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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I’m worried that this post will end up sounding really judgmental. It’s not. I promise.

I’m really posting to MYSELF today, because, man, do I need a soul-check.
So, let’s talk about materialism. Greed. Consumption. Prosperity. Economic Desire.

Turn on the TV, open the paper, hang out around the water cooler at work (does that actually happen? Maybe our water cooler is in a weird place, but I would find it extremely awkward to huddle around it and chit-chat with 10 co-workers), and you’ll hear talk of the economy. The failing, desperate, dire economy. The “I’ll have to start renting out my fourth bedroom” and “We’ll be eating a lot of cabbage borscht” economy.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m worried about the North American economy too. I cringe every time I see the American dollar lose ground (since Richie is paid in USD’s). My heart hurts when I hear about another family forced to foreclose on their modest house because Mom and Dad’s jobs at GM have been slashed.

All this economic worry has got me thinking about NEEDS versus WANTS, and how very skewed our perceptions have become.

When I hear about the US dollar tumbling, my heart sinks because we should probably WAIT to build up the living room and put hardwood floor down. My shoulders slouch because I realize that we should probably scrap our eating out during the weekend. My mouth frowns because I come to the conclusion that I should probably sell my Gymbucks on Ebay, rather than use them to buy Ellie more (precious and oh-so-cute) clothes.

Hardwood floor. Applebee’s. Smocked toddler dresses. Needs or wants? Hmmm.

I feel like I’m getting swallowed up by this consumer culture we live in. I realize this is no excuse, and I’m not going to blame society for my problems. I’M the one that needs to get control of my heart, my desires, and make sure that they’re aligned with God’s.

I’m in my (VERY VERY EARLY) thirties now. Most of my friends are married. We’re establishing good careers. We’re settling down, buying real estate. It’s amazing how, as I get older and supposedly more mature, I become more consumed with competition. I want new flooring so that when my friends come over, they’ll say, “This is sooo nice, Chrystie!” and I’ll be able to denote a bit of jealousy in their praise. Because nothing’s better than being envied. Especially when you live your life in constant paranoia of being pitied.

I hate the competition. I hate that I’m succumbing to it. I hate that I care about the size of my house. I hate that I’m concerned with the newness of my car.

I hate that while I’m worried about a stock market crash because of what it’ll mean to the state of my living room floor, there are people who are wondering where their next meal will come from.

There. THAT’S the meat of it. Literally. I am so consumed with material things, with MY material things, that I completely forget that people are DYING for 1/millionth of what I have.

Surely this can’t be the way God intended us to live. Surely my quest towards being Christ-like should lead me away from material competition. Surely.

The “powers that be” in the economic and journalistic world claim that the catalyst to the current economic crisis is the mortgage catastrophe. What happened? Generally, people bought homes that were more expensive than they could afford. Why? Because our measure of worth is linked to the THINGS we have.

A few weeks ago, I eavesdropped on a conversation between two of my high school youth group guys. The “older and wiser” sophomore was giving advice to the lowly freshman, telling him which courses he should take his first year of senior high. He said, “You gotta do whatever it takes to get a good job. Because if you’re workin’ at the Shell Station all your life, you’ll never be able to afford a decent car, or even be able to buy a Wii.” No joke. Had the irony not overtaken me, I would have laughed out loud. Happiness is all about the Wii. And the games for the Wii. And the car that drives you to the store to buy the games. And the house where the Wii will sit. And this from the mouths (and heads) of 15-year-olds.

I wonder if Gowriamma cleans crap up every day in hopes of saving up enough money for a Wii?

“Gowriamma, Narayanamma, Renuka—her name varies from place to place but it always places her as a member of one of the groups in India traditionally known as ‘untouchable’ because of what they do. Gowriamma might be 25, 35, 45—she is never sure. But from the age of 13 onwards, she has cleaned excrement relentlessly from 6:00am to 10:00am every morning.

The stench is nauseating, overpowering. These ‘dry latrines’ or public defecation facilities are enclosed spaces with long, open, shallow drains. There are raised foot rests for users to position themselves. They then squat and do their business. Gowriamma’s job is to empty the drain.

First, she sweeps the shit into piles. Then, using two flat pieces of tin, she scoops it up and drops it into a bamboo basket which she carries to a spot where a tractor will arrive to pick it up. No gloves. No water. She always hitches up her sari tightly so that it does not trail on the ground. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to go through a day’s work without some of the shit inadvertently splashing on to her clothes and person.”
(“A Lifetime of Muck” by Mari Marcel Thekaekara, published in the New Internationalist, August 2008)

What has happened to us (okay, ME) that we can completely close our eyes to the extreme poverty of MILLIONS of people? People who could care less about the Dow Jones or the TSX. People who just want to EAT. People who just want shelter over their HEADS, never mind something pretty and soft to walk on. People who scoop up feces for a “living” (can that REALLY be categorized as “living”?).

I just wish I knew how to combat it better. And by “it”, I mean the demons of materialism and greed that invade my thoughts and desires on a daily basis. By “it”, I mean the spirit of competition that drives me to want MORE and BETTER than my friends.

I feel a bit defeated when I think of our society as a whole. What can *I* do to help Gowriamma? What can *I* do to help millions of North Americans realize that they (I) have SO MUCH MORE than most of the world could even dream of. What can *I* do to encourage North Americans to live within their (my) means?

Model the behavior, I guess. Remind myself, whenever I start slipping into the grips of the “I NEED that” mentality, that a 13-year old in India is contracting a disease RIGHT NOW, because she is scraping up crap with her bare hands. Blog about it. Stop people (myself) mid-sentence when they start throwing a “look at me, I’m so poor” pity party.

Wait on my hardwood floors.

And feel blessed. Because we ARE so, so, so blessed. UNDESERVEDLY blessed. I had nothing to do with being born with white skin, in Canada, to parents who could afford food, a roof, and my education. When I watch the news tonight, amidst the stories of economic doom and gloom, I will focus on being undeservedly blessed.

Or, maybe I just won’t watch news at all.


Amber said...

Fabulous always. I'm going to recommend...going to a remote village in West Africa... watching people starve and dying from preventable worked for me.

Thanks for the reminder....

Anonymous said...

Hey Chrystie, I finally got my butt to your blog, and it's really cool to read (quite interesting as well). The only thing I want to mention for this particular post is the fact that not all 15 year olds (or close to in age) are only thinking about Wiis and games and cars. There are a few of us who do think about the world, and about the needs of others who live in less fortunate circumstances. I recently got a sponsor child through World Vision. I can say that I (at least) think about the people in foreign countries; I am supporting a young girl in Mauritania before I have a cell phone to text with. It's true, most of the world is pretty obsessed with material things, but there are the occasional people who care for others as well as themselves. But I'm sure you know that already. :)