Late with my Consumer Detox homework this week… Clearly I am older and wiser writing this now than if I had done it on, say, last Thursday.
The theme from the study guide is about feeling truly rich – starting to think about how the ‘stuff’ we own and money we have isn’t true richness. Richness in life is, yes, about having enough to meet your needs, but beyond immediate needs, it really comes in relationships and connections, from sharing the things we have and enjoy with the people we love. Powley sends his readers to 1 Timothy 6.6ff, and idea that we bring nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it. This is the source of the phrase that the ‘love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’. Actually though, this translation is more interesting than the alternative love of money is the root of all evil – because it says not that money is evil, but that wanting it too much creates all kinds of problems in our life. And I think that – whether or not you believe in the essential truth of the bible – that is something that a lot of people have cottoned onto, in their heads at least (even if it doesn’t make it past that, yet, or even if they don’t actually think that it’s a problem they have, yet…)
This actually made me think about the fact that I’ve been re-reading The Hunger Games before the film comes out (probably a bad plan for a whole host of adaptation reasons, but still). In this Katniss comes from the impoverished, always hungry District 12, threatened and dictated to by the Capitol – and yet, her community is strong, connected to each other. Because her so much of her life is limited, she has a pattern of life that is rooted in that community, and she has a much clearer idea of who she is than most of the people from the Capitol. Now – obviously, it’s not a desirable life. Even if we aren’t supposed to want everything that the Capitol has, to be overly-greedy and damage the lives of others, I don’t believe that we’re supposed to want to live lives that are powerless in so many ways (we’re not, to switch novels, looking for Uriah Heep’s kind of humility) Katniss’ life is limited because it is so prescribed – not because she has chosen to focus and to live within particular limits that allow her the space to connect with people and share her life with them.
Wanting anything in this life too much is problematic – and it’s something that is simultaneously created and played up on by corporations, politicians and advertisers, and by other people – because it makes our lives all about us and what we have, makes us scared of things that endanger the lifestyle we’ve got used to, and enourages us, if we’re not careful, to ignore others to preserve what is ours. In The Hunger Games, the fear and greed of the Capitol creates the injustice and poverty of life in the Districts that is ultimately expressed in the annual games. In our lives, the stuff and the money that we want leads us to take things from others, creating imbalance and injustice, to be part of a system that encourages us to priortise those wants because that is what will make us happy and wealthy. It enables people to take advantage of us too, to sell us things, to tell us stories that limit our ability to choose freely because we don’t see clearly.
The second of this week’s chapters really spoke to me – it’s about not maximising your life, about not feeling a desire-as-a-need to do everything all at once, right now – which is a want I have a lot of the time. It suggests that a life where you make choices that actually limit what you can do is one that allows you to breathe freely in time and space. For a start, you’re not built to do everything all of the time: apart from the sheer exhaustion issue, there are skills and talents you do and don’t have so you actually cannot do everything, and unless you’ve invented apparition while I wasn’t looking you actually cannot be everywhere. So you do actually have to choose. But as a society, in the west, we’ve got very bad at choosing – we want everything all the time, and if we just work hard enough and run fast enough we can. And that just doesn’t work – even if our motivation is that what we want to do if we work hard and run fast is to change the world. I think, if you believe you’re in God’s world, then you probably do have to come to terms with the idea that you, as an individual, are not meant to change the world on your own.
Hilariously, I’m very good at pointing this out to other people, and utterly rubbish at heeding my own advice. I was informed a week or so ago, that the problem was that I was interested in too many things. It was meant in a good way (at least, I hope it was…) – but it’s also true and problematic. I hate feeling like I have to get into a box or focus, or specialise, because that means I have to give up stuff that I’m interested in or enjoy doing. I hate limiting my curiousity. In my head I know it’s a problem, both because it exhausts me, and because it’s stopping me from really moving forward in the things I do with my life in working terms, but I can’t quite figure out how to change that – and I think a part of that is that I’m not, yet, really rooted in a community. Or rather – that the community that I’m really rooted in is geographically widespread and connected via the internet, which is fabulous in many ways, but difficult in others, and I’m still figuring that all out.
But here’s where I want to get to. Powley notes that God built in limits for the ideal society, rules and laws (regardless of what you think of the specifics of them, they are there) and notes something that really struck me (again, because of re-reading The Hunger Games) – that the Israelites were commanded to leave the edges of their fields unharvested for the poorer members of society to glean from. We don’t really do that, as a society – mostly we impinge on others, rather than sharing our abundance with them. But if we made choices in our lives about what we wanted to focus on, and limited doings and our wants, we’d have room – in terms of time, of breathing space, of money, frankly. Turning to John 10.10, Powley points out that the word translated as ‘fullness’ (Live life to the full) is perissos – which means overflow or abundance, the extra. It means not living our own lives to fulfil our own desires as if that were they way to make them full and satisfied, but to live them in a way that allows us to share whatever it is that grows around the edge of our field with the people in our lives – family, friends, local communities, the wider world – because it is in being generous with the extra that satisfaction comes.