I had not planned to write today. I’m still not sure that I want to write. But I am driven tonight to put into words the musings which were planted in my head earlier this evening. The Lovely Lady and I sat at a dinner table with good (dare I say, old?) friends and laughed uproariously as we always do. They too, as we, have had their losses and sadness, so there were also moments of thoughtfulness. But none so sober in my mind, as when their son, whom I have had the pleasure of seeing grow from infancy to maturity, spoke. The children played and laughed nearby, undeterred by our serious conversation, as the moments flew by.
We had talked of many things when our conversation turned to the young family’s experience in eastern Africa where they work with a camp that serves many of the African young people and families. The country in which they live has been decimated by violence and civil war for generations and there are thousands of children who have no parents or who have lost siblings to the bloodshed. Our conversation did not extend much to these children specifically, but they nonetheless figure into the equation which this post hopes to cipher out with you.
Not many words were said, so I have drawn conclusions from the discussion which may or may not be completely accurate from the perspective of those who were there. I will welcome correction if it is offered.
The first picture, which is etched indelibly in my mind now, didn’t take place in Africa, but occurred immediately upon the family’s recent return to the States. The young man and his father, along with another family member, went to a local building center. That’s all. No big deal to most of us. They simply went into a place which sells lumber, and appliances, and…and stuff. But, after just a few minutes in the store, our young friend had to leave. The abundance, the excess (if I may use that word), was overwhelming. Aisle upon aisle of plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, appliances, tools, electrical supplies, plumbing supplies…the list could go on and fill this page…all of it was too much for him. Where he lives–in a country with real needs–they have no choices like this, no overabundance of anything. If you go shopping with a project in mind, you might be able to find what you need and then you gratefully use it; or, lacking the exact item, you adapt the materials which are available and you use them; or, lacking anything at all which will serve your purpose, you change the idea you had in your head and you move on to other pursuits which may be accomplished. The concept of not only enough, but more than enough, is not present there.
Then, as we spoke of the actual work they do, he spoke of the attitude of the people who came to the campgrounds and, under pressure from us, he admitted that they had very different expectations than people in the same circumstances in our country. When things break or don’t work (and, in those conditions that is almost a constant), the folks merely shrug and find another activity. If the electricity is interrupted–again, more of a certainty than a mere possibility–they shake their heads and move on to something which doesn’t require that luxury.
I will admit to you that, as I read the words above, I think to myself that there is little personal impact to them. I have described a typical third-world country. But, I think that is exactly my point. These folks have so little and demand less. We, on the other hand, who have so much, demand more and more. Does that make sense to you? Does it make you want to shrug your own shoulders and say, “So what?”
I have spoken before of my thoughts about money and possessions. We are given these things which, by the rest of the world would be called wealth, to use as tools, nothing more. Money has no other logical purpose than to leverage whatever it can affect. To hoard it is to do nothing different than what buying truckloads of hammers would be for a carpenter. Foolishness! As I spoke momentarily about this concept this evening, one person asked, “Do you think that it does any good to tell people this? Will it change how they live?” Sadly, I had to answer in the negative. “No. I’ve never seen anyone change because the words are spoken.” We refuse to live as servants, but instead want to live in comfort and dominance. I include myself in the description, although I wish to deny it.
The more I have, the more I want. It is a part of being human. As The Teacher suggested a path for the wealthy young ruler, one of giving away his wealth to free his heart, the young man became sad, because he loved his things and his money. Am I any different? Are you?
But, the person who asked the question about merely talking about the concept also had a suggestion, although it seemed to be a weak one in the moment. “I wonder if we just have to live lives which demonstrate the concept ourselves. Maybe that’s the only way to bring about change.” The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that she actually has a very powerful idea. She wasn’t the first one in history to suggest it. Nonetheless, change does come from the inside. One by one, we determine to do what is right, regardless of what others around us are doing and, one by one, others are won by example where words will not suffice.
I watched a television commercial for one of the giant cellphone companies and realized that we begin to teach the concept early to our children. On the screen, the man interviewing four youngsters asks, “Would you rather have a bigger tree house, or a smaller one?” Obviously, the children answer, “Bigger!” When he asks them why, one young lady suggests that you could have a disco in a bigger one. And, a little boy, not to be outdone, suggests that you couldn’t have a big-screen TV in a small one and describes the inconvenience of having a small television. Oh yes. They are listening to our actions, regardless of what our mouths are saying. Bigger is better than small. More is much better than less. Fast is superior to slow.
I am not suggesting that we foolishly rush to give everything to people who have less than we. History has shown the folly of that path. What I am suggesting is that our hearts should be bigger than our houses, than our bank accounts, bigger even than our churches. The Teacher also taught that where our treasures are, our hearts will be there also. If we treasure what we can gather together of this world’s wealth, our heart will have no room for our God’s love. It is clear that we cannot have faith in both money and God.
Are you looking to build a disco in your tree house? I’m thinking that there is room aplenty to dance in the wide world that the Creator has given to us.
The moon makes a much better sparkly pattern than that disco ball anyway.
Are you coming to the dance?
“We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”
(Billy Graham~American evangelist)
“Don’t be selfish and eager to get rich–you will end up worse off than you can imagine.”
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.