Death by packaging

We’ve got a packaging problem.

A recent article in the venerable Atlantic suggests that those plastic coffee pods that make Keurig brewing machines so convenient and popular are adding tons of the non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic K-cups into landfills. In 2014, 9 billion of them were sold and tossed. Not only are they wasteful, but they’re expensive — around $40 per pound of coffee. But the key is they’re convenient.

Convenience and marketing are the main reasons why the product packaging business has continued to boom, even in the face of growing environmental awareness. Product makers rely on packaging to sell their products and consumers are sucked in by the convenience that most packaging brings.

Consider your own practices.

Do you buy oats or nuts or other dry goods in bulk at a reduced price or do you buy them in printed packaging at a grocery story for a higher price?

Think of how much smaller your cereal box would be if it were only big enough to contain the cereal inside instead of being used as a billboard to get you to buy it. But it works on us, doesn’t it? We go to the store intending to buy only the things on our lists and we come away with extra stuff, stuff we saw because of its packaging.

The packaging problem, we discover, isn’t just an environmental one. It has to with our hearts, with the promises that the packaging makes.

Most of the time, packaging promises something it can’t deliver.

Eat this cereal and you will be physically fit without having to exercise or eat in moderation. Drink this coffee and you will find inner peace. Wear this scented deodorant and you will be lusted after by hordes of women. Use this shampoo and you will look like a model with her own styling team.

The promises are absurd, but we fall for them time and again. Our hearts long for more and we keep exercising our right to pursue happiness, although it remains elusive and not for sale, no matter how attractive and promising the packaging.

But not only do we fall for the packaging of products, we fall for the packaging of people. Politicians, athletes, movie stars, musicians, pastors, self-help writers, investment brokers, and so — they all promise more than they can deliver.

And if we’re honest, we have to admit that we do it, too. In a world of packaging, we become master packagers ourselves.

We package our homes to tell tidier stories about ourselves than we actually live. We package our reports at work to tell more successful stories about what we’re working on than we actually achieve. We package our conversations to make us seem happier than we are. We package our arguments to make us seem more certain than we are.

But just like we toss aside the packaging that comes with what we’re really trying to buy, our personal packaging is junk to be tossed out, just making more trash in our relational environment.

And what makes this so sad is that we package what should never be packaged. Our souls.

It’s sad when individuals do this. But it’s sadder still when communities do this, when churches fall for packaging themselves and God.

The way we do worship here will have your heart soaring in the heavenlies. The way we teach the Scriptures will give you the secrets to a perfect home and work life. The way we do Sunday school will make happy Christians out of your kids, especially if they go to our youth group.

When we package church and God himself as a means for enhancing our individual lives, we fall into the same trap that Keurig and the rest have fallen into — over-promising on what we can deliver and filling up the spiritual environment with trash.

God isn’t interested in making us all super-happy. He’s also not interested in churches that are convenient and popular. He’s interested in saving the world. And that often means having us join him in unpleasant and difficult work. It means asking people to do inconvenient things and to hold unpopular beliefs. I know that doesn’t sell well when you’re trying to get a bunch of consumerists to buy. But don’t we want to get to the soul? Don’t we want to get to the real? Don’t we want to get to God and what he’s doing in the world?

So, ditch the packaging. Get to the more difficult but far more robust, be it coffee or church.