A few weeks ago, I sat reading over breakfast at Panera. I watched a woman come in and strike up conversation with the employee behind the register, looking up at the menu to determine her breakfast choice. She paused every few sentences and sipped from the beverage already in her hand: a coffee from Starbucks.
I posted the observation on my Facebook page. I considered commenting on it, but decided to simply post it as a statement: “There’s a woman standing in line at Panera drinking from her Starbucks beverage while she orders.” I had my own opinions on the matter, but I was more intrigued to see what people would say in response.
The comments began coming quickly. Some said that they understood her plight—Starbucks has better coffee, but Panera has better food. Others commented about businesses they’ve seen addressing this very sort of thing—either with signs saying that food from other restaurants wasn’t allowed, or businesses that seem to be teaming up and selling the same thing successfully in the same venue (à la the mall food court). But the majority of the responses were confessions. Many of my friends had done the same.
I get the philosophy. The idea of getting one meal item from one fast food place before getting the rest from another has crossed my mind before—and it is only the lack of convenience that has stopped me. But what struck me that morning was the nonchalance of the woman’s attitude. She had no qualms about her behavior; she was the consumer and consumer is queen.
We are privileged to live in a society where we can pick and choose what we consume. When I’ve taught missionary kids in re-entry programs, one of my favorite activities is to take them to the supermarket and stand them in the detergent aisle. I’ve actually seen kids have to sit down and take deep breaths to overcome the panic that rises. The amount of choice is overwhelming.
In North America choice is our stock and trade. We drive into a shopping center and we have hundreds of choices before us. Whatever we want to eat or drink or buy or experience, there are options. We have choices in the education of our children. We have choices in our career paths. We can choose where we worship, where we fellowship, where we build our community. I’m not saying these are bad things in and of themselves. We are blessed to have them.
One friend sent me a text message after she saw my Facebook post. She confessed to going through the McDonald’s drive thru for fries before going into Chick-fil-A for lunch. Jokingly, she commented, “I am trying to live authentically.” I chuckled at that, but I think she actually had a good point: one step in this process of figuring out how to live as Christians in a consumer-focused culture is to recognize that we are consumers—that every aspect of our culture shapes us to be consumers. So when it comes to being a part of the body of Christ, it’s no surprise that we often approach it as consumers. We often want to know what we get out of church or community or biblical study.
But perhaps this is not the way it is supposed to be. In Romans 12, Paul challenges his readers not to conform to the world around them, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds (12:2). He goes on to say, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (12:3).
According to Romans 12, I’m not the queen.
I find it interesting though that Paul couches his command not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought in the statement, “For it is by the grace given to me I say…” Paul himself once thought he was the man in charge, the consumer who simply had to pick and choose what he wanted. But Paul experienced grace—was transformed by it—and learned that he was not the king. Instead, he discovered he was a member of “one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
Paul’s picture of the Body in Romans 12 is not one in which the members are consumers, but rather one in which they are servants, each bringing what gift he can offer to build up the whole, transformed, presenting their bodies as living sacrifices, their spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).