Monday, November 14, 2011

Consumers and Cabbie Hats

I turned 31 a couple of weeks ago, and my birthday was quite spectacular. My wife hit me with this cool triple surprise, which included a surprise birthday dinner with many of my friends at this great Mexican restaurant in Seoul, and a yet to be revealed gift. More than two weeks after my birthday and there's still surprises coming. Isn't that awesome?

One of my adult classes also gave me a gift. They pooled some money together and bought what must have been a pretty pricey hat. I know it must have been spendy, because it came in a bag from one of the local malls that only sell expensive goods. Trouble is, I don't really like it...and even if I did, it's a little too small. They did a good job, though. They pegged me. They know my style, for the most part, buying me a pretty stylish plaid cabbie hat. I'm picky, though. I'm very picky about my hats. Truth be told, I've had my eyes open for a new hat for months. I hadn't bought one yet, because I'd yet to find the perfect one. I knew what I wanted, and hadn't found it yet. Unfortunately, this hat didn't fit the bill (pun-tended). 

This weekend, I sheepishly bought a new hat for myself. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it was really close. I feel a little guilty though, since that hat my students bought me, was laying on the floor, unwanted, in my bedroom at home. 

I felt guilty for another reason, too, though.  We'll come back to that, though. 

We were shopping with some friends who were in town for the weekend. They were passing through South Korea on their way from California to Thailand, spending the weekend in town to hang out with us. At one point, he was telling me about the home where they had been staying in NorCal. I was amazed. The home was opulent. Big screen TVs, HD projectors, jacuzzi tubs, a mother-in-law house, a full bar...a fantastic home, in a gated community..the kind of place we all dream of. At first I was impressed. However, it wasn't more than a couple of seconds before I was judging the people who owned this house. I don't even know them, but I was judging them like Judy. 

Actually, it was more like Judas judged Mary when she poured expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. 

As it turns out, these people love the Lord, dearly. They have much, but from what I've been told, they use it well to serve others and to build up the Church. However, even if they didn't use it as well, here's the thing - the same thing could be said of me. In comparison to many others in this world (and not just the third-world poor), I live in extravagance. 

I ask: "How can they have such expensive furnishings, property and landscaping?"

Another might ask of me: "How can he have so many clothes, dishes and techno-toys?"

It is of great importance to realize that extravagance and excess comes in many forms and is defined differently by different people. I'm not saying everything is relative, or subjective. I believe that we can discern from scripture a proper philosophy of material possessions and wealth. However, I am saying that what I call opulence, others may call frugal...and what I call simplicity, others may find excessive. 

I judge the person who lives in the million dollar home...but I own over 100 tops; sweaters, coats, t-shirts, polos, dress shirts, thermals and jackets. I'm not proud of this. It actually embarrasses me to admit it, but it's true.

My friend who was staying with that family in NorCal told me in passing that he owns less than 10 t-shirts, all the same color and only 2 pairs of jeans. Compared to his simplicity, I live lavishly. 

So I felt a little guilty buying my 4th cabbie hat this weekend, walking down the street beside my missionary friend. And yet, I have the audacity to desire more. This is something I've struggled with for years. I grew up fairly poor, so when I started earning a bit more than enough to live on, it was all too easy for me to lose control of my spending. I'm still trying to regain that control. 

In his life-changing book, A Celebration of The Disciplines, Richard Foster suggests three principles to live by in regards to our relationship with material possessions. 
  1. Everything we have has come from God's hand. All our money, all our talent, all our time: we are to use and spend it wisely. 
  2. Everything we have is cared for by God. If we entrust ourselves and our things to His care, we can trust that he will care for them and allow us to keep them, only as long as we need them. 
  3. Everything he gives us is meant for us to share. We are to spend ourselves, our money, our things and our time on others, for the building of His Body and His Church. 
My wife and I try to sum these principles up like this: 


So...anybody want a hat? 

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