When I grew up, the mall was the happenin’ joint in town. Even when I was a young adult, I remember going to the mall for a good time. And when my big kids were adolescents, I recall dropping them off at the mall for a few hours and returning to pick them up before curfew. Yeah… the mall. It had it all.
Seems like the mall struggles to keep up with the times these days. It’s still there, but it’s suffering from a decade of down economy, of the rise of Amazon, and super stores. The mall probably should open up some trendy coffee shops to keep up with the times, but it’s still there.
When I was young, going to the mall was a special treat. It had everything, and everybody was there gettin’ some. You could eat, shop, and find entertainment; you could see and be seen, and meet up with friends – all while decorating your life. It was like one stop for life.
And sure, it had your big department stores like Sears, JC Penney, and Dillard’s, but it also had at least a hundred specialty boutiques filled with every mystery the world has to offer, and usually on sale! If you were into sports, they had it. If you were into books, they had those. If you were into fashion… well which kind did you want, because… yeah… they had it. Music – and everyone has differing tastes in music, fashion, and home décor – NO? Jocks, preps, fags, snoots, black kids, brown kids, white kids into black clothes, white kids into purple… you name it, the mall had it, and had it in every size, shape, style, and taste to suit anyone’s consumerist whims.
You feel me yet?
Yeah. And some of the boutique shops really cater to some dark corners of your heart and mind while others are just as “family friendly” as they can be. I mean you might find the Christian gift shop with all the cute crosses that match your drapes, the verse-of-the-day coffee mug, and tee shirts with clever/witty phrases on them like the one with a drawing of a taco with a smiley face on it and a caption that reads: Wanna Taco ’bout Jesus? and Lettuce Pray. Great shop, by the way, and great shirt, but the shop is flanked on one side by the black trench coat, bondage handcuffs, and satanic pentagram-selling candle shop and with the slutty lingerie and sex toy shop on the other. You know? A little John 3:16 meets Anarchist Cookbook and Sodom & Gomorrah all in one stop for everyone on your Christmas list!
I will never forget the first time I visited a Hard Rock Café and realized this was my parents kind of place. And when my parents were into Rock-n-Roll, it was supposed to upset their parents, but somehow everything cool had become my “father’s Oldsmobile” despite my expectations.
What I mean is this: All this effort at individuality only goes skin deep. I thought I was so unique when I got that Union Jack shirt in the 8th grade, but really, I wasn’t. I got it at the same shopping center as my best friend got his cowboy boots, and actually, when Def Leppard popularized it, I bet American malls sold about 20 million of them (which surely was strange for America, don’t you think?). But of course in the game of commerce, if it makes money, who cares how strange it is?
Values and beliefs sank to the level of fashion and style on the one hand, individuality and uniqueness turned out to be illusionary. What exactly is real about any of this? But how much energy and angst and hard earned money went into parachute pants???
Oh… don’t laugh. If you were there back in the day, you had them too! And if you didn’t have them, you envied someone who did! And if you didn’t have them or envy them, then you were old – and that means you probably felt that way about having shoes when you walked to school up hill both ways back when wheels were square!!! Point being, we all do this, have done it, or will do it at some point, if not our whole lives, and it is all utter vanity.
Who goes to your church?
Are you Baptist? Do you attend church with other Baptists? Are you Pentecostal? Do you attend with other Pentecostals? Are you Catholic? Methodist? Just what flavor do you like??? What boutique do you shop? Biker church? Trucker church? Black church? Gay church? Cowboy church?
They all glorify and serve the same Jesus… very similarly… No?
You do realize, don’t you, that Jesus prayed for his disciples to all be one group together (see John 17). But we will get back to that shortly. At the moment, let’s go back up to that earlier question: Who goes to your church?
Let’s face it, if you go to church in America, look around at the people on those church pews surrounding you, no matter whether they be Presbyterian, Nondenominational, or Cowboy Church. The people you see there on those pews, you also see at the mall in all those boutiques – or their functional equivalents (coffee shops?).
Let’s ask ourselves seriously… What’s going on here? What makes a person go to a specialty boutique and spend hard-earned money on black fingernail polish, a black leather trench coat, purple hair, and create a certain style like that? What makes a person shop at Sears and/or some boutique where they create a certain ambiance in their living room, their kitchen, or their back patio? What motivates these activities, the commercial cooperation between participants, the vanities, and so forth?
What is really that different between such shopping experiences and the churches we worship with? Are we not decorating our lives with Jesus and the trappings that go with him? Are the Baptists just imposters who don’t matter to Jesus, or are they not really all that vitally different from the Presbyterians and Methodists in the final analysis? Don’t they all love Jesus with all their hearts, minds, and strength, and the differences between them just amount to cosmetic differences?
Has our culture not become totally and utterly coopted by commerce, consumerist whims, and vanity – AND – isn’t our spiritual life operating at just about the same level?
If your church is “seeker friendly” doesn’t that mean your pastor markets your church like a specialty boutique? And if that is just a bit too dated for you, perhaps I should ask what is the difference between your church and your favorite coffee shop?
Look. I am a staunch believer. I am not taking cheap shots just to irk you. But I sense that our differences are not as deep or as important as we tend to think, on the one hand, but we let them keep us splintered apart despite Jesus’ prayer as if they are vitally important on the other, and I wonder why we settle so easily for this arrangement. It’s like we go shopping at the Mall of God or something.