Today I Saw God
It all started with HGTV. The new show that caught my attention was "Tiny House Hunters," and let me tell youI was hooked. "I could totally live like this," I thought with moral superiority. As the week went on, HGTV soon led me down a rabbit hole of other home improvement and house-hunting shows. One night, I tuned in to a marathon, and I started to feel as though every couple was conspiring to say the exact same thing: open concept, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, more room, updated bathroom. Then I heard that small voice. A gentle nudge that could only mean one thingGod was about to make some moves. The voice whispered, "Listen to them." Suddenly my thoughts became frantic. "No. No! Don't go after HGTV! Can't I have one thing that doesn't leave me in a state of conviction?"
However, I listened. The juxtaposition between these couples and the "Tiny House Hunters" was shocking. "This kitchen is way too small. We definitely need five bedrooms." The kitchen alone was actually larger than some people's homes. I listened as couple after couple walked into a house with zero structural issues and stated with certainty that everything had to go. A kitchen with white appliances was deemed completely worthless. "How shallow," I thought, as I obtained a snack from my stainless steel refrigerator. My heart started to physically ache while I watched them take sledgehammers to countertops and walls. Stoves and cabinets were hauled away to the trash. Cabinets made using trees from our beautiful planet were tossed aside and replaced with the next best thing, which will inevitably be mocked in ten years when that fad is pass. As I walked back into my kitchen for another snack (don't judge me), it finally hit me. I looked around and felt nauseous. This is us. We did the same thing. Granted, we made a concession and kept the original cabinetry, but sure enough my husband and I drank the Kool-Aid. Our backsplash was taunting me, and the new stainless dishwasher hissed its disapproval.
The next week, I downloaded some new books to my Kindle, and for some reason, the only one that would actually load was "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" by Jen Hatmaker. Well played, God. In this book, the author sets up an experimental fast in response to her own convictions surrounding consumption. For seven months, she set extreme limitations on food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress because she realized she was not living a lifestyle that reflects the principles of Jesus. In no way was she truly caring for the poor of the community and world, nor was she caring for God's creation. She was a "big fat consumer Christian," who is considered "rich" by the majority of the world's standards. Hatmaker started to throw out statistics that made me pretty uncomfortable. "How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world? You probably do too: Make $35,000 a year? Top 4 percent. $50,000? Top 1 percent." Umtop one percent? Between keeping up with the Joneses and the Kardashians, I always labeled myself as a solid middle-class citizen. Let's be honest, my career paths (teacher and worship leader) haven't exactly been lucrative, yet here that number is staring me in the face. Before you start touting cost-of-living differences, let's take a step back and truly look at this from a global perspective. Personally, I tend to forget that America is one of the wealthiest nations on a very large planet. If this were "The Hunger Games," we'd be the obnoxious people living in the Capital drinking a special concoction so we could continue to gorge ourselves on more food after we were already full. We flush perfectly good water down our toilets for crying out loud.
As I read through the book, I began to look at my house and belongings differently. Hatmaker possessed 327 clothing items. Naturally competitive, I went to my closet to compare. Only 145 items! (only) Oh wait. I forgot to include drawers: T-shirts, socks, workout clothes, swimsuits. The number crept steadily up, with a final tally of 324. For Pete's sake! I continued my inventory: seven purses, eight travel/gym bags, thirty-five pairs of shoes and eleven jackets. But they were on clearance! I think God actually rolled his eyes at this point. I realized I was going to need another snack to get through this process. As I looked in the refrigerator, I saw the reusable mason jar of apple butter. "Look at us, how responsible," I thought. Interestingly enough, it was sitting beside a bowl of dried-up blueberries and asparagus that was clearly going to need to be thrown out. Living in the land of plenty has caused me to be so wasteful that my discarded leftovers would be a beautiful extravagance to others. While in the kitchen, I counted 102 drinking glasses of different varieties. How am I going to live in a tiny house with all this stuff?
"And Jesus answered them, 'Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.'" – (Luke 3:11) Oh, this is bad. I believe it is safe to say that I have more than two tunics.
Like many others, I've justified my own consumption by comparing it to others. "I don't have as many shoes as her." "At least I don't spend money gambling." "My car was pre-owned, unlike that guy with the newest luxury cars." But in the end, I am simply comparing myself to people who most likely also represent the top 1-4 percent of wealth in the world.
I like to think that I'm not a terrible person, but when I look at the people hurting in the world, I realize that not helping is pretty terrible. Rather than feeding the hungry, I am feeding a machine of consumption and greed. However, in all fairness, this is a powerful system. The thought of trying to fight against it seems nearly impossible. Even if we wanted to keep our old computer, software updates come out so quickly that they become unusable after a few years, and printers are literally less expensive than new ink cartridges. Our country's Christian views are so intermingled with the American Dream that it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two, but the teachings of Jesus are very clear in this matter, and we have responsibilities. Hatmaker gives me hope: "While it is easy to become paralyzed by the world's suffering and the inequalities created by corruption and greed, we actually hold immense power for change, simply by virtue of our wealth and economic independence because we decide where our dollars go. Never has so much wealth been so concentrated; our prosperity is unprecedented. If enough of us decided to share, we would unleash a torrent of justice to sweep away disparity, extreme poverty, and hopelessness." If I am part of the top 1 percent, then maybe I do have power. Sign me up. I want to be part of the "us" she is proposing.
Now is the moment when you may be wondering, "So what is the answer?" I don't know yet. Unfortunately for you, I am drafting this post at the beginning of the journey, rather than at the end. I'm not writing from a place of reflection; rather, I am currently rolling around in the muddy pit of conviction. Should we all sell our homes and build the tiny house commune I've been dreaming of? Unclear. While researching (*cough* scrolling Twitter and Pinterest), I've come across ideas for living simply. This might be a good place to start. Clearly I have more than two tunics (324!), which means I need to give some of mine to the poor. However, if I don't make spiritual changes, I will eventually get wrapped back up in the tidal wave of consumerism and refill those empty spaces in my closet. Perhaps some of my church members have already tried a 7-style fasting experiment and would like to offer me some advice on how to do this myself. Maybe some of you reading will email and say, "Me too! Let's work together." Although I don't know what the next step holds, I've learned that the first step is to admit you have a problem, so we'll start there. "Hello, my name is Megan, and I'm a consume-aholic."