According to this article, the vending industry earns around $30 billion annually. While most of this money comes in fifty cent increments on items like Doritos and Diet Coke, there is a growing segment of hi-tech, upscale gadget vending machines. I ran across the iPod vending machine pictured above at DFW.

Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond often put impulse purchase items near the checkout so that consumers leave the store not only with the spatula or towel they originally intended to purchase, but also with a three pound jug of Swedish Fish and a four-pack of Stick Up Bulbs. Marketers have long-realized that by placing the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs at eye-level for most seven year old children in the cereal aisle of grocery stores, they can initiate more emotional meltdowns (“But I neeeed it!”) and, thus, increase sales.

At first, I was strangely amused by the iPod vending machine. Does it come charged? Where would a person purchase songs for it, if the intent is to listen to it during an impending flight? Upon further reflection, there is something troubling about how easy it would be to drop $300 onto your credit card with one quick swipe. Of course, many travelers probably can afford to make such a large impulse purchase, and it is not the responsibility of vending machine companies to ensure that consumers spend their money in a responsible manner. But, still, do we need to feed our instant-gratification mindset anymore than we already do?

The process of spiritual formation is inherently, often frustratingly, slow. As much as we would like it to be true, we cannot simply swipe a couple of prayers through a spiritual card-reader and expect abundant life to be delivered via some mechanical arm into our outstretched hands. To paraphrase something I read once, we should not be surprised when people in our churches are self-centered and selfish when we advertise that we exist to meet all their needs. I certainly believe that people should find friendship, community, comfort, healing and love in church. But it is in that strange paradox of living by dying, gaining by giving, that we find what we truly need.