The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Lead Us Not
Every Sunday, the words roll off our tongues as we repeat the most familiar of all Christian texts: Our Father, who art in heaven ...
Jesus offered those few sentences to his disciples as an example of how they should pray. It is a simple template -- opening and closing with praise, and a center of brief petitions.
In this fall season when Christmas commercialism is building to a fevered pitch, we will do well to listen very carefully to our rote prayer. Let us discern how we might let God act in and through us to fulfill one of those oft-repeated petitions: lead us not into temptation.
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For months, our family's mailbox has been cluttered with catalogues. As we move toward the end of November, that flood is cresting. The covers of the mailings have large notices about shipping deadlines if the goods are to be delivered by Christmas. Inside, these small magazines have beautiful pictures and eloquent text that offer everything on our holiday "wish list," and more. [Lead us not into temptation, O God.]
The Sunday newspaper in Denver is an enormous bundle of newsprint. Typically, we will dump 2/3 of the newspaper into the recycling bin without ever looking at the content, because it is pure ads -- car ads and real estate ads in thick sections; slick paper inserts for electronics, clothing and appliances; travel sections where the ads are disguised as news stories -- all designed to tempt and entice. Our immediate discards from a single Sunday morning sometimes have as much newsprint as a small city's telephone book. Hundreds of thousands of copies of these fat bundles are distributed each week, in the hopes that shoppers will be lured into new purchases. [Lead us not into temptation, O God.]
Our neighborhood supermarket went through a "make-over" recently. As far as I can tell, the primary goal of the new flooring, new lighting, and more open floor plan was to better tempt the shopper. Easily changed racks just inside the front door now hype the day's featured specials. The bakery and deli areas have moved their more fragrant offerings out into the aisles. Especially on weekends, there are small stands all around the store where clerks offer free samples of tasty tidbits that we didn't know we wanted. The store goes to the expense of remodeling and additional staff to lure us toward new products and impulse purchases. [Lead us not into temptation, O God.]
Television -- need I say anything? Millions and millions of dollars are spent crafting advertising campaigns that tempt us with style, status, sex, fun, power and excitement. Those ads run over and over and over again, embedding in us a spirit of desire on one side and dissatisfaction on the other. [Lead us not into temptation, O God.]
When we pray, "lead us not into temptation," we're asking for God's help as we close our eyes, nose and ears to this barrage of advertising. We're asking for God's help in turning off the TV, walking past the grocery samples, blocking the pop-up ads on websites, and not coveting our neighbor's trophy home. The prayer, too, pleads for help in breaking down the economic system and the cultural forces that power the consumer machine of temptation.
The excessive use of resources in the US -- a lifestyle that much of the rest of the world seeks to attain -- is driven by temptation. The technical terms are "marketing" or "advertising," but the goal is temptation. It seeks to make us want what we don't need.
In a world of finite resources, temptation leads the affluent to take resources away from the poor. In a world of finite resources, temptation leads to the destruction of habitat, the pollution of ecosystems, and the theft of essential resources from future generations. In a world of finite resources, the very act of tempting us leads to an enormous waste of resources with catalogues and newspaper inserts. There are many good reasons why we should pray to be liberated from temptation -- practical and ethical as well as spiritual.
How different our lives would be if our prayers were answered, and temptation was removed. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a world where that pervasive temptation is throttled back, a world not dominated by marketing. In it, you wouldn't see billboards in Minneapolis with pictures of tropical beaches. Newspaper and TV ads would deal only with factual details of price and product qualities, and shopping centers would not have mannequins in the windows. What a strange place it would be if The Tempter were not always with us! Until the system is changed, though -- until God's will is done on earth as in heaven -- we face the challenge of resisting and refusing the temptation.
There is a hint in the rest of the prayer about how we might live into such a world. "Give us this day our daily bread" hearkens back to the Exodus and the manna that could not be stored. We should want only enough for today, and that shared equally among all. The ethicists give it a fancy name: sufficiency. It is the ultimate threat to consumerism.
In the commercial frenzy that is known as "the Christmas season," may we have enough faith to believe that God is answering the prayer we speak every week. May we believe that God is not leading us into temptation, and that God calls us to turn away from the pervasive temptation that surrounds us.
May we find joy and fulfillment in our relationship with God and with all creation. May we discover the liberating promise of sufficiency, which frees us from temptation. May our world be healed from the ruin that is caused by the tempting, and by our seduction.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org