Here’s a thing about our culture in general, who we are and specifically, how people see us matters.
There was a show on TLC a while back called what not to wear and I thoroughly enjoyed watching this show. And in it people would nominate someone they care about because the things that they were wearing did not match the life they were living you’re living. Maybe they were dressing too young or too provocative or in too baggy and casual of clothing to run the company or to fundraise or whatever it is that they were doing. Now, the person who was having the make over Would always start the experience by saying but I like what I wear I think it’s OK nobody else cares what I’m wearing which is obviously untrue because a whole lot of people nominated you for the show. And our hosts would tell they’re contestant they’re guest That absolutely everyone is judging the work that they might be about to produce or the quality of their company based on the clothing they are wearing.
How we look to those around us, what we wear of have, tell them who we are. And for most of us, if we’re honest, there has been at least a few times in our lives when what people think of us, defines if we have value.
In general, the 10 years between graduating from seminary and now, were not filled with fulfilling ministry work. I did several random jobs. When I came back to Milwaukee and started working as a waitress and a bartender, I thought it would be brief. It was 3 years. I didn’t really connect with people, make new friends, because one of the ways we understand who each other is, is by what we do. It’s usually the 2nd or 3rd question we ask someone after their name: what do you do? And we don’t mean: what are your hobbies or interests or spend your free time, NO, we mean: what makes you a useful and productive person in our society?
I think one of the other early questions is about where someone lives. We can evaluate their neighborhood, their home, their stuff by knowing things about their home.
And there are people who will buy the biggest home in the nicest area, or won’t invite folks over to their little apartment in the city because they want folks be believe a certain thing about them, because their value is found in how they are perceived and valued by those around them. Our things, our appearance, our useful or productiveness.
There is a perfect life that is sold to us. It’s marketed to us, sold to us, presented on social media with perfect filters and angles so we don’t see the mess.
And we have been sold this, for years, since we were children, in our advertising, in shows and movies. Your value comes by what you have, wear, drive, earn, work. And someone can sell you the things that will make your valuable.
It is strategic. It is intentional. It has been generations.
The powers of our world, of our culture, want us to define who we are, what us to define our values, what is valuable, and what your value is in relation to each other,
AND what you to see how much better you could be doing as you compare yourself to everyone else and that you ought to desire for what you don’t have, would you could have, what you should have
AND as it turns out! The powers of this world will sell it to you.
But there is never enough, whether it is power or money or square footage–you can never earn acquire, manipulate, gain enough to be the person the powers convince you that you need to be.
There is a common and unifying narrative in our culture–and despite a lot of people’s best efforts, it is individualism and consumption.
We have been given gods by the powerful. Gods of:
When there is only one verse of the scripture, it has meant that I have done a lot of other reading. And a lot of it has been a dark and horrifying place. Because there are folks who will tell you that coveting is good, that we need it, that it is vital. That it brings innovation and competition.
But here is the thing, if those things and ideas consumption, individualism, greed, wealth, coveting become the value and ideals you place on yourself and on others, they become first in your life, they become your gods. And they will require sacrifices: time, energy, relationships. I heard so many stories this week of men, always men, who had bragged about kids being conceive between meetings. Or spending all their free-time in their home office.
Among some articles—this was the book I read. The people who study economics and ethics and society have asked the questions and run the numbers, people who’s values are focused on wealth or acquiring or what other have– on extrinsic validation have a lower well-being: emotionally, physically, communally.
There’s a reason this is included in these 10 words, 10 utterances, 10 guiding principles, 10 commandments.
Because what you want, and what you start to long for, and what you desire that you don’t have and is outside of your reach, what you start to covet will change the way you live and interact in the world.
Whatever we worship will ask us to sacrifice something, whether it is the god of consumption or the God of Creation.
And the god of coveting whispers: you don’t have enough… don’t you want more?
And for generations, we have, and we have seen others, sacrifice every other one of these 10 for more.
We weren’t given the commandments to force us into a set a laws, it wasn’t some arbitrary list for us to fail at. To punish us or make us feel bad. They are a gift–telling us who we are and whose we are and how we are to live together.
And they end with don’t covet, not because wanting to do better is wrong, but because it so quickly becomes our god, and it costs us. It will lead us to break these other 9, with lead us to break relationship, damage community, hurt ourselves and others. Coveting, assuming that it is negative, a thing we should avoid, prioritizing production, utilizing people, and prevents rest for ourselves, others, and the land. Coveting doesn’t honor those who have gone before, who cannot “produce” whether by birth or age or capability. Coveting leads to resentment, resentment leads to destruction of each other, violence, taking what is not yours, breaking covenants and promises, hindering justice, using our voices to tear down to lift ourselves up. Coveting is about me. This covenant is about us.
Let’s talk about the easiest example, and one we’ve known for a long time, clothing. Fast fashion and ultra fast fashion has turned what was once a years long change in styles to a matter of months until the item you just bought is no longer cool. Being cool might not matter to you but it does matter…
What this means: items need to be made quickly and cheaply. Often they are made in poorer countries. Often in countries that don’t have laws for workers. It means they aren’t paid much if anything. And it might mean rest is not part of their lives. It ships from affecting the earth. All so we can buy it at way low prices… often less than $30. And it’s not great quality so even if the style doesn’t change, 17 million tons of clothing is thrown out, every year, mostly in dumps in south America, where children grow up near all that we decide is trash.
We’re consuming the earth, what it can grow, what it has made, the water and trees with no consideration of the God who made it or the creatures that were made for each individual eco system. Leaving many without enough, drinking unclean water, breathing chemicals. We let companies lie to us about what they knew and when, about cancers and illnesses and damage to our bodies and the earth, and yet we continue to trust them to do the right thing when they have been sacrificing to coveting for generations.
We should be wearing out our voices with the cries for justice.
When the Hebrew people were given these 10 words, this covenant was about how they would live as one people, it was about the god they would serve, the sacrifices that God asks for and how they would live together.
It was about building community, honoring each other’s divine worth, seeing each other as valued because they are a beloved child of God and made in God’s image. And they honored each other by making sure each had enough, each was cared for,
And there is enough.
There is enough.
There is enough when we choose what our values are, when we place ourselves in the correct order of the world, when we order God in the correct place.
There is enough when we find our value not in what we collect or acquire or earn or show off or what we can produce or what makes us useful, but when discover our value is in the God who made us, loves us, and call us beloved.
And we live these commandments, all of them, when place ourselves and our God and each other in the proper ordering of society. It isn’t me first and only, it is God and all of us.
So what do we do?
It’s a shift in the world that we swim in, the air that we breathe. Maybe it’s as simple as muting and walking away from advertising on tv. Though, we can’t really escape it on the internet.
It is about moving through the world and buying with consciousness and mindfulness and prayer. Let’s start with gratitude, counting the messages that call us to want more and more with gratitude for what we have. Because, How easy it to want something and quickly buy it online without thinking? It become difficult to buy gifts because no one wants anything. It’s easy, it’s convenient to just have. But if we live in gratitude and move with prayer. Because, because prayer is a very sellable idea. You can buy lots of things that will tell you how to or about prayer, but find little that suggests your wanting and buying should be prayerful.
So I challenge us spend the next week, 7 days, being aware, maybe even buying nothing. Be aware of when you would just stop at a store to pick something up you might not really need but it’s convenient. Or that we might stop a store because we’re bored or sad. When do you pull up an app and buy without thinking about it because it doesn’t even require you to move from you seat?
And maybe that’s not possible this week. This is meant to put anyone in danger, or hungry, or anything like that. I challenge you to think about the hands that would bring the item to you, from production, packaging, shipping, delivery. Does the cost of it make sense for the distance it has traveled? For the people involved? Is it caring for the earth? Caring for each other?
I challenge you to buy local and seasonal food, because it’s a lot when you realize how far some produce has come to be in our stores. Can you stop at the farmers markets, look the growers in the eyes? Can you purchase from local makers and artists? Can you research companies for quality and sustainability and ethical employment practices?
Can you buy used? You can find good stuff at thrift stores. Can you exchange, trade time and energy for other things you need?
May we be a prayerful people and not mindless consumers. May we be members of a community that cares for each part of creation, moving with intention and care, speaking up for justice, letting these principles guide us in all we do. May they be a gift and a covenant that reminds you whose you are, who you are, that you are beloved and help you find your place in the order of the world, and in the beloved community.