I was feeling bad the other day, but then I bought something and now I feel better.
I’m only kinda joking, but mostly not.
Have you experienced this? It’s okay, you can tell me, I won’t share your secret—because it is not really all that much of a secret. “Advertising man” preaches that gospel all day, every day. Remember, “There are some things money can’t buy; for everything else there’s MasterCard.”
Why do I feel good when I buy something new? It’s not bad to buy something new, or to feel good when I have something I have wanted, is it? Yet sometimes it seems like I’m not acting out of freedom but out of a kind of a compulsion.
Does this resonate with you? Maybe for you the compulsion isn’t buying the latest gadget you don’t really need. Maybe it’s keeping up with the Joneses, reality TV, pace of life, cars, smart phones, music, lifestyles, clothes...you name it.
I’ve come to a realization—I think I’m an addict. But at least my addiction is socially acceptable. I’ve come to another realization—I think we might all, in some way, be addicts.
How does that hit you? Does the idea that each of us might be addicted to something bother you? Well, stick with me. This seemingly harsh assessment—if embraced—might be the key to your freedom.
The term addiction seems offensive or off-putting when applied to our shopping or our desire to make it to the top, our pursuit for the best house, the safest neighborhood, the best travel soccer team for our kids, the best vacation, 401k, job title, car, etc. Those are good things, or at least neutral, aren’t they? Addictions are to things that are bad, not things like these, aren’t they?
Well, let’s look at a few definitions of addiction:
The continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences.
Something you are unable to stop doing that is harmful.
Something that has more power over you than you intended to give it.
You see, addictions to things that everybody agrees are bad (drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.) are easy to identify. They may be hard to conquer, but we can all agree that to ignore them is dangerous.
When we become addicted to something we are told is good (safety, security, status, family, individualism, etc.) on the other hand, it is much more tricky. These addictions, rather than being a societal stigma, are actually approved and applauded by culture—even church culture. As a result, they are not identified as a problem and are rarely addressed, even as they hold our lives and our imaginations captive.
Our Captivity to Culture
Each of us lives in culture. Our culture’s values infiltrate and influence our beliefs and actions without our even being aware of it, so that we end up modeling these patterns that culture sets for us. That’s cultural captivity.
In his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul warns folks about this when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Why? Because the patterns of the world, the systems and voices of the culture, will interfere with our ability to truly follow Jesus and to live fully as citizens of his Kingdom.
Paul continues by saying that when we rid ourselves of our captivity to these voices we will “be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” He is saying that it is normative—not unusual, but expected—to know God’s will for our choices day in and day out as we move about in the world!
The call to renew our minds is urgent because as citizens of God’s Kingdom we are meant to experience “more and better life than we could ever imagine” (John 10:10), living with God as agents for restoration in his already-but-not-yet Kingdom.
The culture, in contrast, is constantly preaching its false gospel that peace, freedom, satisfaction, and “the good life” (at a great price, guaranteed) will come through money, status, accumulation, security, popularity, comfort, materialism, pleasure, and power.
The Kingdom of God values forgiveness, love, generosity, hospitality, solidarity with the powerless, embracing the outcast, communal identity, and suffering love. Our culture, in contrast, values individualism, accumulation, solidarity with the powerful, pleasure, and retributive violence.
There are two kingdoms vying for our allegiance and they are in absolute conflict.
Since we all find ourselves in the midst of this conflict, how can we renew our minds and shed our addictions?
The first step is to be willing to have our minds renewed—a practice of surrender.
The second step is to identify our captivity—a practice of awareness.
The third step is to sit with Jesus in vulnerability and silence, inviting him to reveal in us the ways in which our actual allegiance is not to the values of his Kingdom, but to the kingdom of our culture—a practice of silence.
The fourth step is to do it all again, with a growing awareness and a rekindled “prophetic imagination” (envisioning a life of Kingdom allegiance) that strips culture of its power over us.
In a community of people that holds us accountable to be the people we say we want to be, we will be able to shed ourselves of the entanglements of our cultural captivity. It is only in community that we will be able to fully see how each of us is differently addicted to our culture and begin the process of freedom from those addictions.
God wants us free. So, here’s what I am going to do this week.
I am going to spend some time reflecting on my life—in both my actions and driving desires.
I am going to identify which one “drug of choice” (Image/Consumerism; Power/Respect; Comfort/Pleasure; Security; or, Stimuli/Busyness) has had the most control over my life and how.
I am going to be as specific as possible in identifying that one “drug of choice,” and work through it in the surrendered way of prayer described above.
Will you join me?
It is for freedom that God has set us free. He alone gives us the power and the process to dismantle those things that hold us captive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Doug Humphreys is the Seattle / Tacoma City Director for ReWire, a Novo team committed to leading people into greater intimacy with God and a greater impact in the world. He lives in Tacoma with his wife Kelly, their two dogs, and a cat named Pete.