Eugene Peterson has asked the question, “If we know so much, why do we live so poorly” and he isn’t thinking financially. It’s a question I have been thinking a lot about lately with the kind of dualism that life has working in a homeless shelter and the community here and with many of our friends being more affluent.
The other day I was over at a friends place for coffee and he had all of the toys. A great smart phone, large flat screen television, new thin notebook computer, and two nice cars. My notebook (which is a 650 mhz Pentium III with a dead battery) was booted up and he was using mine to take a look at something online. The discussion started that my $100 notebook does everything his new $2500.00 Vista powered notebook does at about the same speed (I am running Windows 2000) which turned into a discussion about how despite all of the toys that he had, is life really any better with them. Now sports is a wonderful thing in HD but baseball is amazing on AM radio as well and Arrested Development is funny on a $150 20″ television as it is on the flat screen.
McWorld tells me something different. It tells me my television stinks, my cell phone is a fashion accesory and needs to be updated, 5 megapixels will never be enough, nor will a small house. I need more stuff and I need to make more money to get that stuff. I had a long chat with a drug dealer the other night (it’s part of the job) and he was justifying why he needed to deal drugs. iPods for kids, flat screen televisions for their rooms and so on and we all know that isn’t possible on most wages.
At coffee today, Darren told me of a nine year old getting a iBook for her birthday. I asked him if at nine, he could be trusted with an iBook and not breaking it (I couldn’t have been) and he replied, “I wasn’t even allowed to use real glass at that age!” Of course when does it stop. A former family members I know was nice sports car as a gift one year, the next year it was to ride in a pace car at an IndyCar event and later it was an exotic six figure sports car. So what comes after that? The Bugatti Veyron? A Mig 21? I know those are weird examples but just because we can do something, do we need to do it?
The other question that I have is this a good use of the income that I have coming in? I have noticed lately that many people I know have expanding lifestyles. At one time the small house that Wendy, Mark and I live in, would have been quite spacious for a family our size. Now we lament the lack of closet and storage space to keep our assorted possessions. This summer we have literally been going through room after room and getting rid of things that we have accumulated over the years as purchases or gifts (anyone want a cappuchinno maker that has been used once?). The funny thing is that we aren’t making any sacrifices. We have a coffee and a tea maker and a coffee/tea press but all take up space in our kitchen (in addition to the cappuchinno maker). I keep looking at my options. There is a great 8×12 shed at Costco that I can store things in and we could also build a small garage to park the car in and store all of things that we never use. Someone I know has a mansion. Not a McMansion but an actual mansion. What do they complain about, not enough stuff to store their stuff so I know more storage space isn’t the solution. Affluenza tells a story of a guy with a four car garage, not to store his cars but to store all of the stuff that accumulates over time.
The problem isn’t 1930s architecture. It is us and how we our lives are defined by McWorld. The church can’t speak against it because in many ways our organizations are just as materialistic (when was the last time you heard the church call for sacrificial giving for something outside of its walls… it may happen but it doesn’t happen very often). The other day I was looking at the Palm Foleo. A notebook computer except it isn’t a notebook computer. It is a notebook computer for when you can’t bring along your notebook computer. Got that? Good, there will be a test at the end of this. I started to think how cool that was and how that would work for me when it hit me how insane this all starts to get after a while. Why would I need a notebook to carry when I can’t carry a notebook around with me and when would those situations arise?
The other night at work I was chatting with a former (I hope) drug dealer who use justifying selling drugs, partly to take care of his families needs. He talked about how expensive kids are with them needing television sets, iPods, and computers in their rooms and yet I grew up with none of that stuff. I had a $20 Walkman that did a good job, I had a ghetto blaster but no television and I had a paper route to buy the other things I needed in life and I don’t remember being particularly unhappy in life which gives me the overwhelming reason to believe that I don’t need stuff stuff to be that happy and not only that but with less stuff I would actually be happier.
Those are some of the ideas that I am going to be exploring over the next couple of months here. I know a lot of people have written on simple living but I think the temptation is to reduce life to a lower common denominator or from an earlier age and say, “That’s the ideal!” which ignores our current context and living within that which for many includes too much debt, too little time, and trying to keep up with the Jones with no way out. So I guess I am trying to answer, how do I live well without falling into those traps. I guess we will see how I fare in answering those questions.