Saturday, March 31, 2012

The new adventure

Sanding the interior

Adventure is another of the things that the designers of capitalism didn't particularly value, along with the arts. Maybe I'm beating a dead horse here, by speaking of the things, endlessly, that capitalism doesn't value. Which are, mainly, all of the things that I value. Nature. Beautiful, nourishing food grown by real people that tastes of the earth. Connections among communities. Communities themselves. Art.

Consider the cave painting of Lascaux. No one knows, or remembers, or cares, who were the richest and most powerful individuals in central France during the Stone Age. But everyone knows those cave paintings. Everyone knows the shape of those fertility goddesses. Were those cave painters like me? Like us?

Maybe their parents, too, told them they should be better hunters, better gatherers, better providers for their families. They shouldn't waste all of that precious red ochre dabbing it inside cave walls. What were they doing in there all day anyway? How did such foolishness help them or their village?

Or maybe those cave painters and sculptors were celebrated in their villages. Maybe they were the heroes, the shamans, the high priestesses, the mystical magicians. Maybe it's only cultures that support the artists among them that achieve anything truly lasting. There's no way to know, at least not for millennia. But I have a good guess.

My sister's introduced a new phrase into my vocabulary, the "poverty mentality." I still have a hard time with it. We grew up in a family that lived by the motto: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without, even though I just heard it put in those words recently. My grandparents didn't have garbage pickup for fifty years, not out of a moral stance, but because they didn't want to pay for it. They burned everything in their furnace (including old tires) that didn't go into the compost (including leftover meat scraps). My grandfather spread old carpet in his garden and used old electrical wire for twine. My other grandmother drilled a hole in an old margarine container to put inside of her coffeemaker so that less of the ground coffee would be sullied by water and would be able to be reused. My mother still hoards plastic water bottles and bags. My father won't get rid of anything, not even broken electronics, which clutter his basement and my mom has to sneak out of the house when he hasn't touched them in years.

I have my quirks, too, things I compulsively hoard. I shore things up against the cold. Against future want. As my ancestors did before. Waste not, want not, I think.

So this whole idea of a poverty mentality? That it could just be me believing that I'm poor? When really my God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and all of the wealth in the universe is accessible to me if only I believe? It sounds dangerously close to a prosperity gospel.

Have you heard of that one, too? Sometimes I make offhand references to things that are evangelical shorthand. A prosperity gospel is what some Pentecostals believe, that all you have to do is go into your local Mercedes dealer and "name it and claim it." I can't buy that. Not the Mercedes, either. I just can't convince myself that if I were to believe hard enough that that $540 million Powerball jackpot could be mine.

What I can accept is a more internal truth about what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor. The truly rich are those who are not parsimonious with themselves or with those whom they love. They believe that God will provide their needs--not their wants, but their needs--and they can rest in that surety. Then they can believe that God also delights in giving them the desires of their hearts. The true desires of their true hearts.

How many rich people do you know who are desperately poor? The Mr. Potters of the world who hoard their wealth and won't throw away a packet of lemon juice? The truly rich are those who don't let their love for money or their fear of its loss be the thing that limits them, their prospects, their future, their hope, their love. God has not given us a spirit of fear. And at the core of my stinginess I find a bitter seed of fear. I'm afraid of ending up poor, starving, in a gutter. Of being at the mercy of friends and strangers. Worst of all, of hearing all of those who believed it couldn't be done say: I told you so.

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