First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County

seek ... nurture ... serve


February 24, 2013
Rev. Sandra Fees

In February 1966, The Rolling Stones appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Does anyone know what they sang? They sang: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” This was their first #1 hit in the United States. The song was considered shocking for both its sexual content and also for its critique of consumerism. Mick Jagger sang:

When I'm drivin' in my car
and that man comes on the radio
and he's tellin' me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to fire my imagination.
I can't get no satisfaction.
'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.

When I'm watchin' my TV
and that man comes on to tell me
how white my shirts can be.

I can't get no satisfaction.
'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.

When I'm ridin' round the world
and I'm doin' this and I'm signing that
and I'm tryin' to make some girl
I can’t get no satisfaction

‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.

Many of us regularly have the feeling that we try and try and try and can’t get no satisfaction. We feel we do not have enough or that we are not enough. We never seem to have enough time, enough friends, enough money, enough clothes, enough happiness, enough success, enough love, or enough of what everyone else seems to have. Even our shirts aren’t white enough. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get there.

A few weeks ago I spoke about our deep longing to be accepted and to be accepting of others, and how so often we have a deep-seated feeling that there is something wrong with us. Our sense of not having enough or not being enough may relate to childhood or adult feelings of being unloved or unsupported. It may have to do with lived experiences of economic deprivation – whether in fact a person is without financial means or not. Or it may have to do with a sense of spiritual impoverishment.

Contemporary culture has a hand in this. It fuels the negative experiences of not having enough and not being enough. Our lives are beset by consumerism, loss of connection, and spiritual shallowness. I love pop culture, as many of you do, and I am engaged with it. And yet I am aware that the culture in which I live encourages me to skim the surface of life rather than plumbing its depths.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in wanting things that are purported to make us happy - the right apartment, the right shoes, the right whatever that will offer enough to create happiness. These things are often well beyond our means, and don’t ultimately produce happiness even when acquired. We all know people who are trying to fill themselves up with things or can probably recall times we have done this. Maybe it isn’t designer clothes or trendy vacations. Maybe it’s food, alcohol, or something else.

Advertising messages greet us at every turn, even in ways most people aren’t aware of. I worked in corporate marketing communications and also free-lanced with ad agencies for about 15 years before moving into non-profit work and then to ministry. The work was creative. Actually it was a lot of fun. Fortunately, I didn’t work on projects that were ethically problematic for me. I wasn’t always promoting something exceptionally wonderful, but I wasn’t trying to sell cigarettes to kids. I worked with Dun & Bradstreet on its information services for businesses. I also worked with an ad agency on accounts for community banks and custom cabinets. My educational background was in writing, so on the job I learned about advertising and marketing, and what made it effective. In particular, I learned about lifestyle marketing. You don’t just show the picture of the local bank. You show how people feel a sense of community by banking there.

There is now a whole field of study called referencing. It includes lifestyle marketing through media but also the referencing we do to other lifestyles we are exposed to in real life. We “refer to” particular lifestyles we like, which then become our vision for ourselves. David M. Carter, who has a master’s degree in positive psychology and has been working on the link between sustainability and well-being, says:

We reference, either intentionally or otherwise, to lifestyles represented to us (in the media or in real life) that we find attractive. We create a vision of ourselves living this idealized lifestyle, and then behave in ways that help us to realize the vision. The problem with this process is that the lifestyles most often portrayed, and ultimately referenced, are well beyond the means of all but a very small percentage of Americans. We aspire to something that the vast majority of us cannot possibly achieve. And, in this attempt to realize our aspirations, we borrow heavily, feel poorly about ourselves because we just can't seem to get there, and become addicted to a way of living that gradually and inexorably separates us from the things in life that bring us the most joy.

( Advertising Manipulates Your Choices and Spending Habits (and What to Do About It), David Carter)

There was a time when most Americans strived to keep up with the Joneses, the people who were their nearest neighbors whose incomes and financial capabilities were similar to their own. Today, Americans work, play, and live side-by-side with a much broader group of individuals. The result is that most of us aspire to live the way people with income four or five times ours are living. The more we try to achieve the idealized vision, the more we find ourselves dissatisfied. Economist Juliet Schor calls this “the new consumerism” and says it is having a disastrous impact. An example of this is, “When twenty-somethings can't afford much more than a utilitarian studio but think they should have a New York apartment to match the ones they see on Friends …. they are setting unattainable consumption goals for themselves, with dissatisfaction as a predictable result.” Another example is “When the children of affluent suburban and impoverished inner-city households both want the same Tommy Hilfiger logo emblazoned on their chests and the top-of-the-line Swoosh on their feet, it's a potential disaster.” ( Overspent AmericanUpscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer, Juliet B. Schor)

This lifestyle referencing is everywhere. It reaches us through magazines, billboards, internet, Facebook, through our lived interactions in the workplace, at school. Why do you think children have to have certain products. It is present in the local community, and even here among fellow congregants.

One of the most provocative things Juliet Schor has to say is that most of us are in denial about our own habits. She says, “American consumers are often not conscious of being motivated by social status and are far more likely to attribute such motives to others than to themselves. We live with high levels of psychological denial about the connection between our buying habits and the social statements they make.”

It may not be possible to bring 100 percent awareness to our buying habits and to the referencing we are making. But it is possible to have more insight into our vision of a good life, how money is spent, and what it says about us and our culture. This isn’t even exclusively a matter of how we spend our money. It’s also how time, energy, and resources get spent. All of these make important statements about what is deemed valuable and what is considered essential to life.

Our spiritual challenge is to learn to live and spend from our values. The challenge is to make meaningful connections between the time we devote, the money spent, and the value we place on human worth, on theological diversity, on earth stewardship, on economic justice, and so on. To cultivate sufficiency – and the sense that we have enough - we need to take a step back and reflect on these things. The point is to bring intention and consciousness to how we construct our lives. This is an important religious task. It has to do with developing our inner life and our ethics, and then bringing that forth from within us as a social statement.

Do we have time and energy for the things that matter to us? Do we spend our time with our children, families, and communities? Do we make time for personal development and spiritual growth? Do we spend our money on things that reflect these values or on things that seem meaningless and leave us ultimately feeling we can’t get satisfaction? Lynne Twist says sufficiency is a way of tapping into our existing and inner resources. Sufficiency is about an experience, a context in which to be and live. To have an experience of having enough means practicing some key values. These include:

  • Generosity
  • Gratitude
  • Service
  • A rich inner life
  • Intimate relationships
  • A sense of belonging
  • Community
  • Self-acceptance

Like Lynne Twist, Geneen Roth emphasizes the need to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have. She learned the hard way. She and her husband lost their life savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal. In her book, Lost and Found, she describes the shock and anger of losing everything. The way she rebounded was to take back her life by noticing the tiny things. She noticed good health, hummingbirds, and the way it felt to hold her husband’s hand. She noticed not what was wrong with life but what was good and beautiful, no matter how small. (Geneen Roth, The Today Show,

Scarcity, consumerism, and disconnection are unhealthy hallmarks of contemporary culture. Their healthy equivalents are goodness, abundance, and wholeness. As Anna Quindlen advises us: “realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around.” Our religious community offers one place where we can practice doing this. Here we learn to grow the inner life, to be generous, grateful, to be of service, to belong, to be accepted and accepting.

This week marks the start of our congregation’s annual pledge drive, as you have already heard, and I have been reflecting on how Unitarian Universalism and this congregation embody my priorities, values, and ethics. My commitment of time, talent, and money to this faith makes an important statement about who I am, the kind of spiritual community I value, and what kind of world I want to be part of creating. During my time as your minister, I have felt it a deep honor to be asked each year to contribute financially to the good work we do together. My practice is to give at the recommended fair share giving levels. For me, that is 3 percent of my income. For me, it’s a way of spreading goodness around. It’s a way I get satisfaction.  

I invite each of you to do some soul-searching. Look to your own inner life. Consider your core values. Then bring that forth, from within you, into your commitments, yes, into your church pledge and service, but also into the way you live your life in the world.

May it be so. Amen.