Saturday, February 20, 2010

The American Delusion

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? Luke 16:10-12

Are you hiding something in your closet? I am. My closet is downright junky looking - shoes strewn all over the floor, clothes stuffed on the top shelf almost up to the ceiling. Other shoes crammed precariously in shelves, and the dirty clothes hamper on the floor, in an almost constant state of overflow. If there were something precious in my closet, no one could ever guess by looking. But there is something precious in there, lots of things - at least I thought so at the moment I parted with my hard-earned cash to purchase them. Or even more extreme, when I indebted myself with up to 20 percent interest to have them immediately when I really couldn't afford them.

But now look at those things - all crammed in together and hardly ever seen, let alone put into use. My closet reveals an unflattering truth about my house-keeping skills, but the real skeletons in it are the sins of ingratitude and greed. The truth is that I no longer appreciate many of my clothes and shoes, but at the same time, I'm not ready to part with them so someone else can appreciate them.

In 1995, I moved to Savannah, Ga., in a Mazda Protégé with a car-top U-Haul container. Everything I owned fit in or on top of a compact car! Five years later, when I moved to Corpus Christi, I needed a 17' U-haul truck. Four years after that, when we moved to Arkansas, we needed a 24' U-Haul with a car trailer behind, the car in tow was completely stuffed, and our Ford Ranger was overloaded, towing a 5'x 8' U-haul trailer behind it!

Clearly, over the last 15 years, I have been a rabid consumer. It is certainly no coincidence that in these same 15 years, I've struggled with credit card debt. How much of these things did I really need? Very few. Furthermore, I probably wouldn’t miss about 90 percent of it if tomorrow I gave it away. Quite often, I go through the house filling boxes and bags to take to the local thrift store. After the things are gone, not only do I never miss them, I can't even tell by looking that I gave anything away. In a hard analysis, I have to admit that I have been entrusted with more than a little and have not handled it very well.

Surely you can relate, if not personally, through the experience of a family member or friend. It's OK to have some things in reserve for special occasions, but most American families have much too much of more of the same. More CDs, more DVDs, more books, more clothes, shoes, picture frames, trinkets, wall hangings... This is, at very least, poor stewardship, and at worst, a mild form of mental illness - pakratitis.

I know, you think you need these things. This is typical American thinking, but when our thinking doesn't correspond with reality, it is a delusion. And in the last 60 years, Americans have become terribly delusional when it comes to their stuff. I count myself in this lot. I am becoming aware of my delusional thinking and behavior, but I haven't progressed to the point of behaving differently.

I am a big advocate of foreign travel, the kind that allows you to enter homes and see how people live. I've done a great deal of this kind of travel and have been privileged to be hosted in homes in France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Morocco. From the richest to the poorest, from the comfort of a Parisian flat, to a cane shack in the Amazon rain forest, each of these diverse homes and families had something in common: they operated with far fewer, and I mean far, far fewer material goods than the average American home. Clearly, our belief that we need our stuff does not correspond with reality.

Americans are so incredibly blessed, but I'm sad to say we've not been trustworthy in handling our worldly wealth. We've used our excess to fill curio shelves and closets. When our houses overflow, we buy sheds and rent storage units. And if that isn't crazy enough, we’re constantly moving from one house to the next and carting all that crap with us!

I am moving out of the country this summer, and it's going to present an opportunity for me to behave differently. Will I choose to pay to store away things I don't need? Or will I part with them, hopefully never to fill my closets with such nonsense again?

Our verse certainly gives me encouragement to do the right thing and give away the things I no longer value - and restrain from obtaining replacement trinkets. But it's countercultural to do so, and it seems to run in my family.

When my grandfather died, all the family that came to the funeral went through his garage and took something to remember him by, or anything they wanted or could use. When the garage was thoroughly picked over, it still held enough to stock a hardware store. What was the point of accumulating all that junk? If you're under the influence of another delusion, thinking that you're saving stuff for your kids: Newsflash! Your heirs don't want it.

I pray that God will continue to open my eyes to the truth about stuff and things and lead me to a better understanding of how earthly possessions affect me spiritually. I pray that He will cure me of my delusional perspectives, open my eyes to the reality of what I really need, help me to value the things I have, or let them go, and teach me to be a better steward of worldly wealth. I pray all of this, because I want to be able to be trusted with true riches.

Contemplate this: Do I value the things God has allowed me to have?

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