Back in the 80’s there was a notable bumper sticker that read “He who dies with the most toys—wins!” But here’s the thing, there were just as many folks who took this as a reasonable take on how life works, as there were folks who took it as an ironic commentary about the conspicuous consumption of those days . . . and I still couldn’t tell you what was the original intent of this slogan. But there does seem to still exist this peculiar ambivalence regarding consumerism — like a bad habit we freely confess, while fully accommodating . . . as if we’re not completely convinced it’s a bad habit.
It’s that spark, that lift you experience when you buy a new smart phone or a car, or some other significant purchase. There’s an associative dynamic at work here – when we acquire something of perceived value, it has the psychological effect of causing us to feel as if our own personal value has been elevated. In many ways this has become the drug of choice, falsely assumed benign – which is what makes it so seductive. I mean after all, our entire economy is predicated on buying stuff, right?
On the short list of questions we have for those we first meet is this one “So, what do you do for a living?” On the conscious level this might be nothing more than an inquiry about how someone spends there time, vocationally — but on a sub-conscious level it is, among other things, a polite way of asking how much relative purchasing power they might have. Because that same associative dynamic of assessing value is at work subtly insinuating value about us and those around us.
But our estimation of innate value, this side of Eden, is an elusive and mercurial thing. Because inanimate objects only have the value that human desire places on them – and nothing more. The innate value of hay bales of hundred dollar bills on a deserted island is nothing more than kindling . . . which begs the question: how is it that we allow money and stuff to have so much power over us? What if the idea of walking on streets of gold in heaven, was meant as a clue as to the comparative value of gold – that in truth, gold is nothing more than dirt beneath our feet . . . would that change your opinion of gold here on earth?
So we find ourselves at the familiar crossroads of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30), who lived a devout life, giving unto God what he thought God wanted . . . so he could keep the rest for himself. But what he failed to understand was that it all belongs to God, and that to divide out something apart from God is to make it a rival master to God’s authority on our life (Matthew 6:24) . . . invariably you can only choose to serve one or the other. Our hearts cannot be divided, our treasure can only have one home (Matthew 6:21). May our confession be that of Peter’s “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life”. In light of such a treasure . . . everything else is merely fuel for a bonfire.
This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection
All of This Is Mine
All of this is mine
The vaulted sky and all that is beneath it
The ever-widening hole in the ground
That denies light and catalogs everything I think I want
All of these folding chairs carefully arranged to view
The cataclysmic event of my fall
The polished surface of my achievements
Measuring me in preposterous effigy
This mirror of self-approval promising to hide me
From the honesty of light
The Sisyphus Stone of fear I hold at arms length
Keeping it from crushing my will to continue
Every word I have written on this page attempting to emerge
Hemmed in by my self-aware need to explain
O, would that I could, strike a match and watch it all burn in holy fire
To stand apart and laugh wildly with the freedom of having nothing at all