Mark Rowley in his new book entitled Consumer Detox has written a provocative and poignant work about the overwhelming need for people to take a look at consumerism. After reliving a story about his desire for a new pair of running shoes early on, Rowley makes the claim that the first step in recognizing the gripping reality of consumerism on your life is to name it (17). There is a certain fundamental recognition of our need for change only when we name it and take it as our own. Secondly, Rowley goes on to aptly comment that, "The reality is: unless we can find some deeper roots for our identity, we'll never be able to break out of consumerism" (44). It is not that things are inherently evil, but the temptation of consumerism is that we should people who are always wholly unsatisfied with the things that we have, so much so that we have to reach for the next big thing.
One of my favorite parts of the book is Rowley's understanding of how publicity webs work (75). Products and sponsors link their products together in a succesive enterprise that allows movies such as Toy Story to spill over into video games, celebrity endorsements and other seemingly unrelated sponors (Toy Story signs on public transportation and at professional sporting venues). It's kind of like your home internet page which pops up a million different products calling you into a web of more products. This type of painfully evident even in the case of little children. I even found myself at the checkout line buying Toy Story Mac n Cheese because I was so enthralled with the movie. The goal of these publicity webs is that they never let you out of their reach, they are always within arms reach.
So, what is the way forward from the mess of consumerism that we all find ourselves caught in? The early Christians dreamed dreams of the 'empire of God (his kingdom), where truth and love triumph' (83). Not only were the early Christians counter-cultural but they offered a life that was open to all, including slave and free. They loved the unloved by society and treated the poor with great care and concern. As Rowley seems to be verging on, the values of the kingdom that the early Christians exhibited ran counter to even the present day Roman rule where power and privlege were of most importance. Much like the early Christians living under Roman rule, Christians today have the privlege of actually limiting their lives in concern for others and the needs that are most important. Rowley points to actions like getting married as not maximizing life's choices but actually limiting oneself for the sake of love and sacrifice (93). Part of the dangerous nature of always trying to live life to the max is that we never take time to enjoy the people around us, forfeiting solid, healthy relationships for surface encounters.
Consumer Detox is a tour de force for the wearied consumer who is burnt out of the rat race of choices. This book in the last few chapters shines a light on the reality of idolatry concerning our consuming and our money. Next, Rowley comments on the joy of giving, not just as a quarterly hobby but as a way of life. The last section offers some advice on how to use the individual chapters as an opening to more questions of application (how do we apply the principles of simplicity, giving, and investing in people). Last, this book is a wake up call for pastors, teacher, and others to look inside their own hearts at the destructive forces of consumerism that have taken root and to deal with it appropriately.