Monday, September 25, 2006

Materialism: Is it an Issue?

I am beginning a new study with my Bible Study group. It is a hodgepodge of thematic discussions. Each week there is an assigned topic for members to come prepared to discuss issues, questions, Scriptures, other people's quotes and whatever else God lays on our hearts. I'm looking forward to hearing and learning from the others. I'm believing that somewhere in the midst of these discussions I may very well find where God has been leading me to write. We'll see. But you, my friends and readers, will get a head start each week by hearing where my heart is on the issues and themes. Lucky you (tee hee hee). Lucky me, that I will have some of your wise comments to help me clarify my thoughts before I teach each Friday morning. Anyway, the first topic is just a soft lob to get everyone started. Materialism.

The definition of materialism according to MiPa:
*the state of being controlled by the stuff we accumulate
*the constant need for more material or monetary things
*making belongings an idol

(I was going to put an official definition here, but I think I will wait until another post. I don't want to confuse myself.)

I tend not to be too bothered by material things. New car, ten your old car, bus, taxi, or walk, if there is a means of getting where I am going I'm happy. Designer clothes or Wal-Mart store brand, if it is appropriate to cover and protect me from the elements, I'm happy. I like nice things, but I don't have to have them to be happy.

It is tempting to say that of course I'm not bothered, because I've been blessed my whole life with having material things. And for the most part that is true. I've never gone without necessities of life. I've had tight times, but never not been able to get what I needed. But I think there is more to it than that.

It is probably safer to say I'm not bothered because of the example of my parents when I was young. My Dad is a farmer. And farming is not very dependable. You can invest an awful lot to see it go to naught with a nasty turn of the weather or price. We spent 6 months of the year living on the promise that a crop was coming, but we didn't spend much during that six months in case the crop didn't come in. All of our expendable money was invested into the farm. If the crop came in vehicles, nicer clothes, more meals in restaraunts, movies at the cinema, etc were part of our life. If the crop was not good, we made do with last years models, more hand-me-downs from my cousins, and more game nights at home than movie nights out. It was never really articulated, but the lifestyle confirmed that you don't spend what you don't have, and I learned that from an early age.

The one thing that my Mom and Dad did not wait until the crop came in to do was to tithe. I remember overhearing a conversation when I was quite young where my Dad was predicting what he thought a reasonable guess of what the crop would sell for if the market continued. A tithe was determined from that and weekly tithe amounts were established. I can also remember another time after the crop came in, hearing my Dad tell my Mom to write an extra check to the church because we hadn't given enough. Indelible memories on a young heart which helped me to understand that it was God's first.

And so they laid the groundwork of a life that is not too bothered by material things because it is God's first. I did go through a period as a young adult where I was bothered and I spent too much. And the debt came. But God blessed me with a husband who made some of the same mistakes and did not want to repeat them. We set a goal to be debt-free and accomplished it and that brought a new freedom. We live within our means and we enjoy what God gives us. That has been wonderful. But that does not necessarily mean that materialism is never an issue.

Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, said that
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
I like that. The more I can let go, the less hold the cares of the world have on me. And the richer I will be. It is a philosophy that resounds with me. But it is not enough. If I am focusing on what I need to let go, material things are still my focus. They can still be my god in the quest to get rid of them.

In contrast, Jesus said,
What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and the way He works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Luke 12:29ff, The Message
This is really the key, seeking God first. Steeping myself in God. Giving God the glory and the honour for the blessings I have. Recognizing that I could have all the riches in the world, but if I didn't have God I would be far too poor. Likewise, I can have not a penny to my name but being a child of God makes me rich. When my focus is on God first, material blessings are just that, blessings, and they do not control me.

So, I could be on the way to feeling rather smug. Material things don't have much hold on me. But getting smug at this point could be dangerous. I asked God to show me the non-essentials I spend money on and reveal to me if they have too much control on my life. As always, when I earnestly seek God's face, He is more than willing to show me where my life could be more aligned with His Holiness. Next time, I'll look at the area of my spending that could become an issue if I don't keep it surrendered to God.

Blessings....Have a Wonderful Monday....

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Yes I am lucky to see your thought processes in action!

Ah materialism. I do sometimes wonder if I can be somewhat nonchalent about my belongings because I've never had to worry too much about where my next meal is coming from or whether I can indeed pay my mortgage or other bills. Is it different to "do without" from necessity and from choice?

I grew up singing "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee" every Sunday at the Offertory and I try to live my life with those priorities in mind.

I look forward to reading your thoughts as they evolve this week.