Way up in the mountains of northern Colorado I had a lesson in excess I will not soon forget. Two friends of mine are ranch hands at what I will label as a “7,000 acre playground in the mountains for a very select ultra-rich”. The beauty was amazing. The landscape was incredible. The architecture of the homes was genius and something to be admired and appreciated for it’s beauty. However, for most of these families it wasn’t their primary home. These gigantic fully furnished lodges nestled in some of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen only get used a few times a year. For some of the families it is their 7th home -one their 13th. I can’t comprehend that kind of wealth. The yearly association fee alone is four times what our family exists on.
It really got me thinking. I try to live simply. I know I’m not living as simply as I could be but I try. You see, way up there in the mountains when the awe from the beauty passed I began to feel indignant. Who are these people who think they can have so much when there are people in the world who don’t even have their basic needs met?! How can somebody justify that kind of excess? Does it even cross their high-living minds what it might have been like for them had they been born in a third-world country to a mother who had HIV?
Not long after this internal rant the familiar pangs of conviction hit me. I have more than I need, too. So what is the difference between them and me? Well, besides millions, (maybe billions) of dollars. Stewardship is an old church word that comes to mind. What does it mean? In really simple terms I like to think it means doing the best you can with what you have. If I’m not doing the best I can with what I have where do I have room to judge them? These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. At what point does an inappropriate amount of excess creep into our lives? What amount of excess is inappropriate? When does it become a problem? When our neighbors are struggling to pay their basic bills? When someone in a third-world country can’t meet their basic food needs? It’s a really tough series of questions to begin asking and I’m not sure there is a corresponding series of simple answers. It’s uncomfortable to even think about. -But like all important questions -very necessary.
Maybe the best thing we can do is to constantly remain aware that we have more than we need and sometimes living on less means we can give more to help someone else. Feeling guilty over what we have isn’t helpful. Feeling resentful over what others have isn’t either. I’ve been guilty of both. Sometimes the only thing left to do is to live in the tensions of this world, remain aware of the paradoxes and incongruities while trying to do the best we can with what we have. -Giving what we can give and asking for help when we need help. Above all we need to always look for the holy in the everyday of our lives -those opportunities in which God is in the ordinary and he’s asking us to act. This reminds me of the chorus of a song I wrote a few months ago:
Sometimes we must quiet the world to hear the voice of God speak
Or we will pass by and miss, the burning bushes all around our feet
For we can listen to the world, to money and power and envy and greed
Or we can listen to God, who knows who we were created to be
Maybe the problem with excess isn’t the stuff itself. Maybe the biggest problem is that the stuff begins to run us. Maybe running after more and more demands so much energy, makes so much noise that we loose track of who we really are. -and then what good are we to the world anymore?
May you go through this week with the ability to live in the tensions of a world cluttered with stuff, full of inequalities and at the same time see the image of God in everyone.