It had been an exceptionally long three days. I had semi-collapsed on the loveseat for a short period of recovery before picking up my son at baseball practice. My wife was taking a break to sit on the couch and relax with a little television. Her channel of choice? One of those do-it-yourself home remodeling channels. I don't know which one because they all blur together into one long series of extreme home makeovers. But the show I was hearing in spite of all attempts to silence the noise around me was different. This was a show about a family shopping for a new house. An odd premise, I thought, then went back to trying to block out the sound.
It turns out that this particular couple had a few particular characteristics in mind on their wish list. They wanted a house on a cul-de-sac, with separate wings for Dad's music studio and Mom's exercise salon, and the front door had to be facing east. Yeah, I said the front door had to be facing east. At this point I resisted throwing my pillow at the television, which I considered as incredible restraint.
East? Why east? I thought for a moment it might be something to do with feng shui, the Chinese tradition of placement and design. An Eastern Religion worldview could have been behind it, but the couple explained that they wanted the first rays of sunlight to stream through the windows of their front door.
As I tried to continue resting while hearing this couple tromp through various abodes nestled somewhere in their price range, my mind drifted back to the conversation I heard on the radio that morning. It was something about star athletes who demanded special rights in the clubhouse -- getting the biggest locker, being able to invite along a posse of hangers-on, having control of the music played in the room. Of course the biggest stars get the biggest perks. Some get special flights to away games or tickets to bring along family. Roger Clemens isn't even required to go to games when he's not scheduled to pitch!
Then, as the couple argued over whether a certain room would make a better exercise salon or music studio, I started thinking about some of the other stories about those who think they deserve more than anyone else. I have heard the rumor that backstage at a concert, absolutely no one is allowed to make eye contact with Barbara Striesand. Actually I've heard that same rumor about Diana Ross and a couple of other people. Some acts specify what foods are to be available backstage for the band to eat. I've seen a couple of those contracts. They almost turned my stomach -- not the food, but the demanding tone of the requests. The story has been told for years that in the 1980's the band Van Halen required that in the dressing rooms, many bowls would be filled with M&Ms candy, with all the brown ones removed. I always thought I'd like the job of picking out all the brown ones, but I'd probably weigh around 650 by now!
After the couple had decided on their dream house and the show was over, I left to pick up my son from practice. And I continued thinking about human attitudes about what we deserve and what we need. In America, most of us have some bizarre ideas about what we need. I've watched people considering buying a t-shirt say, "Well, I really don't need it..." To which I say, "Of course you don't need it. All you need is one set of clothes, and you could probably survive without that!" Usually they get the point. What they mean by "need" is not really the true definition of "need." But we get in our heads that we cannot survive without at least two cars in the family, a faster computer, another book or CD, a new pair of shoes, or a cell phone with bluetooth. On top of that, we have a distorted idea of what we deserve. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that we deserve more than we have -- even if we have a great deal to begin with.
Now I can't blame the house-shopping couple. If they want to hold out for a front door which greets the morning sun, more power to them. But the attitude we deserve or need more than what we have really sickens me. It's a heart condition. Materialism at it's most basic. Let's face it; we're spoiled.
Of course, it's not just a secular problem. It's probably less of a problem in the secular world because most of those folks are already kneeling at the altar of comfort and greed anyway. If you worship yourself, self-esteem or the like, materialism is both the norm and the ultimate goal. But in Christianity, materialism is a temptation. It moves our emphasis from where it should be to where it shouldn't.
I've written about this attitude in regards to church shopping before. If the couple from television was actually looking for a new church, they'd be seen as pretty shallow. After all, what does it matter which direction the front church doors face? But when we go from church to church looking for one with a good worship band, or a dynamic speaker aren't we doing much the same thing? We forget that worshipping is the onus of the individual. If I get nothing out of a service, perhaps it's exactly what I put into it. And if I put more importance on being entertained than on being challenged, then I cause my own problem.
But I also see this materialistic attitude creep into other aspects of my life. Sometimes it doesn't creep, it marches in with brass bands and floats made from rose petals. I look longingly at a new laptop while trying to squash the thoughts of people struggling to make ends meet. I wish for a bigger air conditioner to cool the house, forgetting that much of the world has to put up with temperatures over 72 degrees. I consider buying a new suit, choosing to ignore that many people have only a few items of clothing to their names.
It happens at church also. "It sure would be great to have a new sound system," I tell myself, even though my voice can easily be heard without much amplification. It's easy to start wanting newer, bigger, better, more, more, MORE, MORE!!! Don't I deserve it? Doesn't God's church deserve it?
We deserve death. It's not our works that save. If we truly got what we deserve, we'd be dead and separated from God forever by now. It's only by the grace and mercy of God that we do not get what we deserve. So why do we forget that? Why does materialism have such a strong pull on us? Why is having the newest, biggest, best and most crowd out any thoughts of our responsibility to loving our neighbor as ourselves?
Let's face it, church. We're spoiled. Spoiled rotten. And if we can bear to pull ourselves off of God's throne for a few minutes, we need to take care of the widows and orphans, those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick and imprisoned. We've got to be God's instruments. We must allow Him to use us as anything He desires. And we have to get over ourselves. We may be children of God, but we are nothing without Him. Concentrating on the material things keeps us from being and doing what God wants us to be.
I pray that I would not be a spoiled Christian, seeking first the things which rust and moths destroy and thieves break in to steal. Give me strength, O Lord. Keep me from spoiling.