DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Status or humiliation.

Written by: on February 23, 2018

At age thirteen I was pretty obsessed with being and looking ‘cool’. Going from the top of the food chain in grade school to being part of the new younger group of kids in middle school who were coming from several feeder schools, made me want to both fit in and stand out. I wanted status as a kid others could be friends with and in my opinion that looked like being pretty, popular, witty and a bit edgy. I remember my parents were in the middle of building a house and the five of us were living in our two-bedroom rental. My dad drove us to school in his 1964 Chevy Impala, which was embarrassing to me as it was huge and old unlike the coups and SUVs that were newly on the market. [1] Did I care about being a consumer? No. I wanted friendships and assumed what people saw of me would be their first impression and stuff was just a way to attach to the relationships that mattered so much to me.

It wasn’t until I connected my life in a meaningful way with Jesus in early high school that my perspective on status changed. I remember preparing to go on one of my first mission trips with the requirement of memorizing Philippians 2:1-13. Verses three through seven were striking, new, and countercultural to me: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”[2] The concept of humility, conforming myself to the pattern of Jesus by putting others before me, being willing to serve them before myself was one of the greatest transformations I sought for God to instill in me. I did not fully conceptualize at the time how this might change my relationship to consumerism for my own sake. Yet, it was having a lasting effect on my soul, as I began to look outward to care for others rather than inward to care for me.

Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter explains the need to be cool and the hope of people to both fit in and stand out. They argue that the rebellion against the culture or system, popularized by the hippies in the 60s and then again in the 90s with movies such as the Matrix and Fight Club, was merely a ruse, redirecting people in an anti-cultural way to be against capitalist society while continuing to consume products, just different ones. In this way the counter cultural rebellion failed to change culture, as it bought into the illusion that it was escaping the culture when the reality was it never stepped outside of itself to create anything new or different. [3] To do so would need to be much more radical, such as in the Industrial Revolution where, as Polanyi in his Great Transformation recalls, the change came from within the society by the economy’s move away from traditional means of trade and into a market based on commodity. As Ian Reilly notes, “What the countercultural critics overlooked in their rejection of the dominant culture, and more importantly here, in their critique of consumerism, is the idea that distinction rather than conformity drives the consumer economy.”[4]

While critics of Rebel Sell view aspects of the text as generalized[5] even bland, lacking the perspective of diversity of the countercultural movement[6], Heath and Potter have authored a work challenging popular culture, and in particular, the countercultural movement in a way that cannot be denied. Though they do not provide possible solutions for the left to support future ‘engagement with countercultural politics’ as Ian Reilly would like, they do raise questions as to how we live and consume within our society.

In Heath and Potter’s fourth chapter, titled “I hate myself and I want to buy”, they mention Thorstein Veblen and his critique of consumer culture from the 19th century. Veblen believed “the fundamental problem with the consumer society is not that our needs are artificial, but that the goods produced are valued less for their intrinsic properties than for their role as markers of relative success.”[7] Once a society is beyond needing to provide staple goods, material goods take on another quality as indicators of social status. The more material items each person has the more status they are able to gain. However, when one person gains, another loses. Veblen’s perspective connects with Cavanaugh in that the ‘miracle of the market’ in consuming more does not truly care for anyone else but me. Even those who are not particularly interested in status or social climbing feel the need to keep up by ‘defensive consumption’ simply to avoid humiliation. As Heath and Potter put it, it becomes an arms race affecting the entire social hierarchy.

Veblen’s theory is exactly what reminded me of the opening story of this post. I simply wanted to participate with my peers and did not realize the implications of my actions until confronted with an entirely different Truth. I had not considered the question I asked at the beginning of last week’s post, “will we consider the intentionality of our decisions in the midst of the economic system in which we live?” Truly, I did not think any of my actions really affected anyone else. I was a free agent. Yet, I was not free. I did not understand both the cultural and biblical implications of how my life was and could affect others.

After reading Rebel Sell I am faced once again with Philippians and the question of how I and we as followers of Jesus will live within our culture? Will we climb social status ladders or attempt to rebel for our own good? Or will we lay down our rights and risk humiliation by consciously consuming in order to care for others? The answers feel in some ways more difficult and nuanced than my middle school mind could have accepted.

 

[1] Years later I did realize how cool my dad’s car actually was.

[2] Philippians 2:3-7, Bible, NASB

[3] Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consume Culture. Chichester: Capstone Publishing, 2006, 10.

[4] Reilly, Ian. “Rebel Sell: Why Culture Can’t Be Jammed.” The Journal of Popular Culture. (2007), 187.

[5] Openshaw, Andrew. “No Logo, No Change? Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consume Culture.” Cultural Politics. vol 2, 3 (2006), 397.

[6] Reilly, 187.

[7] Heath and Potter, 115.

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

20 responses to “Status or humiliation.”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trisha,
    I like your transparent introduction and how you saw yourself relating to the countercultural movement. You used the word “Edgy”. I looked it up and the definitions vary from being sharp, tense, and irritable, or unconventional and annoyed, or just trying to look cool. There are just so many meanings associated with “edgy” that one really must look at the context and how it’s use fits into the larger whole of the discussion. Perhaps the same is true for the movement “they” called countercultural.
    I think the Apostle Paul gave good instruction on how to live in this world no matter what system, movement, revolution, or rebellion is underway at the time of consideration. Timeless, applicable, principled, and relevant; Paul’s direction to the Philippians supersedes the problems of his society, our society, and the problems of humankind. There will be a time, and it is already here, when at the “name of Jesus” we will bow and confess Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). Why? To the glory of God the Father.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mike, I agree, Paul is a good example and could be called countercultural (though it doesn’t really matter) as he was attempting to conform to Christ and was inclusive of all people in his house church movement, unlike the society of the day.

  2. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Such a clear post that brings together so many facets of what we have been learning. As goods have becomes “markers of relative success,” I wonder what the church’s response should be. And is this also true OF churches. Is the church with the best sound system and the nicest building considered the most successful church in town? What should be our “markers of success” both as individuals and as the Church?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      This is very true of many churches. I wanted to add more about that but knew my post would be way too long! At least in the US I see that we have to be branding ourselves in some way to reach a certain segment of the market. Maybe that is being relevant but I wonder how often we think through our choices before we just do the thing that works, or has been said to work.

  3. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks for your post Trisha! I enjoyed learning about your experience trying to fit in and be cool as a kid. I can relate to that! I appreciated how you engaged the critics and other sources like Polanyi. I also resonated with your being “conformed to Christ” as a more intentional way forward. What a challenge in this time.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Chris, thanks. I read your post but then didn’t comment yet- seems we had similar influences (and I loved that you entered the Christian music scene around the same time as me).

      I am probably more thoughtful about consumerism and its effect on my life, family and community than ever- especially with our son having had a birthday party a few days ago and getting a bunch of stuff he didn’t need. Anyway, it seems like a daunting tide to turn both personally and communally.

  4. Hey cool kid, great post! And I’m also glad you realized your dad had a pretty cool classic car. (ironically our neighbors just got a sleek black ’64 Impala and took us out to dinner in it last night 🙂 There is so much to unpackage in that Phil passage and what a great scripture to memorize. I agree that we as Christians have to figure out how to be fully in the world but not of the world. We are set apart but need to relate to people as Jesus did.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jake, I love that you were out in an Impala recently. My parents still have the car- it was originally my great grandma’s. I felt like adding it to the post just showed the ridiculousness of my self-focused consumeristic self.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Trisha! I feel your heart in this post! This statement is so true – “Once a society is beyond needing to provide staple goods, material goods take on another quality as indicators of social status.” This loops us back to capitalism and consumerism…imagine how simple life would be if we only cared for our basic needs. I’ve always thought a life in the middle of Alaska would do exactly that – however I would miss people! How do you envision this for you personally?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      I think it’s a lot easier for me to live simpler in a community that values the same. We’ve had seasons of this in our life and Portland, even as a larger city is pretty proactively green and simple in some ways (although changing with the mass influx of people).

  6. Trisha,

    I really appreciated how you linked this book through the grid of Philippians 2, and then called the consumeristic fever an “arms race”. When one side chooses not to fight back and lays down their weapons in vulnerability, that is when we become truly countercultural.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      After writing this post I had a conversation with some friends about this text in the midst of talking through how we live our Free Methodist (Wesleyan) theology. I realized that had I thought about it a little further and had the room in my post, I would have asked questions about whether we are going to stop looking up and around at those who have and instead begin comparing ourselves a little more closely with those who do not. The arms race and the Joneses are all symptoms of comparing up.

  7. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish,

    My favorite line of your Blog is, “Or will we lay down our rights and risk humiliation by consciously consuming in order to care for others?”

    The word that kept coming to my mind in reading this book is “rights” and it is countercultural to lay them down! Not my will, but His! Right?

    Hope your pregnancy is going healthy!

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Jay. It is so hard to lay down our rights. we are a nation built on rights and that alone is very countercultural in the gospel. It is really something that is a daily/moment by moment challenge.

  8. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    I really appreciate your insight from wanting to be accepted and seen as cool to your introduction to Christ and missions. My first mission trip I had a similar experience but from a person in Serbia. My friend and I were in a market looking at stuff, when we were approached by a man and asked if we were looking to party, he could set up drinks, drugs and women. Of course, we both said no, but it really showed me how everything was for sale, even our soul for the right price. I am constantly dragged back to the church should renounce worldly goods but a church is not “successful” if we aren’t big and growing. How do we change that.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Your question about how the church can change is a hard one. I am hopeful because of Jesus but we are so inundated with a consumeristic culture that it is hard not to let it just be a thoughtless part of the church. How are you intentional with this in your church community? Do you all have conversations about consumerism and its effects in your church?

  9. GA says:

    Trisha, coming from a poor pastor’s family, I had similar experiences. It is interesting how our self worth is tied to what we possess. Appreciated your personal testimony and journey.

    I too kept asking the question of how do we be influencers to the world without being sucked to the culture that seeks to change and transform us. Thanks for your thoughts and challenges to our walk.

  10. Shawn Hart says:

    “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to Salvation for everyone who believes…” nor will I be ashamed of my dad’s ugly car, because some day it will be a classic. My dread-car was a 1979 forest green bonneville…until I realized the brand new 400 engine under the hood…that changed everything. LOL It is amazing the things that God can do to put our lives back into perspective. I shared a story from India with my church this last week; I hope you don’t mind me briefly sharing here: I had the chance to go to a children’s home…at least that’s what they called it. The children’s home I worked at 25 years ago had a gymnasium, cottages, a ball field, and my own personal van to drive around; and even then I kind of thought I was this great servant for doing what I did as a house-parent. However, the “children’s home” in India was a metal shed that had about 30 bunk-beds and 30 foot lockers for the kids to keep their stuff in…and a large dirt field outside. Their cafeteria was an even smaller shed that could barely support my push lawnmower and an open firepit for cooking meals outside. That was all. Immediately I was embarrassed by all that we took for granted and felt entitled too. Ironically…the kids were happy and played and content with what they only knew was available to them. I appreciated your thoughts in your post, because you pointed out that “when one person gains, another loses.” When we adorn ourselves so richly, we have missed an opportunity to share with others.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks for re-sharing your story Shawn. I appreciate it and can see how that relates to the win-lose of consumerism. It’s just so hard as most of the time those who lose to our consumerism are so far removed we don’t ever see them or believe we are the cause. It would be a valuable thing for us to see cycles of poverty outlined a bit more in our culture so people realize how people end up where they do. I realize this is a fairly complex thing to achieve.

  11. Dave Watermulder says:

    Trisha,
    I loved the way you ended your post. After the whole review that you did (very nice), you bring it home and ask us questions for our own lives and faith. These are things that we are meant to wrestle with and continue to return to as we seek to live as God’s people in the world– but it takes an unsettling,challenging read like this one to get us going again. Thanks for your piece.

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