Brian Hollar, an economist and Christian over at Thinking on the Margin, has asked some thoughtful questions regarding my earlier post, Consumerism vs. Creative Culture:
1) Why do people make themselves and their children so busy? Do they do it out of neglect or from misplaced, but good intentions? I think a lot of parents want to avoid denying their children opportunities to develop skills and have experiences they think are good. What starts off as good motives sometimes transforms itself into an insane flurry of activity. Do you think the church helps or hurts more in this area? ... (You can see some of my thoughts on the busyness of families in a post I wrote in May ... )
Do any of our readers or other contributors with children want to take a stab at this? I think busyness varies from person to person in terms of motives. And each one of us, even when our motives are good, needs to frequently stop and re-evaluate our level of involvement and decide if we are honoring God and giving due diligence to concepts of Sabbath rest. Honestly I think sometimes we run from rest because we are running from the quietness where we have to confront God and our own deepest questions. But I've written more about that here.
Next Brian asks:
2) Hsu’s terms "production and provision" particularly stood out to me. In this context, I wonder if there any fundamental difference between "provision" and "consumption"? Provision certainly has a nicer ring to it and harkens to beneficent intent, but doesn't it ultimately mean the same thing as producing for the sake of self-consumption? Is this better or more moral than producing something that has value to others and exchanging it for goods to provide for your loved ones and yourself? Aren't consumption and production just two sides of the same coin? Isn't production without consumption really just a form of waste?
Here's some food for thought (pun intended) to illustrate my point: Imagine an over-ambitious mom who bakes fifty pies every day for her family of four. Unless she gives some to the neighbors to eat (consume), she baked (produced) far more pies than what the family could reasonably use (consume). Isn’t she being wasteful?
In response Brian, I'm not sure if Hsu says anything about production vs. provision. I made a distinction between consumption and production, quoting Hsu, and he is saying that they are two opposite sides of, yes, the same coin. Taking your example, I think Hsu would suggest the woman share those pies as a means of Christian hospitality, something that has sadly been lost in our culture. But who knows, perhaps Mr. Hsu would comment on this for us. I'd encourage you to read his book and hear what he has to say in the context of living out a Christian worldview in a suburban culture. Finally, Brian asks:
3) Have our values changed or do we just have new opportunities now? One hundred years ago, it would have taken the better part of a day to go to and from town… and that was without bringing the kids along! Now we can easily zip around between cities in nice, air-conditioned mini-vans with a multitude of kids, groceries, sports gear, Gameboys, and Rover in tow. Are our priorities different today or is it just a matter of having new options open to us? Doesn’t this mean that families who focus on spending more meaningful time together have greater ability to do so than at any time in the past? Does the absence of this in a family indicate a lack of opportunity caused by our culture or a lack of priority in the choices made by individuals?
Good questions. I'm definitely not trying to deify a pre-urbanized culture. Every culture faces its challenges and has particular difficulties in learning how to express a Christian worldview. I was saying however, that in the past because parents and children did more actual work together in many cases problem-solving was more of a fluid part of their everyday lives. I will say our culture has elevated entertainment to a whole new level. It is hard to be counter-cultural in this. One great way would be for families to spend time serving together, whether that's working at a soup kitchen, restoring an elderly neighbor's fence, or working with another family on a shared project.
Finally Brian asks:
4) Is there an inherent dichotomy between consumption and creativity as Hsu alleges? For example, imagine how difficult it would be to develop theatrical skills if you never had a stage to perform upon, being a great writer with no one to read your work, or becoming a master composer without someone first buying a piano (which had to be produced by someone). The actor produces while the audience consumes. Once again, don’t production and consumption go hand in hand? If this is true, don’t we need consumption of some sort in order to for creativity to fully thrive?
Is the biggest problem with our culture the fact we produce vs. consume or is it more a problem of what we, as individuals, choose to consume?
Brian, I think in the context, you would see Hsu's not taking such a different approach than you. He's simply suggesting that in this culture where families and individuals spend so much time consuming, a healthy corrective is to spend some time creating, especially when that creation can further the Kingdom in some way. Thanks for your good questions. Hope this is helpful. I look forward to more good comments.