My Kind of Materialism

In some ways, I can honestly say I am not very materialistic.  When I see huge houses or fancy cars, there is not the smallest part of me that would want one.  You could give me a huge house, but unless you also give me a maid service to clean that thing, I’m not interested!  And that’s just it:  stuff makes life more complicated, and I don’t need any extra complications in my life.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I live by spartan standards.  At the same time, though, I just don’t have an inner desire for a ton of stuff.  I don’t often think, “You know what would make this situation better?  Going out and buying something.”  Oh, and that might be a part of it, too:  I hate spending money.

It would be easy, then, to think of myself as non-materialistic.  But I’m really not.  I just have a different type of materialism:  instead of things, I like experiences.  It sounds better, doesn’t it?  When I seek experiences, I feel more like I’m embracing life instead of just amassing junk.

Here’s the thing, though:  experiences come with a price tag, too.

Case in point:  My mom spoils my kids like crazy.  It’s not always a bad thing, but during one of our visits this summer, I did talk to her about easing up on the random trips to Toys R Us with the kids.  I told her that if she wanted to spend money on them, why not take them to do something cool, rather than to buy something?  For example, what about the Georgia Aquarium?  Luke loves aquariums, and it would be a great learning opportunity for both him and Anna.  Mom readily agreed, and a few days later, we headed off for a day of fun at the aquarium.

Friends, can I tell you how much that day cost?  Now, my mom didn’t cut any corners, but let’s just say, she could have gone to Toys R Us every day for a week and not spent as much money as the aquarium cost!

Or take our experience last week during Thanksgiving break.  Luke was so excited to have three days off of school, and he was even more excited that his cousins were coming in town Wednesday morning.  When they couldn’t get on their flight, the kids were disappointed…and we suddenly had a huge, empty day in front of us.  We wanted to make the most of Luke’s vacation from school, and so we thought, “Why not go see the Muppets movie?”  The four of us hadn’t seen a movie in the theater in a long time, and Greg loved the Muppets growing up, so it seemed like a great family activity.  As a special treat, we even told the kids we’d get popcorn.

Yeah.  Bad idea.

The movie tickets cost us $34, and that was a matinee!  The popcorn was $8, and a small bottle of water was $4.75.  Holy.  Cow.  The cashier handed me my $13 popcorn-and-water combo, and asked if I wanted a receipt.  “Nope,” I said as I put my card back in my wallet, “I don’t want any record that this ever happened.”  Besides, believe me, when I go to do my budget, I’m not going to see $46.75 spent at Regal Cinemas and think, “Hmm, what was that?  Is Regal Cinemas some kind of charity I donate to?”  I will remember what that was.

While I stood at the concession counter, with my gargantuan container of popcorn and tiny bottle of water, apparently taken from the fountain of youth, I began to be afflicted with a curse that strikes me from time to time.  It is a curse I like to call, Knowing What the Bible Says.    Apparently, there is a little section of my brain that spends all of its time filing away inconvenient parts of Scripture and then spitting them back out at me at inopportune times.  Things like, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” or,  “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me,” or  “Among you, there must not even be a hint…”  You know what?  I’ll stop there.

Anyhow, my annoying, Bible-spitting brain chose this moment to offer up the Parable of the Talents.  You know the one:  the king gives his servants money and then comes back and judges them for how they use it.  The good servants make their money into more money,and the bad one just buries his in the ground.  We rightly interpret the message as pertaining to more than just money, but I think that money is definitely one of the resources to which it applies.  So anyway, here’s how the internal dialogue went from there:

Brain:  Parable of the Talents.  Think it over.

Me:  [Thinks]  Oh man, I’m not even burying my talent in the ground!  I’m squandering it on wild living, like the Prodigal Son!

Brain:  Hmm.  Something to think about.

Me:  Oh, come on!  I’m so sure the prodigal son spent his money on the moral equivalent of a Muppet movie.  This is family time!

Brain:  Family time for $50?  When your kids would have honestly been just as happy with renting a movie from Redbox and making some Pop Secret at home?

Me:  Going to the movies is not morally wrong.  Hush, brain.

Brain:  “From whom much is given, much is expected.”

Me:  Dang it!  I hate that verse.

This one is my brain’s trump card, and it reminds me of it regularly (again, usually at the most inopportune times).  If God’s expectations are proportional to the blessings He has given me, then, man…He expects A LOT out of me!

Anyway, I told my brain to shut it, and we went to see the movie.  It was pretty good, and we all had a pleasant enough time.  I do believe that building up your family and spending quality (and quantity) time with them is Kingdom work.  Even with that in mind, though, I’m not sure that our little movie-going experience would survive a cost-benefit analysis.  The cost was disproportionately high to the enjoyment we got out of it, especially considering the alternatives that would have been significantly cheaper and just as effective.

My movie angst, while a fascinating story in and of itself (tell me you weren’t riveted), is noteworthy because of the larger question it raised in my mind.  It is a question with which Greg and I wrestle very often:  how does God want us to use our resources?  I believe that God gives us everything we have in order to be used for His glory, and while there are no hard and fast rules precluding leisure time (have I mentioned how much I love watching movies?), I do believe that every expense we make as Christians has to be weighed in the light of eternity.  Maybe that sounds a little too deep…but I think that it’s true.  Greg and I even struggle with how much God would want us to spend on things that we know are good things–things like education for our kids or family time–when we have a sneaking suspicion that God would want us to do even better things, like helping His people who need it.  And honestly, I think that the struggle itself is good.  Maybe you are reading this and thinking that I completely overanalyzed the whole movie situation, and you might be right.  However, I tend to believe from reading the New Testament that if you are not wrestling with how you spend the resources that God has given you, then you may need to reexamine the gospel accounts.  Maybe it’s just me, but they kick my tail every time I read them!

In closing, I will share yet another quote that convicted me during the Muppets incident.  It is from C.S. Lewis, a man with whom I apparently have a passionate and tempestuous relationship (more to come, by the way).  Regarding the use of our resources for God’s kingdom, Lewis speculates:

“I do not believe that one can settle how much we ought to give.  I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”

Based on those words, our movie experience would not have passed the Lewis test, much less the Kingdom test!

So, I guess the obvious question to end the post is,

How did you like the Muppets movie?:)

(Oh, and if you want to add something about using your resources for God’s kingdom, that’d be cool, too.)

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by mcafeess on December 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Beneath my television sits an area of about 65 DVDs. 65. Granted, some were mine, some were my wife’s when we got married, but still…65.

    Total number of DVD’s I have sat down and watched even ONCE this year: three.

    So I recently told Ang, we’re not buying DVD’s ever again. Not in the age of Redbook and other dispensers of the same ilk. And we’ll be selling all our DVDs on Craigslist unless we give them away.

    Arguing with my brain is a common occurrence.

    What may be worse is when you have 65 DVD’s sitting under your TV and you don’t need to argue with your brain to know buying all those wasn’t the most kingdom-like decision.

    Reply

    • Yeah, we sold the motherlode of DVD’s before we moved, and we are in no hurry to recreate that clutter. It felt great to get rid of them…and then to vow, “Never again!” Small steps, small steps.

      Reply

  2. hey, there are 30 days left in this year, and i only have about 10 more items until i reach 100! and believe me, it will NOT stop there.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Christy Gardner on December 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    good stuff, Kim. and yes, this sounds familiar. it never stops, actually. i guess the the Word truly is living and convicting. thanks for the thoughts:) your kids are so blessed!

    Reply

  4. I just hope that I don’t wind up being one of the 100 items! 🙂

    I think it’s wonderful that you take your stewardship so seriously. And these are worthy questions–particularly when you’ve shelled out 4 bucks for a fountain drink worth a nickel. However, there is a point where asceticism becomes an idol or another pharisee-ism. I would say that enjoying the Muppets, even at night for $10 per ticket, definitely would be one of the freedoms that we have in Christ. I love the Lewis quote–it is a favorite of mine. But I also think that one can be giving, as Lewis says, to the point where it definitely comes with lifestyle costs, and be a far cry from a mendicant friar. I know that we Salleys can pinch a nickel until Jefferson cries, and what Ann accomplishes with coupons is only a half-step from loaves and fishes. We do that so we can give, and serve. But also so we can have kids in private school, and travel, and download good books on our Kindle (the $79 one with free shipping that shows ads, not the mini-ipad one. THAT would be sinful. LOL.)

    Reply

    • Okay, so what I’m about to say will sound super-lame and dismiss-able, but I’m going to try to save it at the end:
      It’s all about the heart…so it is CRITICALLY important that we examine the use of our resources very carefully and prayerfully.

      So many times when we say, “it’s all about the heart,” it seems to lead to the conclusion that, “There’s nothing else to say about it b/c it’s up to each person’s conscience.” And we (rightly) shy away from making “rules” about what is unacceptable behavior because we (rightly) want to avoid Phariseeism. On the flip side, though, I would hesitate to make statements about what IS always acceptable. Indeed, it may not always be one of our freedoms in Christ to enjoy $10-a-ticket movies. Since it’s all about the heart, your movie outing might be okay, while mine might not. I know that sounds like wishy-washy relativism, but that’s how I think it works.

      One thing that I do believe is true for all of us is that if we are pursuing God’s kingdom with all of our hearts, the use of our resources will be affected proportionately to our pursuit. It’s like you like to say about politics: it’s the direction that counts, not necessarily the end goal. I would say that to the degree that we pursue God, our lives will change. And that includes spending. There are things I would have spent money on three years ago without a second thought that I’d never buy now without some major guilt. And on the positive side, there are levels of giving that would have made me shudder three years ago that I absolutely embrace now. And I hope that I can say the same thing three years from NOW. Does that make sense? I guess what I’m trying to say in response to your point is that my viewpoint is more relative than yours. I don’t worry about what you can spend money on, or even what qualifies as acceptable money spending in general. I just think about what God is asking from ME in a given moment. And what I hoped to accomplish with this post if for others to ask the same question of themselves.

      Reply

  5. Sometimes I feel like you are baiting ME with these posts .. 😉

    Of course, you know this concept of using our resources is the area i give the most mental time to. Its kinna an area I am obsessed with 😉 For me I think a big change happens we start to see how EVERYTHING we have is a resource ..whether is our home, our money or our emotional energy. If we see how everything we have was given to us for the specific purpose of doing all that stuff in Ephesians (see post : Paul has Big Dreams for You) we will see everything we do differently.

    As far as leisure time I think that it is necessary for us to take moments, hours and sometimes days to refresh and renew our resources. I think that is alot of support for that in scripture. I think that God created us in such a way as to have limits ..which helps us more appreciate his unlimitedness. I think we can misuse our resources in effort to get it, sure. That can be by way of spending money we dont have, or or perhaps doing some thing sinful in the process.

    As to whether you did or not ..well, I think what you said in your comment to Larry is the tright answer – because I think that there are times, families and moments when spending $40 on a movie is something that God approves of …times when we need to more focused on our family time, more free to use what God gave us for the things that benefit his glory. I remember this time when my daddy and I left to go to the store one day and he pulled into the movie theater instead …we watched Batman 😉 ..it was one of my favorite kid memories. THAT one was worth its $25 of resource everytime. But then again, another daddy needs to instead take his daughter out to a $0.99 coke to sit and listen to her talk about how she feels about whatever. Its the heart of the desire there …in both cases there was a heart to do God’s work but the needs of the moment are different.

    Having pondered this idea of resources vs. Kingdom for about the past 4 years ..I can honestly say that I have concluded that if it doesnt benefit God’s kingdom, its not the best use of our resources. Sometimes that means spending money on a movie, sometimes it doesnt. Sometimes it means spending $1000 on plane tickets to go be part of your family’s getting together before your parents leave the country, and sometimes you need to sacrifice that time in order to manage those pennies better.

    Bottom line…if you are seeking to use everything that you have been given then God will show you the best way to do it. If you are willing to use those resources… sometimes when it hurts, or NOT use them when you really can’t use them responsibly…either way God will bless it because you are using for His glory.

    Reply

    • Courtney, I completely agree with that assessment. Having spoken to a couple of other people who have read this post, I just want to clarify that I am NOT suggesting that going to the movies is wrong. I agree with Larry that making rules about things leads to legalism. (In fact, it has really annoyed me in the past when the church has done things like that , like saying that all card-playing, or all movie-going is wrong. Talk about sucking the joy out of life!) Rather, I think that we should always be purposeful about every dollar we spend, as ones who live to a much higher calling. I have had wonderful experiences at the movies with my kids, but the experience I wrote about really wasn’t one of those times. Our kids truly were just as keen on staying home, and we could have had some great family time together instead of spending $50 staring at a screen in a dark room to watch a movie that they weren’t all that interested in. What was more relevant to me was the thought process we went through. While incredibly annoying at the time, I believe that God does want us to go through some sort of process or struggle as we decide how to spend “our” money. And it IS a struggle–between the self who wants to use the money FOR self, and the soul who knows to use the money for God.

      Reply

  6. […] that I now view it as a “rule” that we should not go to movies or buy stuff because of this blog post I wrote.  I was also warned in the comments section of that blog not to make an idol of asceticism or to […]

    Reply

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