Earlier this summer, we had the opportunity to sit down with Will Samson and chat over Twitter about his newest book, Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess (Click here for our review). We have cleaned up the text of the interview and are posting it here.
Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess.
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
The Englewood Review of Books (ERB): Welcome to The Englewood Review’s Summer #Twinterview No. 3 ! Our guest today is Will Samson. Will is the author of the new book ENOUGH: CONTENTMENT IN AN AGE OF EXCESS (David C Cook 2009) … Welcome, Will!
Will Samson (WS): Thanks for having me, Chris!
ERB:ENOUGH opens with your own story. What have been a few key points on your journey from living the American dream to wrestling with consumerism?
WS: The first major point along the way was reading Lesslie Newbiggin and thinking about the witness of the Church. I came to believe that if all people knew of Jesus was the Church as I knew it, that we were all in trouble. It looked nothing like Jesus.
ERB: Why is our theology (especially our views of the endtimes) so important to how we think and live in a consumer culture?
WS: When we say theology we immediately think of white men in ivory towers. But we are always theologizing with our actions. In this culture, our lived theology tells of a God who is either militaristic or consumeristic. We need to tell of a different God. Part of the retelling of the story of God is of a God who believes in the future and wants us to work to make the future more whole. The God of the throwaway world, it seems to me, is not a God of hope and not the God revealed in Christ. Every miracle of Jesus except one, the cursing of the fig tree, was a miracle of the restoration of creation.
ERB: “We are always theologizing with our actions” AMEN! Any thought why the fig tree was different?
WS: It was meant to be a warning, it seems to me. Even that action was a statement about God’s desire for restoration, as if God, through Jesus, was demonstrating the way in which things could go wrong.
ERB: I love that you have offered up “Samson’s Wager” in the bk. Can you explain what that is and why you posed it?
WS: Samson’s Wager is a play on Paschal’s Wager that it is a safer bet there is a God than not. I have applied that logic to the future. One of the issues driving consumerism in our culture is the emphasis placed on the soon return of Christ. But there is one problem. For 2000 years now we have been expecting the return of Christ. Wouldn’t it be safe to bet the return of Christ will be far off? If we re-orient ourselves in this manner, we start to realize that care for the creation and our level of consumption can be deeply connected to God’s future plans for the world.
ERB: So, breaking free of consumerism might mean a change in our endtimes theology… You also talk at length about community. Why is community so important to breaking habits of consumerism? Can’t we break free by ourselves as individuals?
WS: No, and we’re not meant to. It is a perversion of the story of God as revealed in Christ that we can fix the problems of the world by simply being a better “us”. The story of God is the story of a redeemed people, not redeemed individuals. Moving beyond consumerism is about creating communities no longer captive to the choices of the market.
ERB: Wow! If we are not held captive or formed by market economics, what are we formed by? Can you explain what you mean by a “Eucharistic community” Aren’t all churches Eucharistic communities?
WS: All churches are communities, but not all are Eucharistic. To be Eucharistic is to be a community that is, in the words of Nouwen, “taken, blessed, broken and given” to a world in need. That goes to answer your question, “What are we to be formed by.” As followers of Jesus, we are to be formed by the life of Christ. We are to be cruciform communities. That is a strong counter to “Be all that you can be,” or any number of other junk alternatives dreamed up in a marketing meeting.
ERB:“Be all that you can be,” The finest of both militaristic AND consumer culture!
ERB: Why does a eucharistic community have the potential to offer an alternative to consumerism?
WS: The story of God in Christ is an alternative to the market, i.e. the belief that meaning is found in what we eat, wear or drive, and, at the risk of overreaching, the story of God in Christ is the story of a people coming together to be broken for a world in need, and, as such, I would say that the eucharistic community *is* the alternative to consumerism, as well as other false narratives. It is a fundamentally different story.
ERB: As part of the Communality community in Lexington, what is one community practice that has challenged you most with regard to consumerism?
WS: Gardening, because it makes a mockery of the notion of instant gratification. I used to work in politics, and one old Southerner used to say, “nine women can’t make a baby in one month.” Creating communities that move us beyond the narrative of consumerism and toward the narrative of being co-creators who seek to restore the world, well, that takes time and involves a whole lot of, well let’s just say, “stuff,” like the stuff that I put on my garden to help things grow.
ERB: LOL! Some things you just can’t speed up! You note the importance of gratitude several times in the book. Why are practices of gratitude vital in addressing consumerism?
WS: Well, there is a practical reason, and that is that gratitude is at the heart of all healthy, vibrant communities and addressing consumerism takes a community. But I also think that gratitude is antithetical to Madison Avenue. The “buy more” ethic is driven, at least in part, by a lack of gratitude for what we have been given. I think a deeper reflection on the place of gratitude in the church is vital and necessary.
ERB: At the risk of being a bit ironic, if you could recommend one other essential book on the tensions between Christianity and consumerism, what would that be? To quell the irony, I’ll add that people should seek out this book from a friend or local library…
WS: I am only sad that I am limited to one. A must read on this subject is Being Consumed, by William Cavanaugh. It’s way better than my book, albeit a bit more heady.
ERB: Ok… We’ve got time for you to name a few more if you want… After all, our mission is to encourage people to read and discuss books that are helpful for the mission of the church.
WS: Consuming Jesus, by Paul Metzger and, I would suggest that anything by Bill McKibben is meant to be a statement to the Church, even though he does not use that language. I would also throw Uncle Wendell into that group of writers who do not speak directly to the Church, but should be thought of that way.
ERB: AMEN on the Bill McKibben! We’ve found his DEEP ECONOMY helpful for thinking of our church as a catalyst of local economy. Will, Thanks for talking with us today…
WS: Thanks, Chris!
ERB: Thanks for following our #twinterview today w/ Will Samson. You should check out his book ENOUGH, if you haven’t http://bit.ly/buCRV Also, if you are intrigued by this topic, Will (along with Shane Claiborne and Kelly Johnson) will be speaking at a conference on consumerism that we are hosting here in Indianapolis Nov 13-14. It should be a LOT of fun! http://englewoodcc.com/consumingfire/
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com