- Jason Andersen
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I’ve been reading this history of marketing and consumerism at night over the past few months. It’s only one perspective of how history has unfolded in the past 100 years, but the sociologist’s study of change explains at least in part where we are today. The one topic that’s been in the chapters I’m at is about market segmentation. In the 40’s and 50’s marketing people began to advertise to specific groups. So around 1940, they realized that the teenagers were a group to advertise to since each kid had a few dollars to spend every week, and it was all disposable income. That turns into millions of dollars to be had in terms of advertising. After they started advertising to this segment of the population (with magazines like Seventeen begun in 1944), the ‘Market Segmentation’ of advertising happened. So they began to advertise to narrow audiences hoping to increase their market share. Pepsi famously marketed itself for the up and coming generation, ‘The Pepsi Generation.’ Youths who drank Pepsi were rebels or something like that it was advertised. The whole rebellious youth culture was crafted by the advertising giants in some office somewhere as far as I can tell.
Now we’ve come to today, and this market segmentation has defined a lot of our reality. Instead of marketing companies doing research, they just track your online habits, and then your ads display what you click on. You’re your own market segment. In other words, this market segmentation that the advertising industry came up with in the 50’s really has served to hyper-accentuate our individualism and cultural segmentation. There was a book, ‘The Big Sort,’ that talked about the political sorting of America during the 1990’s and 2000’s, but I think he missed quite a bit. I think the bigger problem is that we’ve been trained by advertising to be a certain type of person, and everything we then encounter is aimed at that type and it encourages a cementing of that identity. So if we’ve grown up traditional, we get pushed that way, and if we’ve grown up moderate, same deal, and if we’ve grown up liberal, same thing. The point is that the societal message is, ‘Be with people like you.’ So you drink Pepsi with your peers, you go to Chick-fil-a with your fellow conservatives, you go to Starbucks with your fellow people who love sugary drinks, and you move to North Loop or the riverfront with the wealthy young professionals or wealthy retirees, or you move to the countryside with your conservative fellows. We are mostly happy with this segmentation. I mean, I do appreciate the kind of coffee shops I visit and the restaurants I visit. But this is actually pretty bad for Christians to live their lives this way. If we only live for fulfilling our wants, why are we following Christ? Or like I’ve put on our website from Cyprian (who endured quite a bit of persecution),‘Why then do we pray and entreat that the kingdom of heaven may come, if earthly captivity delights us?’
What do we do then with this market fragmentation and this (not sinful) push to find people to live who are similar to us. The first is to realize that the people you want to live nearby and with are not necessarily your people. To say it most simply: we’re all divided from one another and different from one another because we all have our own desires, our own personalities and ways of thinking. My daughters don’t always get along, Ami and I don’t always get along, and at the end of the day you and your neighbor don’t necessarily get along. And your political ideology and your affinity for a certain way of life and good wholesome food isn’t going to save anyone. What we must do is put on the sight of Christ. The fields are white for harvest here in Minneapolis, there in Edina, elsewhere in Hutchinson, still elsewhere in Winona. We each of us wherever we live have neighbors who are suffering, lonely, and distressed. In our individualized culture, we have windows into the whole world through the internet, and I think that prevents us from interacting with those we are physically most near (and ironically this has isolated everyone). Yet the call to love our neighbor I am convinced actually means loving our literal neighbor, and especially because of how our world has been segmented. If we don’t love those near us, we will love those who are most likely to love us back. But isn’t the message of the gospel for us to love even our enemy (and even those who drink Pepsi)? So, we ought to pursue being deeply planted for the sake of the gospel where we are physically at.
Second, I think our passage from Galatians above reminds us that to be in Christ, and to be a Christian is really an anomaly in a glorious way. Where the world separates over ethnicity, social status, gender (and sexuality), we find fellowship with the church because we have fellowship with Christ. It is very sad to see how geographically separate some in our culture are. The parable of retirement communities of Florida and Arizona is not an excellent one. To move to a place where there is no diversity in age is not humane (literally!!). I think in a similar way, many of the initial suburbs were built to keep minorities out. Again, building communities on the basis of excluding classes of humans is not humane. And the call of Christ again is this: for those who are in Christ, you are a new creation, and you are part of the body of Christ that is expressed most clearly in a local gathering of disparate people. But this disparate group of people has the same aim: become like Christ. When I came to All Nations, I was actually quite surprised at how different everyone was from each other. It was a curious thing because looking in from the outside, people might have thought everyone was the same or perhaps ingrown. Even in an ingrown place, the diversity is astonishing! And this could cause division and dissension. But the call of the gospel is not to lean into our partisanship but to lean into the truth that we are being conformed to his image and likeness. No longer Jew of Greek. In Christ. And the invitation of Christ at the Lord’s table is to put aside and forget about our past disagreements because Christ has bought you with his blood into one body. No longer slave nor free. In Christ. And at our deaths, that is our baptism when we profess to the church our faith in Christ and the death of old Adam, we are raised to new life in Christ into his body. Neither male nor female. We’re in Christ.
This is perhaps an area of extreme growth for us. We are all in need of laying aside our hyper-individualist lives so that we learn to live less for our own pleasures and more for the sake of Christ and his church. Part of this means putting down our phones and coming to know the physical place God has planted us. Part of this means not going about so quickly but working a little more patiently with those God has entrusted to us. Part of it means being deeply planted in a church where we can ask, ‘How can I edify this body,’ and where we actually do a good, hard, long work answering that question. May we endeavor to be faithful in this endeavor.