I’ve had some thoughts knocking around my mind. From past experience I’ve noticed that that’s kind of dangerous. Brace yourselves. Recently I’ve just figured out what exactly it is I don’t like about culture. I can make you a bullet list of my particular discriminations. When it comes to not liking things, I can be quite good. Even if perhaps rather extracurricular and no doubt, decidedly un-American. Are you ready?
Number one. Cars. There is something I can’t stand about our infatuation with the automobile. It’s not so much the cars themselves, because no thing of itself is inherently evil. It’s the idiots who buy them. More particularly, the idiots who buy them and can’t afford them. Nothing like a little recreational debt to support your vanity. Maybe I’m just spoiled by my ’96 Toyota. $5000 for 50,000 miles, which includes all of our maintenance. And we plan on putting another 100,000 miles on it before we’re done. Take that Detroit. I mean…China. It all smacks a little of idolatry. The fact that people will go into debt up to their eyeballs for the sake of image and covetousness. Because it’s hardly about getting from point A to point B. I find this particularly evidenced by the number of poor people who have to have new cars. “Spic wagon” is much too dated a term. Gringo S.U.V. seems more accurate. I find the extent of the infestation so distasteful that I would not buy a new car, even if I had the money. Because, when it comes to image, “being had” is the one I dislike the most. Seriously, the next car I drive is going to be a modified shag wagon with a Vortec motor, diy flat paint job, lift kit, luggage rack, wench, and seating for 12. Vanarchy.
Number two. TV. Television is so insipid I’m convinced you have to be immunized by years of watching it to be able to stand it at all. I was raised without TV and to this day I can’t watch it without wanting to gag myself. I totally get the power of storytelling and the thrall of theater. I’m all for it. I just wish it didn’t suck. I can take a little tawdry sensationalism on Thanksgiving break, and I don’t mind a predictable romantic comedy if I’m desperate. But movies like “Baby Mama” and “What to Expect While You’re Expecting” make me want to gouge my eyes out. While mind bending thrillers are just crack for your empty boring soul. Try a little harder to impress me. But I guess since the greater market is so much easier to please, it hardly makes economic sense. Way to ruin it for everyone. I do recall liking two movies; “The Painted Veil” and “Gran Torino.” Two. I can’t even vouch for them being exceptional. I just remember liking them at all. Really. It’s. That. Bad. But to think that the bulk of the human population sees nothing wrong with buying six seasons of “I love Raymond” and watching them more than once. What? I don’t understand. But what I do see is a whole heck of a lot of idolatry. You can apparently judge the value of yourself as a person by how wide your TV is, or more importantly, by how flat. And if you have chrome wheels on the car you don’t own, it’s a safe bet that your TV is the largest one you could physically roll out of the Rent-A-Center. I lump video games in with the whole mess. Low brow entertainment for the mentally castrated and creatively impotent. I don’t buy it.
Number three. Sports. Now I have nothing against competitive sports. We don’t get to kill people so much anymore so I suspect the least we can do is take away their balls. What I don’t understand is the religious fervor associated with it. It seems obvious to me that if an alien observed the Superbowl he couldn’t help but think it was the high day for our national religion, somehow involving very fat men in very tight pants. Personally, I find it a safe rule of thumb to keep a disinterested distance between me and people falling over themselves to be idiots (literally). There is no BSU sticker on my car and I have developed a deep distaste for the colors blue and orange. I am starting to think that people who are so ready to let themselves be consumed and defined by their sports are simply attempting to supply their lives with a potency that is more likely lacking elsewhere. Real life is a real battle. A “staged” fight, on the other hand, only siphons off the emotions that would be better put to use elsewhere. Because ass does, in fact, need kicking. What’s even more hilarious is the money people make off these artificial, painted,screaming Picts. They pay out the nose for their supply of faux bravado, all supplemented with their faux beer. I know, you don’t need to say it. I am SUCH a snob. But sometimes a girl just needs to get things off her chest.
Number four. Phones. It’s true, I even take exception to phones. And microwaves. Which, unfortunately, didn’t make this particular list. Another time. And maybe when I say phones I mean technology in general. The apple on the back of your phone simply being the desired watermark. Like I said before, when I see people heading off en mass towards some particular novelty, my nose starts to wrinkle. “Do I have to?” What do you think they did before phones anyways? And it’s not phones so much as the whole connected, online mentality. It’s one thing to be literate in a necessary evil, it’s another to let it rob your peace and run your life. Facebook and it’s insinuating advertising can die and go to hell. I think the studies that are starting to show up on the ramifications of technology on literacy, attention spans, and reasoning skills are quite interesting. If anything it should give you pause. Because, guess what? You don’t actually have to. I don’t technically have a phone, but I do use Google Voice. Which means I can call people. If forced. I pander to the ring of a phone maybe once every other day. Typically calls are transcribed and forwarded to my email. Where I can “text” back to them at my leisure, on a keyboard, with more than one finger. The novelty. When my parents visit and I am given someone’s phone so we can play “phone tag,” I begin to feel persecuted.
I think when you’re used to not having a phone, when one finally muscles it’s way in, you have a better sense of it’s tinny, gimcrack tyranny. A tyranny perhaps more necessary dependent on the pace of your life. If you’re “on the go” all the time then cheap fascism is a natural addition. Personally, I like things slow. If you peel back all the busy layers; the coming, the going, the spending, wage-slaving, texting, watching, and gaming – what are you left with? Often it’s four grumpy people sitting in a shell of a home, bored out of their minds, with nothing for dinner, all dying to go somewhere else. So what do you have left when you take it all away? Because I think it should be the best stuff. Peace. Joy. Contentment. Things that don’t come easily, that you can’t buy, or fake. Your bedrock. Often our busyness is a cover for discontent and disobedience. The faster we go then the less we can hear the whining. If we’ve built on the rock then our lives can handle the additions. But if our house is on the sand then no amount of work, spending, entertaining, driving, or worry will make things any better. It’s all about what you have under the hood. Sometimes I think it behooves us to stop and pop it.
Number five. The cult of what’s new. Alternatively titled, “If I had money, why I still wouldn’t spend it.” I think spending money like water is more of a modern phenomenon. People didn’t use to have a shopping I.V. on constant drip feed into their blood stream. I didn’t notice this until my husband took away my debit card and checkbook. When I spent all my cash on Monday, what the heck was I supposed to do Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday? Talk about a rude awakening. Really, you don’t know how much you spend until you actually try to stop. Like, go two days without buying something. I dare you. The next thing I noticed was that I didn’t really need to spend money. I could wear something else, do something else, or use something else. I think it’s what they used to call “making do.” In all reality, it feels good to learn to not be in a constant, gaping sense of need. You’re fine sister. I suppose it’s easy for me to say because I don’t even like the aesthetic of new. I prefer the hauteur of scavenged. I like it old, re-purposed, thrifted, original, refinished, homemade, salvaged, and entirely providential. You can’t buy my love baby.
And I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t even need to shop. There are seven people in my home and I buy something to the tune of; one pair of rubber boots, one pair of soccer cleats, one pair of seasonal shoes, two tank-tops, two dresses, and one pair of work pants – a year. That’s it. The rest is hand-me-downs, aunts, church friends, and grandmas combined with a well stocked attic. My mother keeps a box in her closet and when she goes to yard sales she shops for the extended family. She always has her eye out. The other grandma inevitably buys the kids a couple of new outfits a year for special occasions. These are what we save for church. The result is that we are always clothed. I don’t know if our circumstances are special or if Jesus just meant business when He said, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Although I imagine most of us wouldn’t want Jesus to clothe us unless it was from Target or Old Navy. Frankly, I’d rather He didn’t.
I know you’ve heard it all before, but we’re subject to a tonnage of advertising convincing us that we need to buy stuff. The result being that the world gives us an instant inferiority complex. I’ve noticed that the easiest way to circumvent this is to stay home. Own your life, tell the world where to get off. This is my turf. If your kids are not at school, if you’re not off at work, if you’re not watching their propaganda, or buying their lies, then the heavy artillery blows harmlessly past. I don’t want their stuff. In fact, I take exception to it. What’s even better is that so do my children. My kids don’t ask me for things. I don’t have to field constant requests for new toys, new video games, or new clothes. Just new books. So is it wrong to have new stuff? I doubt it. I just have a hard time finding it clever or tasteful, but that might just be me. I have a superiority complex like that. But it still remains that shopping is a place where people exhibit all kinds of inferiority, brand envy, desperation, and covetousness. If only, if only, if only. In which case, maybe it’s just easier to run a knife through it’s heart and run.
And I’m just going to go ahead and add number six. Vacations. Working for the weekend. Americans view work as some kind of necessary evil. It’s something you have to do so you can do something else. To me this does such a great disservice to our high calling. Our work is noble, we have stuff to do, and it feels good. To have the hope that in the end we may hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But if life is all about you and your cocktail umbrella, having time to relax, then perhaps your vision is a little stunted. To me, nothing feels better than the plow under my hand. My husband and I were contemplating taking our first ever vacation. We wanted to take the children to the coast to visit their aunt. He said, “Do you think we have to?” “I don’t know,” I said. “There’s nothing more tedious and soul sucking than having fun and spending money.” To which he supplied a guttural, “Amen.”
The Bible tells us straight up not to be of the world, not to love the world, and to be wary of the deceitfulness of riches. And whatever that means I’m sure it can remain reassuringly vague. But as for me, I’m getting a divorce. The six things I’ve mentioned aren’t sins. But they are material cesspools. And you can gauge this by how well they stagnate around the low points. The flesh hooks are in deep. When people are rich you can’t really see it. It all blends together and they can afford it. But what about the people who can’t? Then it’s more obvious. Often I bump into families who have smart phones, new trucks, Xboxes, stereos, flat screen TVs, cable, and brand name clothes…but they live in a tenement. They may be poor, but at least they have the right priorities.
To me, these are the calling cards of the world. Her selling points and our Achilles heel. But can you even begin to imagine life without them? Where is your good? When I think of my dream life or where I want to be in the next 10 years, it doesn’t involve any of these things. I couldn’t care less. I don’t want a nicer car, an expensive private school, a new house with wall to wall carpet and stainless steel appliances. I don’t want vacations, nicer clothes, an iPad, Seahawk tickets, or even more money. The things I have on my heart are totally divorced from everything the world has been trying to sell me these last 33 years. Because all I want is dirt. And babies. To live a quiet life and work with my hands. Because when you get right down to it, the best things in life are the ones that are free. We have been given all that pertain to life and godliness. The world, however, constantly tries to lure us away, to busy us, to distract us. To catch us up so much in her that we forget that we already have everything. And I’m not saying that I’m opposed to culture or society or produced goods of any kind. I just have the gall to prefer my own. Life isn’t something that you can mass-produce and it’s certainly not something you can buy. It takes craft, creation, art, ownership, intentionality, joy, inspiration, and sweat, all fueled by thanksgiving and contentment. The more you feed discontent, on the other hand, the more it grows. Which, as it turns out, is great for marketing. But unfortunately, I’m just not very needy.