Unfamiliarity with the Particular

In the most recent issue of my denomination's magazine, the MB Herald, I contributed an article titled, “Should Christian’s Own Sport Utility Vehicles?” You can check it out here. Subsequent to the publication I have had several conversations about the question in the title. Particularly interesting has been the online discussion here.

Well, self-promotion aside, these discussions have been quite revealing as to what I see as an unfamiliarity Christians have, myself included, with discussions around specific issues related to materialism. Responses to my article have ranged from expressions of frustration for feeling personally attacked, to uncomfortable jokes about SUV’s, to confusion over my point, to environmental crusading, to serious wrestling with the issue of materialism in general.

I think all of these responses in one way or another express a similar refrain, “So what?” Not in an unintelligent, who cares kind of way, but in a serious frustration for not knowing where to even begin to address specific issues such as this one. Essentially, asking the question about SUV’s has left many feeling handcuffed regarding the issue of materialism, in this case the ethics of vehicle choice. I am not sure, however, if that is something to lament.

Why I say this is because I think a major factor for the expressed frustration is the fact that this type of dialogue is so unfamiliar for Christian communities. The reason is that we are more accustomed to working with abstract issues. For example, the generic term “materialism” can be helpful to point out our propensity to over-consume our resources, a concept we can then apply to our lives as we see fit. It’s not too difficult to nod in agreement – as long as it doesn’t get too personal.

When the discussion begins, however, with a particular topic, one that we are all implicated in (i.e. vehicle choice), we are automatically forced to provide some sort of account, even if just to ourselves, about the ethical choices we have made for that particular situation. Naturally, this makes us uncomfortable (perhaps even angry at certain article writers :). I guess what I am trying to say, and what I have realized through writing and interacting with this article, is that when ethical issues hit close to home – when they become personal – having conversations with others becomes much more difficult as it requires us to acknowledge to them the discomfort we are experiencing.

I know for myself this type of relational transparency is far from my typical experience when it comes to issues surrounding materialism, and because I prefer to remain comfortable in my faith experience, I find it much easier to avoid particular issues such as this. All this to say, I think we need to be challenged towards more authentic ethical interaction, even if it means a little more vulnerability on our part. How this looks? Well, I’m still working on that…

All in all, publishing my thoughts has definitely been a unique (and vulnerable) experience and I have appreciated the graciousness people have expressed in the various conversations I have had.

NOTE: For anyone thinking I am personally skirting the issue of materialism by dealing with a subject (SUV’s) that doesn’t apply to me, I want to assure you that many other specific issues are not so easy for me to distance myself from (ie. housing, recreation, just to name a couple). Basically, I am not saying I am off the hook!

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