Monday, October 25, 2010

On Money

Money? Whoa...whoa. Hold on just a moment. I thought this blog was about literature, England, writing, stay-at-home-daddying, faith, inspiration...any of a number of other assorted things that can be discussed, but not money.

Why money?

I guess the simple answer is that it has been coming up lately. A lot.

We recently attended a church service where the pastor preached a message imbued with the notion of the "prosperity gospel." And it stuck to me like moldy jam.

Thing is, our world is involved in a love affair with money. And I get it. I do. It wasn't long ago--when Oprah had aired a segment on the book The Secret and was telling everybody to make dream boards and cut out pictures of their dream houses and paste them on, the cars they wanted, the designer kitchens and clothes and everything else--and I made one. I admit it.

On mine, I had pictures of my novels with the words "The International Bestseller" on top, and a big, beautiful home, and all kinds of other "stuff."


So I know what that's like--to chase down the American Dream that everybody's screaming at us to go after. Fo goodness sakes: buy a house, buy stock, buy properties, buy a nice car, buy a nice shirt, buy a nice aftershave, buy a nice computer, buy a good insurance policy, buy a good wallet to house the good money that you need to GET MORE OF!

The funny thing--the really funny thing--is: why?


I mean, if we really pasue for a moment and try and articulate thoughtful responses for these seemingly endless demands hurled at us from a culture media-frenzied enough to beg for more people telling us what we need to achieve the American Dream, then we may come to some startling conclusions.

Startling Conclusion #1:

Are people really happier when they own more stuff?


I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all here (and of course, I know basically next to nothing. Or, perhaps a better way (a more poetic way) to phrase it is to borrow and paraphrase Isaac Newton's words on the matter of ignorance: knowledge and wisdom are the ocean, and I have played with a few grains of sand. So, what I'm doing here is maybe playing with a few grains of sand).

Okay, Okay. One grain of sand.

In my limited experience of life, I haven't found anyone who is happier because they own more stuff. In fact, I've observed the inverse to be true. The people I've met who have many properties, cars, extra rooms, etc., seem to have a lot more stress and worry in their lives. It seems like they often discuss what is going on with all of the "stuff" they have, and think about how they can gain more "stuff."

That doesn't sound much like freedom to me. Though the possession of money parades itself around as a way to achieve freedom and a better life, its masquerade quite possibly disguises its real intention and masterful ability as an overseer.

In short, I haven't met very many people who own tons, and appear free. Most often, they live as indentured servants to their own stuff. Their stuff comes to own them more than they own it.

Startling Conclusion #2:

The Lie of Ease. I'll be honest here. I didn't want to live without a dryer this year. I knew ahead of time that I would be the stay-at-home parent, and I had visions of my little man spilling yogurt all over himself, or oatmeal, or juice, or any number of assorted foods and other beverages. I thought to myself: Self, there's going to be a lot of laundry this year. Thus, in our first week here in York, I called Comet (I guess a sort of appliance store in the UK) and ordered a 200 pound (currency, not weight) drying machine.

Job well done.

So I thought.

But then we started getting calls about problems with our USAA credit card. The order didn't go through, and instead of getting the dryer, we handled the mix-up ("Yes, USAA Customer Service, we are living in the UK, etc..") and decided not to buy the dryer after all.

Initially, I thought it would be really tough for us.

But it's not.

Instead, it's gleefully freeing.

Okay, maybe I added the "gleefully" part a bit on the hyperbolic front. But it is freeing. Really. We usually do a wash at night, and then drape our underwear, socks, pants, and other such items over the radiators before we go to bed.

In the morning, it's like teh Santa Clause of the Laundromat came: dry clothes!

It started me thinking on the lie we often here when it comes to having more money so that we can purchase more things so that we can have more time to relax. However, instead of relaxing, we often spend the time fixing, venting, exchanging, or trying to figure our said things.

Case in point: how many people do you know who haven't spent hours and more pored over their technologically brilliant flat-screen televisions and computers and all the rest, trying to figure out just where the heck the "on" switch is?

The great lie is that having more, and better, stuff doesn't always make out lives easier or more relaxing. Indeed, it can often have the exact opposite result.

Startling Conclusion #3

We all die.


Even me?

Yes, Luke.

But WHY!




So, if we all die, we've got to ask ourselves a hard question about money. What's the point? It's kind of like a kid at a playgroup. (I only feel entitled to make this analogy because I've clocked quite a few playgroup hours in the last three weeks.)

In a playgroup, there are always those kids who want to slowly but steadily gather as many of the toys as possible to their general spheres of dominance. Even if that kid's mom or dad says something like, "Honey, ten more minutes and then we've got to go," the kid will still relentlessly (and perhaps even more strenuously) try to get as many toys as possible.

But the thing is--and what I really want to stay to that kid--is this: "Buddy, you're leaving in five minutes! Then, those toys that you spent so much of your playtime hoarding are gone. We're putting them back in the closet for more kids to get in the next playgroup. Why not find a toy or two you like and actually play with it!"

(Whenever I try to say that to said kid, he usually repsonds, "You're not my Daddy!!")

(Okay, I've never actually said that to a kid. Probably wouldn't.)

Simple analogy, perhaps. But really, think about it. Why spend your life gathering a whole bunch of toys when some grwon-up, at some point when you really can't expect it, is going to yell out, Okay, toys in the closet, playgroup is over!"?

Why spend our lives trying to gather more and more when the reality is: how much can we really play with?


Startling Conclusion #4:

Other people need it.


I mean: need it.

I'm not espousing any ism here, I'm just trying to think clearly and simply. If you're sitting at a table with four other people, and you've got a full, bar-b-q chicken, three ears of corn on the cob dripping with butter, peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, a tall glass of milk, the gallon of milk nearby, fresh bread, and summer squash, and the other four are slwly grinding their way thoguh day-old bread and water...what do we do?


We don't need to call it any sort of theory of govering, or talk about forms of government, or theology, or anythign else.

It's a simple question for us all. What do we do.

And the answer is pretty simple as well: we share.

We don't interrogate the other four people, asking questions like, "Now, why don't you have more food yourself?" and "Did you ever, at any point in your life, have more food? If so, what happened, why, and how are you to blame for no longer having said food?"

Nope. We just simply share.

After all, we couldn't eat that feast ourselves anyway.

I guess the point with this rather long, long (long), long blog today is a simple one. We know we all want money. Everyone on television tells us we should more money. Our friends tell us we should get more money. Our families tell us we should get more money. Heck, strangers even tell us we should get more money.

The question I'm asking, then, is a simple one: