Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Joyless Consumption -- The Culture of Excess

Having just been in France in March, I found this quote to be every interesting:

"These days, an image I carry around with me is of two airports. It's fitting, since airports are now the crossroads of the world, the most commong interface of one culture with another. At O'Hare International in Chicago, on the way to an appearance on the Oprah show, I witnessed a surreal spectacle I wish I had videotaped. People all around me in the terminal were gulping down hamburgers, fries, and pizza and knocking back big tups of soda or coffee as they tapped away on their laptops, talked on cell phones, and flipped through newpapsers. Most remakrable, it was 10:a.m. Why were they even eating? I asked myself. Breakfast? Early lunch? Or just a way to pass the time? It looked more like stuffing than eating, actually. And, most of the people I saw were significatly overweight. Plus, I could not detect pleasure on a single face...

The airport-cum-food court may be a sign of the times, but not quite yet in France. At Charles de Gaulle (or Roissy,as the French call it), the busiest hub on the Continent, when French people eat, they generally sit down to a knife and fork at enclosed cafeterias or restaurants. There are small stand-up bars for those who want a quick croissant or perhaps a jambon beurre and a cup of coffee. But, have you seen a typical French cup of coffee? Three sips, four max.....The airports may still reflect the traditional differences, for the most part, but they also show that infiltration is taking place in both directions. Things in France aren't yet set up to accommodate the contemporary culture of excess, but where there's a will, there's a way; in the odd corner you do find people engaging in alien habits, with two sandwiches, an iPod, and a magazine feeding them all at once. But, in France, they are the exception; in America, they are the rule."

From Mireille Guiliano -- emphasis mine.

Of couse, Mireille is confining herself to the problem of obesity and over-eating. But, I think she's inadvertently hit on some deeper spiritual truths.

Was anyone else struck by the phrase, "with two sandwiches, an iPod, and a magazine feeding them all at once." Our gluttony has surpassed that of the stomach and mouth and has moved to a complete gluttony of the mind and heart. We are stressed; we try to soothe ourselves with things that only make us feel more stressful. So, we reach for another sandwich and turn up the music. We must be constantly entertained via the media and constantly pacified with food. The result of our stuffing, as Mirelle points out, is that our faces do not reflect joy, nor even pleasure.

Mireille sees this as ceasing to be a French/American thing and more about the clash between two differing globalized approaches to life. France is slowly taking on the culture of excess,
while some Americans are re-thinking it. In the end, says, Mireille, it's not about where you live, but about how you choose to live. It would be interesting if readers from G.B., Canada, and Australia or other places would share about what is happening in their countries in this regard.

Of course, cell phones, laptops, iPods, magazines, and such are not bad things. When used properly and in moderation, they benefit our lives. I personally enjoy knowing that when my adult children are traveling by car, they have a phone with them in case of emergencies. I also love the fact that the Internet has opened up a new way for people from all cultures to communicate. And, both my husband's livelihood and my part-time job depend on access to the net.

It's an emptiness of heart and not gadgets that create the culture of excess. That's why even in Isaiah's low-tech era, God implored, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently untio me, and eat ye that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness." Isaiah 55:2

I, myself, get weary and jittery with too much electronic stimulation, but I must admit that I can numb myself out with the best of them. If I find myself eating lunch at home alone, I usually flip on the T.V. Yet, how much better it would be to follow the advice of 1911 homemaking expert, Alice James, and take my meal outside or to a covered porch or at least near a window to eat. And, how many times have I felt God nudging me to pray about a trouble, but I sought comfort in a book or reading blogs or some other form of escape?

Our impulse admist the noise of modern life is to flee to a safe haven with just ourselves, our families, our church, and a few close friends. I know that I personally relate to David when he cries in one of the psalms, "Oh, if I had the wings of a dove, I would fly away and be at rest." The idea of creating a quiet oasis for myself and mine and never coming out appeals to my selfish nature.

Now, we should carve out some time and space where we can nurture our relationship to God and to our family and friends. But, continually holing up in our own peaceful conclave does nothing to feed a hungry world -- a world that is so spiritually bereft of real fare that it must constantly stuff, stuff, stuff itself with the world's junk food. We are all spiritual beggars who have been seated at a great banquet; how sad it would be if we neglected to point other hungry beggars to the giver of the feast.

Wouldn't it be great to be the person in the airport who keeps a still and content heart before the Lord. Wouldn't it be great to look up from our laptops and cell phones to consider the person sitting in the next seat? Wouldn't it be great if we always left a seating area having shared our faith with a stranger and performed a kindness for a weary traveler?

If you spot such a person in the airport, what will you see on their face? Joy!!



Jacran Cottage said...

I check your blog each day, and although I haven't read today's message yet (and I may not have time today), I did want to let you know who much I enjoy your blog! I look forward to what you have to say, and you frequently give me lots to think about. Thanks!

Jackie in ON

Belle-ah said...

Great post! I am doing Beth Moore's study on Daniel these days an it just really makes me think about our culture today.

Anonymous said...

Yes the UK is slowing drowing in a river of excess. Drink is the main problem here. Unlike our European neighbours the Brits don't sip a glass of wine over a meal but drink down a whole bottle before they go out to engage in some serious drinking. Materialism is of course rampant, gadgets, gadgets, gadgets. When you buy something there's an even better model out the next month, credit card debts are out of's madness!

Emma said...

Ahhh... I see that you are reading French Woman for all Seasons! I just finished it and liked it very much!


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for your kind encouragement, Jackie. That really made my day!

Belle-ah, thanks for your thoughtful comment, too.

Mrs. Blythe, thanks for sharing what's going on in the UK. Credit card debt is out of control here, too.

Hi Emma, Yes, I just started reading FWAS. I really enjoyed FWDGF. Oddly, I read FWDGF on the plane home from Paris. But, I still have work to do in implementing the concepts.


Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth, I have just finished Ruth. What a beautiful book and a testimony to Naomi's beautiful relationship with God that Ruth wanted to stay with her and worship her God, rather than return to her family and her own gods. How I long to have that beautiful relationship with God that makes others want to share in my faith and in my life.

Just wanted to share these thoughts with you.

Elizabeth said...

I finished Ruth, too, and am in to I Samuel. Yes, Naomi must have had a winsome faith to make such an impact on her daughtersin-law, especially on Ruth. Now that I'm a mom-in-law, her example is even more important to me.

Ruth is one of my favorite women in the whole Bible.

A friend of mine pointed out something that I had never thought about. In all of Naomi's troubles, God worked them for good according to his plan. The famine that took the famiy to Moab and the deaths of Namois husband and sons were sad. But, God took the tragedies and turned them into something good by using them to bring Ruth to Israel, where she could marry Boaz. And through Ruth and Boaz's son, Naomi had a part in the lineage of Christ! So, when hard things happen, we never know what good God can work out of them.


Anonymous said...

Wow what a wonderful observation Elizabeth, thank you :o)

Sandra said...

Another wonderful post, Elizabeth. You somehow say so well what is on my heart or in my heart.

We do live in a culture of excess. While so many in the world have so little, we here in North America have so much. Too much in my opinion or maybe it's because we abuse what is available to us instead of enjoying it.

Excess of food, mainly fast, yucky food, is the norm and stuffing it into our mouths without tasting it is normal, too, isn't it? I'm trying to learn to enjoy the taste of my food and be thankful to God for providing it. The food example could apply to many other things in our world, too.

Sorry for the ramble but thanks again for this post.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sandra. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, in North America, we have so much compared to other parts of the world. I think a wonderful goal is to live like generous stewards, rather than as mindless consumers. I'm also trying to slow down and to enjoy things with thanksgiving and praise.


Tammy said...

Hi! I just came blog-hopping in. =) This was a very interesting, thought-provoking post. I agree wholeheartedly that we are over-stimulated--food-wise, electronically, etc.

I do somewhat understand eating at 10 a.m. in an airport though. They no longer serve meals on planes, and connections are made at odd times, so you eat when you can! But I also understand the thought process of this post as well! =) I've probably eaten in an airport to just pass time! Layovers are boring! LOL

Miss Gerund said...

Yikes, I must say that I am often guilty of stuffing like that! Why does food have to taste so good? :) I am working on controlling myself better. :)

Great post. Very interesting.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Miss Jerund,

Yes, we all fall prey to stuffing -- literally at this time of year!


Hi Tammy,

Yes, when I first read that, I wasn't too surprised about people eating at odd hours in airports. After all, people arrive in a terminal from all different time zones. Plus, many people are made uncomfortable by the whole process of flying -- from waiting around in a busy terminal to passing through all of the security checks to making sure you catch all your connecting flights to actually flying itself. So, it's natural to turn to food and other things to try to comfort us -- though it may not be the wisest choice. And, for some, time spent in an airport is part of their business day, so we can't fault them for being on their laptop. But, the problem comes when we carry over these behaviors into our everyday meals -- eating mindlessly just to be eating, eating while engaging in one or more other distracting behaviors at the same time, and gulping things down without truly enjoying or being thankful for the food. The airport is a good place to see the effect on people's faces of such mindless consumption. And,there is the difference between the American airports and French ones.