’t ignore the broken world just because my life is good, and also—though this has taken a longer time coming—I know that just because the world is broken doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my good, sweet, holy life.”
Moses explains toward the end of More than Enough that she is an Enneagram Type 1, as am I. We like rules and lists and guidelines. But Moses has written a book that has hardly any rules and lists and guidelines for how to relate to our possessions as Christians. The book recognizes complexity and nuance, leaving room for readers to see how their own story fits into the larger narrative of what it means to love and follow the One who created a world that is useful, seductive and delightful, the One who warns against loving material things too much and also gives us a creation bursting with lavish material abundance.
This doesn’t mean that Moses succumbs to lukewarm relativism or makes points that are so fuzzy and feel-good that we can easily justify living exactly as we choose.
“There are a lot of faithful ways to live this life, to live responsibly and gratefully with the abundance of gifts we’ve been given,” Moses says, “But there are also some not-so-faithful ways to live. There are, even, some sinful ways to live. To live without gratitude. To live selfishly. To live as if we are entitled to what we have or as if we’ve earned it all ourselves. To live without any sort of regard for the people with whom we share this earth.”
While More than Enough doesn’t give readers a one-size-fits-all prescription for a healthy relationship with both God and stuff, it does offer compelling ideas taken from scripture. Moses, for example, explores the difference between always wanting more and being satisfied with enough, and argues that keeping Sabbath is a vital practice for remaining in right relationship to our possessions and the work we do to pay for them. She encourages both generosity to individuals and organizations serving the poor, and political and social action that addresses entrenched disparities. She offers thoughtful criticism of the standard Christian way of relating to people and communities who have much less than we do: Instead of focusing on what we and the recipients of our ministries get out of our good works, we ought to nurture relationships that move from sympathy to responsibility and, ultimately, mutuality. One of Moses’s most compelling points is that our primary human problem is isolation—not mortality, not suffering—and isolation is addressed not by giving goods and money to people who have less and suffer more than we do, but by entering into mutual relationships.
And Moses does offer some broad, but nevertheless practical advice:
“Here’s what it means to choose life when it comes to our stuff. First, we don’t take stuff for granted—we remember that it all comes from God, that it’s all a gift from God…We don’t let our stuff control us…we remind ourselves that we’re in charge, not our stuff. We pay attention to enough. We use our stuff to nurture delight. We find ways to use our stuff to make life better for other people [by taking good care of it and sharing it]. We make sure our stuff doesn’t interrupt the flow of love between us and God or us and other people.”
Moses frames the discussion not just in terms of lament and confession for the world’s disparities and our greed, but also in terms of hope and delight—a refreshing and encouraging perspective. One reason I struggled so much with my coffee-house church’s approach to materialism, I realized, was that hope and delight were often absent from the conversation. “We are missing something if we don’t pay attention to just how delightful his life is,” Moses writes, and perhaps it’s just as worthwhile to delight in a new pair of shoes or a rich meal as it is to marvel at a beautiful sunset.
The practices of lament and confession, hope and delight go against the grain of our indulgent and cynical consumer culture. Christian ideas about being in right relationship with money and possessions can seem quaint and impractical, even to practicing Christians. But, Moses suggests, “The gift of [a culture in which Christianity is no longer dominant] is that the church can be countercultural again.”
Being countercultural, of course, is easier to do if you have a community within which to do it. Moses suggests the transformative possibilities of conversations through which we can discover new ways of being in relationship with our stuff, other people, and God. As frustrating as it may be for some readers to be left with open questions instead of checklists, More than Enough may be just the thing for communities ready to start those conversations about how to live faithfully in a materialistic, consumer-focused, and unjust culture, because it leaves room for people to figure out what Moses’s arguments and conclusions might mean for their own stories.
My story is that I’ve been struggling for a long time with questions about attachment and detachment, the spiritual and the material, and the promises and pitfalls of the things we own and use and live with—and have often felt that I’m struggling alone. I’m grateful to have Moses and her engaging book as companions in the hard and necessary work of asking these complicated, challenging, and central questions for following Jesus in 21st century America.
Ellen Painter Dollar writes about faith, family, disability, and ethics on her Patheos blog and for numerous online and print publications. She is author of [easyazon_link identifier=”0664236901″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction[/easyazon_link] (WJK,2012).