January 11, 2006

I'm Rich, Now What

I'm rich. And yes, I'm talking about material posessions and bank accounts. But here's the catch: I desire simplicity, generosity and culture jamming (see previous post).

On the deeper levels...
I know I'm rich because of the period in history in which I reside. Call it luck, fortune or a blessing, there's no doubt that I benefit from living in the 21st century. I should probably add that I live in America, where war, famine and "survival living" only exist on street level. I should also add that I'm in the middle class, and I come from a middle class family where education and travel were taught and practiced. I should add too that I'm white and the only prejudice and racism I've experienced is...well, I haven't. So, really, my fortune of living in this moment of time has more to do with my parents than it does with living in 2006. The majority world wouldn't call themselves so fortunate.

On the practical levels...
*I live inside an apartment. Our 270 square feet studio is more than enough space for sleeping, cooking and working. I find it hard to believe I have a home to come back to after being outside. If it's raining, it's not a big deal. If I get dirty, I can take a shower. If I'm tired, I can go to bed without an excess of noise and polution.

**I sleep on a matress. I should add that we spent a whopping $100 for this thing to rest out heads on. I'm finding it remarkable that I don't have to sleep on the ground, or outside. I actually can sleep in a bed, equipped with pillows and blankets (I even have spare blankets in case it gets really cold). And I should add here that my enormous apartment is big enough for other pieces of furniture. When I eat, I sit at a table. When I'm reading a book, I sit on a couch. When I get dressed in the morning, I get my clothes out of a dresser.

***I eat whenever I please. Not only can I eat soup and drink water every day, I can go out to a restaurant and order food and a beer that was imported from another country. If I'm hungry, I don't wait to eat. Instead, I get up off the couch, walk eight steps to my kitchen, open a fridge (which even keeps my food cold!) and get something to fill my empty stomach. I never go hungry for more than an hour.

****I have a standard mode of transportation. Our 1985 Volkswagon allows me the freedom to go anywhere, anytime. I am free to get a job wherever I please. I can visit people. It even allows me to "get away" for a weekend in the moutains. Even that I could afford this $500 luxury is beyond me. And get this: Because I live in the city and rarely use a vehicle, I have a bike to get me around when I don't feel like walking.

*****I have an abundance of media. I have at least fifty books on my shelf that I've read and decided to keep for re-reading purposes. Books that aid my growth, make me a better person. I have a handful of DVD's that do the same thing. I have a computer that connects me to friends and family. Does it matter that, for the first time in history, I live more than five miles from my family? No, because I have a cell phone and a computer that allows me to talk, write and even chat to them whenever I please.

******I travel. After twenty-six year on earth, I've nearly matched my age to how many countries I've visited. I'm blown away by this. Not only can I get in a car and drive myself to a Baseball game 10 miles away, I can drive myself to an airport and fly across the country to see another game. If I want to visit Guatemala over Easter, I go on my computer, in my house, and book a reservation using a credit card that got me the ticket in the first place. And does it matter that, for the first time in history, I didn't grow up in the same town/village/neighborhood as my spouse? No, because I had a car and traveled to a private school where I could meet an entire new group of women from around the world who also had the ability to travel to get an education. It's absolutely astonishing when I really think about it.

*******I have more money than I need. Not only is money intricately connected to my home, furniture, food, car, media and my ability to travel - I have a savings account with extra money that's available whenever I might need it. Every year we exceed our annual cost of living. Whether it was $10,000 in Indiana or $24,000 in Los Angeles, we always have more than we need.

So my question is, now what? How can I practice greater simplicity when I have more than I need? How I can I be a culture jammer when I look so much like the culture? How can I be a voice of dissent in matters of over-consumption when I'm a consumer? Am I already doing enough or is there more to be done? These questions, along side many others, are what I'm dwelling on these days as I think about simplicity, generosity, and what it means to be fully alive in 2006, no today. Any thoughts?


Sarah said...

I attended one year at IWU at the same time as Kari, got married, moved on, and now I'm a college grad, with stamps on my passport, a little money in the bank, and am now caring for my two little girls. I identified with your blog because I was raised middle class and when you look at it, the sky is the limit for people like us. Being truly materially poor is not just about a lack of material resources, it is about the devastating lack of choice and opportunity. I admire your drive to live simply, I strive to do the same, which has become even more difficult since my husband and I have had children. I don't know you but from your writing it seems like you feel guilty about your material possessions and you let them define you and other people. God has blessed you with a home, travel, and food which is great because you have all the more opportunity to share and be generous with others. God is not only meeting your basic needs but has made you sensitive to the needs of others. But do you really appreciate and see these as blessings, or do you relate to material possessions in another way, dispising them because you fear that you will live in mediocrity and you associate that with being middle-class? Are you really counter-culture in this area or do you sound a lot like most twenty-somethings trying to prove to themselves they will not fall into the same patterns of life their parents did?

I appreciate your ideas, your blog always gets me thinking, and I am a huge Douglas Coupland fan, too.

Dan & Tiffany said...

I admire your transparency of your journey. Truly living simply, with only what one needs, and being content in the process is a challenge for those of us who did not grow up with this example. Here's hoping we can find it.

My 2 cents: You speak of generosity and simplicity, and you share your ideals of community, sharing life with friends. In your ideal community, is everyone just like you? Or are there people with different backgrounds, people who grew up without such opportunities? Would sharing life, identifying with such people be of any aid to your quest to live simply?

I wanted to also say thanks for identifying with me in my situation. Your belief in me has made me strong; I live each day with a sense of hope I never imagined.

::athada:: said...

Good to hear the summary Josh. I didn't get the impression that you were feeling guilty... just feeling and questioning.

I think a simple test might be to keep peeling away the complexity and see how you feel. Can you do without Internet? Without a car? You won't know until you try. Maybe you can't, but you'll know for sure after you try.

I was once told that there will ALWAYS be tension in purchases / lifestyle decisions for those pursuing simplicity; if there is no tension, something must be wrong. I think this is mostly true. Then again, too much tension is negative. Today I discussed housing, transport, food, etc with Becky and it was somewhat tense (weighing this vs. that). But it was healthy and needed. It was tense for a time, then we tried to let it go for later review. I guess I'd rather go too extreme and then come back than simply be comfortable all the time and not know my "limits".

Of course, what do I know?

pk said...

Great post Josh. I can pretty much go down the list and see that I'm in exactly the same situation (well, no wife just yet). I'm rich. I've marveled at that ever since KD shared the famous John Wesley quote with us, "If you have all you need and more besides, then you're rich."

I guess I'm mostly interested in the "Now What?" portion of your title. Both for you and for me...and for our generation.

Josh said...

Sara: Thanks for your kind remarks and questions! I don't feel guilty by my goods...and I sure hope they don't define me! My problem lies in the tension: Simplicity vs. Consumerism - How far dare we go? And what does it look like?

Dan: Your encouragement is sweet to my soul! Yes, I want to share life with a variety of people with a handful of scattered backgrounds. I think this is helpful in the pursuit of God, friendship and purpose. But I also want to do life with like-minded people. Good questions!

Thada: My man! Yea, I hope I always have the tension!! I understand the about-to-get-married talks concerning STUFF. Did you read Kari's comment on your Blog about what we did? We literally deleted one register and started another with a lot less! Anxious to hear how it goes!

PK: Let's start a WIF revolution!!! :) Seriously though, I'm with you man. Let's figure this out!! At least until we're 30. :)

Dave Owen said...

Hi Josh,

I love reading your blog and identifying with a great deal of what you have to say. I understand you are simply putting your thoughts on paper - which is courageous - as I'm sure your thoughts change regularly.
I also resignate with a message I once heard that if your focus is simply to put food on your table, and to be satisfied with that, then it's quite selfish. Our goal should be to also put food on the table of others.
I feel that for me, because I live a very prosperous life in Australia, it's my obligation to live simply and give generously.
The continual challenge for me is in trying to determine what simplicity looks like.
It's great to toss these ideas around and to see them in action. I look forward to sharing this with you despite the physical distance between us.

Love you brother.

::athada:: said...

Have you thought about how simplicity can make life more ... complicated?

Ok, in an act of simplicity, you 1)rid yourself of your computer. Paying bills can be a little more arduous and unorganized. File-keeping just got clumbersome. And all your economic / social interactions have to be rearranged. 2) You start growing some of your own food. Well... that takes lots of time. Thoreau (in Walden) hoed beans from 7 am til noontime. Maybe simplicity doesn't mean "doing" less... just "doing" different? And what about having less? Is it ALWAYS simpler or just in general?

Josh said...

Adam: Good thought.

I think simplicity takes more time. We're committed to walking or biking everywhere in Pasadena...which takes a lot more time than driving. Or how about cooking a meal at home rather than eating out. It takes time to cook and clean up!! And we could go on and on. I think it's worth it!!

Anonymous said...

Great summary, Josh

Matt's G

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