Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Necessity of Luxury

"But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content."
—1 Timothy 6:8—

I thought a lot this week about the short time that I spent in Nicaragua. The picture above is of some friends and I goofing off with children from the village of Santa Rosa. The structure that we were in was a house. Not a tool shed, not a rickety car port... a house. The purpose of this post is not to encourage you to give more or to make you feel guilty about your two car garage, but to shed light on a truth that I believe is much more unsettling—the deception of necessitous luxury.

Poor Kids or Wealthy Us?

How can it be that those who have so little, by American standards, could be so happy? The first gut reaction that many people have when thinking about those who are "less fortunate" in other parts of the world is, "Those poor kids." Please don't get the wrong impression; there are so many ways that we could be, and should be helping. There are people all over the world who die from preventable diseases and starvation every day. Millions of people live their entire lives without ever hearing the gospel that sets us free from wrath and propels us into sonship. It is not merely charity for us to extend aid in these matters; it is an obligation. These children weren't starving though. Their mothers walk a mile to and from their crop fields every day to gather rice and corn to feed their children. At Christmas, they slaughter the village cow and get a very special dish: beef.

I don't think the problem is that we have something that they don't. It's just the opposite; they have something that we will probably never have. What we call necessity, they call luxury. When I used to think of the word "luxury," I automatically thought of mansions, yachts, and private islands with beach bars that never run out of good beer. Nicaragua changed me though. I went there thinking, "Those poor kids," and left thinking, "Poor us." The idea of luxury is ever increasing for those who already live luxurious lives. I drive a truck (with air conditioning), make more money in a week than most people make in a year, and live in a house with indoor plumbing. I am filthy, stinking, luxuriously rich.  For a resident of Santa Rosa, or most of Nicaragua for that matter, I would be considered wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. It is only from ignorance and arrogance that I have ever claimed to be "broke" or "starving."

Lies we are Eager to Believe

As I have previously stated, it is not my intention to promote guilt, but to offer a broader perspective. We should not be ridden with guilt about their "poverty," but should realize that the pursuit of more luxury will never satisfy, and will only push us into the depths of wanting more luxury. We are rich monetarily, but they are rich in contentedness—which is something that many of us will never attain. We always want something more. A newer model. The latest gadget. The coolest cell phone. Is it not blatantly apparent that this is nothing more than a snowball rolling down a never ending hill? In The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler wrote,

"The shiny distractions of new things are a deceptive part of the circular silliness. We see this play out in life over and over again. The new gadget or a new wardrobe or a new house or a new boat or a new car promises a weird relief and excitement, doesn't it? Have you ever thought about how weird that is? A new cell phone, the cool one, makes you feel better. This kind of consumerism comes with an emotional stroking, like a narcotic high. But then it wears off. New stuff becomes old stuff really quickly, and we need the next new thing."

I am writing this blog from a new MacBook Air. I bought it last week and gave Kelli my "old" one. It was an exhilarating buy. The last time I was that excited about a purchase was when I bought my previous Macbook, the old one, which no longer captivates my affections. In six months, this computer will be last year's model and there will be a bigger and better one to buy. I had, once again, bought into the lie that another shiny gadget was the cure for my discontent. I, like so many times before, allowed myself to be deceived into thinking that chasing wind could result in its capture.

Contentedness > Wealth

The people of Santa Rosa, though they have several issues of their own (all of broken humanity does), understand something that most of us with access to this blog will never grasp—shiny gadgets, new cars, and all other things that bring temporary smiles to our souls, will never satisfy us. You can't band-aid brokenness. Christ is the only source of the satisfaction we seek. During my time there, I slept in a tent, had no need for money, no plumbing, no air conditioning, and no access to sermon clips from my favorite pastors. I didn't miss any of it. I realized, that week, the difference between necessity and luxury. I no longer feel sorry for these children because they don't have all the "necessities" of American living; I envy their contentedness and freedom from endless materialistic seductions. My prayer is that I don't forget this... again.

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