Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: envy

The folly of fashion

Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.
-George Santayana

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A more honest version of the shepherd psalm

Mammon is my shepherd; I shall always want more.

He gives me no rest; he makes me to always desire greener pastures and more dangerous waters.

He gives me emptiness and leads me in paths that offer shiny and exciting things to fill that emptiness.

But when I come to the valley of the shadow of death, he abandons me to my fears; wealth and luxury give no help nor comfort there.

Though I have what I need, he shows me that others have more and better than I.

Surely envy and greed shall follow me all the days of my life: and I don’t want to think of what may be after that.

[Who is your shepherd?]

Squirrel cage economy

Twenty-five years ago I took a course taught by a man who had grown up in India and who had travelled the world. He talked of seeing how coffee, tea and sugar were grown by dirt poor peasant farmers. He described the steps in getting these products to the multinational companies that then processed them for world markets. Then he said: “Enjoy your coffee, but remember all the people who have worked so hard and earned so very little so that you could have it.”

This morning I had coffee with Carole Thomas, a lady from our area who owns a farm in Costa Rica and spends over half the year there. She grows black pepper and cacao and buys coffee from a neighbouring farmer and sells these products here in Canada, largely through the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Through talking to Carole, and also from other sources, I am beginning to think that fair trade coffee may not be quite what it purports to be. For one thing, it costs a subsistence farmer an enormous amount of money to join the fair trade program and become certified. And then, they may not necessarily get any more for their coffee than if they sold it to the private merchants, though the fair trade association may offer a guaranteed price. One other concern that comes up is that the fair trade program doesn’t necessarily buy all of a framer’s production and pays the same, no matter what the quality of the coffee. Therefore a farmer may tend to sell his best coffee to a private merchant for a premium price and sell the poorer quality beans to the fair trade association for their guaranteed price.

That doesn’t really sound like it will ever help the poor farmers to rise above subsistence level farming. I was reminded once again of something Dorothy Sayers wrote during the Second World War:

“It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

“A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

I think we’re further than ever from escaping from the squirrel cage, principally because envy and avarice are still the driving force of the world economy. What would it do to the world economy if individuals would renounce envy and avarice, buy products that are the fruit of honest labour, rather than flashy mass produced items made of dubious ingredients in far away lands by almost slave labour?

If wishes were horses . . .

If wishes were horse, I would be in Edmonton with my wife instead of here at home looking after our three cats and trying to keep earning some money. But I supported my wife in leaving on this little one week adventure to help her elderly cousin and visit some of the people we know, so I will make the best of things here at home.

And I do get to do some interesting things. Tonight was the humorous speech competition at Toastmasters. I won, which means that I will need to deliver that speech in a few weeks at the district level. I wasn’t counting on that, but I guess I can do that, too.

If wishes were horses . . .  Some people seem to spend their whole life wishing things were different, wishing that other people would treat them better, wishing for better living conditions, wishing for all the fun and enjoyment that other people appear to be getting out of life, but which always seem beyond their grasp.

One of the people Chris wants to visit in Edmonton is Rose, the 90 year old widow of my cousin Ron. Rose never appears to waste time wishing things could be better. I don’t think she believes life could get any better. She is thankful for everything and everyone in her life. She is not really well-to-do, but she has all she needs and wants no more. She spends a lot of time on the phone talking with family and friends, and many of those friends go back a long time.

Ron and Rose had been married for almost 65 years when Ron passed away two years ago at the age of 91. The parting was difficult, yet welcome as Ron had so much pain in the last few years of his life. He never complained either, he was the favourite of the nurses in the home where he spent the last couple years of his life, as he was so thankful for every little thing they did.

What makes the difference? Ron and Rose were never difficult people, but they were not always as contented and happy as they were in the later years of their life. They were always church-going people, but they didn’t get converted until they were about 70. Knowing God, His forgiveness, His peace had a transforming power in their lives.

When our hopes are set on earthly things, we will always be disappointed. When we set our hopes on things that are heavenly and eternal,  we receive far beyond what we deserve or could ever wish for.

The Lonely Ache of Popularity

Bill was tall, fair, handsome, sensitive. He was also the Eighth Grade football hero ‒ the one who scored the goals and carried the home team to victory. Girls in the top two grades were openly–or secretly–nuts about him.

Like Grace, the girl who lived down the street from him. She was a nobody, shy and plain, but she dreamed big. If only Bill would like her! She saw him taking her to the school dance and the looks on the other girls’ faces as she walked in the door on Bill’s arm. Their jaws would drop and their eyes would turn green with envy. Standing next to Bill she’d really shine; everyone would know that she must be something special if Bill liked her.

Alas for Grace. Debbie moved in and worked her way up the pecking order; by Grade Eight she was the head of our football team’s cheerleader group. Pretty, popular, pushy — she claimed Bill and grabbed every chance to be near him. Grace was left alone with her dreams and longings. Last I heard she was still single, but she went on to get her pilot’s license and live a life of adventure a lot of us never expected.

So how did Bill himself feel about all of this adoration? Do guys know when girls want them for an ornament, a trophy won in the cat fights? Do they sense that if they didn’t have the looks and status, the car and the cash, the popular girls wouldn’t give them a second thought? And does that tick them off, or are they just happy to be used for awhile–and to use? After all, don’t they see themselves looking good, too, with the prettiest girl on their arm?

The teachers wanted Bill as football star, the girls wanted him as a status symbol, likely his parents were proud of what their son had accomplished. But our thoughts were so ME-centred. Did any of us really CARE about HIM? A few years later Bill committed suicide.

The vicious rivalry in teen circles tears a lot of young people to shreds. Lesser lights want to stand beside the brighter ones, girl or boy, so the glow reflects well on them. But there’s only so much room in that glow, others are pushed aside. They often go off in a corner and seethe, knowing they’ll never be in the limelight.

I feel sympathy for girls who live with this torture. Then, to add to the mix, if there are abuse issues in your past, you grow up under that cloud – stamped as an UNDESIRABLE. Been there; done that.

I Just Don’t Fit In

Getting married and having a family don’t change the peer pressure, just redefine it. THEIR husbands have bigger salaries; THEY probably have cushy jobs, too; THEY have THEIR homes decked out by Martha Stewart; THEIR toddlers by Osh-Kosh; THEIR teens by Alfred Sung. THEIR kids are into everything culture &/or sports, rapidly being molded into the snobs and jocks of future high schools.

As long as you have one eye on THEM – the unidentifiable and ever-unmatchable THEM – you’ll always feel outclassed. THEY always have their act together; THEY are so far ahead in the game of Life because THEY know all the unspoken rules. YOU are the odd duck, the square peg in a round hole. The one with horrible secrets no one should ever find out.

But ask yourself, What if I really were popular? Would I really like being there as a prop in others’ productions? Would I be able to live with myself if I crushed others to get to the top? And what would I have to do to stay there? Some of the most talented people have admitted in later life how they lived with the dread someone would discover they were just a fake.

I believe every person on the planet at times thinks, “I just don’t fit in,” even on a level playing field. Then try changing cultures. For those like myself who have come from a “trailer trash” non-Christian upbringing and are now trying to fit into a conservative Christian circle, thoughts like “I’ll never be fit in” can overwhelm us and sink our ship. We need a solid rock to stand on.

Bonked By Another Diamond From Heaven

One time I was brooding over the way I was brought up and how my own family has such a different culture than my Christian brothers and sisters. I wanted so much to be like “everybody else” but I felt so different in the way I said and did things, the values I was taught, etc. The prospect of “fitting in” looked pretty bleak right at that moment ‒ and the devil was probably gloating as he tossed more jabs of “you’ll never make it here.”

Then the Lord spoke to me in this complete sentence: “The more you try to be like everybody else, the more you will realize how different you are. The more you try to be yourself, the more you will realize how much like everybody else you are.”

Can it really be that simple? I can just be myself? Like a shaft of Heaven’s purest light, this thought banished my dark musings, gave me direction and courage again. I was able to accept myself for what I was and trust that I could still fit in anywhere the Lord wanted me to be.

God is so good; He delights in setting us free from chains that drag us down. He showed me that there is MUCH more to life than becoming like — and liked by — Everyone. Actually the issue isn’t “fitting in”; it’s all about being an obedient and useful child of God. It’s putting OTHERS before our own ego.

Think of all the people in history who, single-handedly, have accomplished a lot of good in our world. Look around and you will see things you can do to ease someone else’s pain. There are people teetering on the brink of despair that could still be pulled back by a sincere friend – before they become another suicide statistic. You CAN make a difference. But not if you’re focussed on how “everyone else” looks at ME.

-Christine Goodnough

(This is a slightly revised version of an article Chris posted on “Christine’s Collection” about two years ago.)

 

The destructive power of envy

Back in the 1960’s I was managing a grain elevator in a small Saskatchewan town.  Norman, the biggest grain farmer in the area, had a farm worker named Lenny, a former long haul trucker.  Norman put a lot of confidence in Lenny, paid him well and provided a good house for him and his young family.  He even promised to help Lenny start farming on his own, by renting some land and using Norman’s equipment.

Most of the time Lenny knew that he had latched on to a unique opportunity to build a future for himself and his family.  However, he liked to take a few drinks after work and the alcohol blurred his vision.  When he considered Norman’s wealth and his own meagre financial situation, it didn’t look fair.  The more he drank, the worse it looked.  He expressed those feelings to others, but had enough sense to avoid contact with Norman when he wasn’t sober.  Finally the inevitable happened: one evening Lenny was in an alcohol-fuelled state of mind and Norman came over to talk about the next day’s work.  Lenny unloaded all his grievances about the unfairness of the financial disparity between Norman and himself.  Then he went back to being  a truck driver.

George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, is a parable of the folly of thinking that we will all get a bigger piece of the pie if we get rid of the one who has the biggest piece.  In the book, the pigs on Mr. Jones’ farm convince the other animals that they are being exploited by Mr. Jones.  They drive Mr. Jones off the farm and go about running it themselves, the pigs talking all the time about how they will all be better off as they work together.  Working and living conditions seem to be deteriorating, yet the pigs are such convincing talkers that eventually they sit in the farmer’s house playing cards and drinking toasts with neighbouring farmers and the rest of the animals cannot tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers.

When we are self-centred, we see life as a zero sum game.  The size of the pie is fixed, so when my neighbour gets more there is less left for me.  When enough people think this way, it discourages any activity that might grow the size of the pie.  People watch to make sure no one is getting more than his fair share.  The economy stagnates; the pie remains the same size, or even shrinks.

All men are created equal, but we have different talents and skills.  Some are able to see a need and find a way to satisfy that need.  In doing so, they enlarge the pie, creating job opportunities for others and possibly other business opportunities.  Does it matter that they get to eat a larger piece of the pie?  Or am I thankful that they have increased the size of my piece of the pie?  Envy is a powerful emotion and doesn’t respond well to logic.  If my piece of the pie is all I can eat, does it really matter that my neighbour has a larger piece?

My uncle Henry always admired his uncle’s farm.  This was just what he would like to have for himself, a beautiful yard and big, well-kept buildings that made a statement about the prosperity of the owner.  One day Uncle Henry learned that the bank was about to foreclose on his uncle.  Moreover, the bank wanted to make a quick sale to avoid further expense.  Uncle Henry was in a position to buy it for what the bank was asking and he went home to tell his wife the good news.

Aunt Helen was a quiet and submissive wife, who never disagreed with her husband.  But this time she said, “Henry, you can’t buy that farm.  People will say you took advantage of your uncle when he was down.”  That was the end of it.  Uncle Henry learned to appreciate his own farm more and never again cast envious glances at what had been his uncle’s dream farm.

“May each one of you, rather than considering his own interests, consider also those of others” (Philippians 2:4, as it reads in the Louis Segond French translation).

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