Affluence is everywhere today

Affluence is everywhere today and I can’t be at home or on the internet or in my own head without feeling it expanding in every one of my cells and it is boiling through my body, overflowing here in this writing.

Last night, I’m canning peaches at 10 pm but because I want to, not because I have to and when I got home from ten days away on Monday I threw out two ice cream pails of rotten produce to the chickens. Because why not let it go bad, we aren’t starving, I planned poorly before our trip and we can buy more.

We flew on a plane to visit my parents because driving by myself with three kids for 12 hours is a lesson in sending me to the loony bin, but we can still go, plane tickets for four please. I ordered my son’s homeschool curriculum with the click of a mouse and entered in my credit card info no problem, no problem at all. It’s a luxury this homeschooling, because my hard-working husband earns enough and we are careful enough with money that I don’t have to work. I’m fully conscious this week of the single mom working two jobs, dropping her kiddos at daycare before school even starts, missing her babies first day of kindergarten, coming home just to tuck them into bed. I’m crying for her or for myself or both as I write this.

Careful enough with money, what does that mean anyway? It means we own one old(er) vehicle, but my husband get’s a company one so really it is no sacrifice. And just this morning I was thinking about wanting a bigger one because it is hard to fit all three kids car seats across the back seat. It means almost all the kids clothes come from the second hand store, but they are so nice you couldn’t tell anyway and it means that we grow a garden and belong to a food coop to save on groceries. But we do it so we can eat healthy, our alternative is not noodles and hotdogs and food bank offerings. I don’t shop for myself unless desperate because once I learned about slavery and infertile women left rejected by their families and spouses, as a result of dyeing fabric it took the fun out of it anyway. And we rarely eat out, and I don’t shop, and wow, am I ever ill at my own ideas of sacrifice.

If I dropped my kids at school, I could take a yoga class (and I fantasize some days about doing just this) and get a latte from my favourite cafe. If I went to work, it would be for extras, like new vehicles and vacations and paying off our mortgage sooner. Or I could come home and write this uninterrupted and read a whole book and have a really clean house. But I don’t and instead I am talking with friends who I love about what classes to send our kids too, for them to learn to swim, or play soccer or guitar or whatever. I’m planning what retreats I myself am going to this fall. On a day like today I don’t know what is good and fine and beautiful and enough and what is luxury, luxury, luxury.

And here I am writing about it on the internet and yes, another rich white woman writing on the internet about her discomfort. Time and education and money to sit here in this space. Time to create.

Irony.

Luxury?

Because I know that right here in my own city today there are people without enough food and clothes (I mean I really know a few of them by name) and today children are dying around the world from lack of basics and does their mother love them less than I love my own. Is her grief different. I know it isn’t.

I don’t know what to do with this and our sponsor children and giving money and our careful spending and our volunteer work here just feel like less than nothing today. It’s like sand between my teeth and I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin I want to run away from myself.

Because North America and Christ’s bride the church, we believe that things like date nights and vacations and retreats and a beautiful home and ample food and lessons for our kids are well deserved and good and basic, if we are ‘responsible’ with our money. And I love all these things. Feel refreshed by them, inspired by them, grown by them.

What is a luxury now?

I ask for the mother who never has the free time to create, I ask for the kids who will never leave the city they were born in, I ask for the kid who spends all their after school hours watching TV, home alone. I ask for the women who are burying their starved children today and for the children who are ‘orphaned’ because their parents can’t afford to keep them.

I ask for myself.

Lord have mercy.

Edited to add on February 1, 2014: Sharing over at Esther Emery’s  site today for her syncroblog on spirit of the poor.

Spirit of the Poor

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This entry was posted in Life in the 30's, Social justice, Women's issues. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Affluence is everywhere today

  1. taryn says:

    thank you, leah. after spending what, for many people, would seem an exorbitant amount of money on fall lessons and activities over the past few days, this was the gentle reminder that i needed 🙂
    yes, we are so, so fortunate…

    • Leah Colbeck says:

      I think that is a part of it for me today too – the feeling in September that money can be ‘tight’. I don’t like it because I know it really isn’t – we are just spending so much.

  2. Pingback: It is Thursday morning and I am still thinking about affluence being everywhere | Leah Colbeck

  3. Peyton says:

    My wife shared your article and I certainly enjoyed it. It’s a good point that I’ve been meditating on more as of late (especially seeing that all we own is really a gift from God). I do think it’s ironic that there’s an add for Levi’s at the bottom of the post that sells jeans/pants based on style “you’re gonna be famous, you’re gonna be shameless” in a typical way of our society. Once again thanks for the needed reflections.

    • Leah Colbeck says:

      Hi Peyton. Welcome 🙂 Yes I agree, it is all a gift from God, 100%, the struggle for me is how much of it is really mine to keep? As hard as it is to be in that tension, I don’t want it to go away either – I want it to change me to look just a little tiny bit more like Christ, bit by bit. (And off to figure out how to remove ads from my blog – funny they don’t show up on my screen.)

  4. Dear Leah,

    As I read your story I remember my own days homeschooling in Chicagoland, surrounded by affluence. It’s 20-years later now, my children are all grown, and as I read your story, I can’t help but think that you are living a blessed life. There’s no guilt in that.

    You are putting your family, your health, your morality and spirituality first. When you live in the midst of affluence, it’s a different way of life. To cut out the soccer or the music lessons would make your children misfits… or bored… or idle… and that could lead to disasters of a different sort.

    Maybe there’s a single mom you can help from time to time, or lots of other things…. but to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to feel guilty because you are blessed, that can’t be what Christ meant. I believe you have the spirit of the poor, for you know the poor by name and you mourn for what is happening, you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

    It’s just really, really hard to live counter-culturally in the midst of affluence… really hard! I love your spirit – you have a heart like Jesus.

    • Leah Colbeck says:

      Hi Susan – thank you for your from the heart and from your experience reply. I really felt touched when I read it and your grace and acceptance you expressed within. I wrote this a while back (it is still my most viewed blog post to this day) and thought of linking it up when Esther talked about lamenting in her original post. Because that’s to me what this expresses. I think you are correct that Christ doesn’t want me to feel guilty for having a blessed life and yes without a doubt I do have a blessed life. In the past few years God has taught me something new about being beloved and most days I don’t feel guilt even while most days I feel tension over what is ‘right’ for my own family to use and what is ‘right’ for us to share. My lament is that I so often see hypocricy within Christianity and myself in terms of loving others. Lamenting over this dissonance to me is different than guilt – I believe it helps us move to the joy and freedom of God and the redemption that Esther mentioned when we act on the dissonance in life giving and loving others ways and invite more and more of God’s kingdom to break through even if it feels uncomfortable at first 🙂 Thanks again, I really did cry when I read your comment.

      • Leah,
        I am very grateful to read about your life, and that you shared it with us on the spirit of the poor discussion. I had much the same reaction as Susan to your story.
        I thought I’d share one thing my daughter, now 31, said to me on Saturday. She attended a reading of some of my stories about family life. She told me that she has been thinking a lot about giving responsibility to her child as much as love. She was struck one of the events in the story where we had trusted her. I think there may be qualities that we can teach our children that give them as much benefit in life as paid activities (although I am a musician and took lessons.) But I think it important to pass along to our children our values, perhaps more important that passing along to them every opportunity that our society says they need to succeed. What goals do you have for your children? That is a place to look and see if the affluent society around you has made it’s way into that space. I am not being judgmental at all. I admire how you live. But I have seen examples of people valuing the cultural expectations more than their own values when it comes to raising their children.
        Newell

        • Leah Colbeck says:

          Hi Newell,
          Thank you for your reply and your wise advice. I am always so grateful to those who have grown children for their wisdom and sharing what they feel the gifts they gave their children were (I’m talking non material gifts here.) I read a quote just today that speaks in a similar vein to you I believe from the Dalai Lama. ‘It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts.’ Yes responsibility is important I agree and so is learning through modeling and exposure and discussion in this regard. And thank you so much for the reminder to be purposeful about pondering if your actions follow with your values, for ourselves and our children. I’m so grateful for this discussion to inspire me to be more present aobut that and the joy that comes from bringing the two into greater harmony. I have been thinking about this topic very much over the past few days and have many more thoughts spurred on by your and Susan’s comments but perhaps I will save them till next month 🙂 Leah

          • I have 2 daughters, 31, 26. The 31 year old dropped out of college after 2 years because she didn’t want to take advantage of her priveledged position in life. She does farming and teaches children creative movement. Half of her classes are immigrant farmworking children who don’t pay. She continues to be an inspiration to me.
            My other daughter dropped out of highschool after 2 years to self educate. Our older daughter counciled us to trust her, so we did. She is now a children’s librarian, having gotten a full scholarship for her masters. Both have daughters of their own, and we remain a close family. I admit I was scared when my daughters dropped out of formal education, but I can’t think of 2 more valuable members of our society.
            So other than bragging about my daughters, I wanted to reinforce the quality of trust over trying to make them conform to cultural standards.

            • Leah Colbeck says:

              Thank you for sharing about your daughters – how inspirational 🙂 I love how you feel proud of them and again I’m feeling like it is such a gift to learn from you with your grown children. We have a long way to go but I am slowly learning this about trust. My 8 year old raised 1500 for a well on his own motivation and volition this past fall. I wanted to talk him into something smaller, not sure how he could do it on his own but I resisted and you know what he did it in three months through various means. I pray I don’t talk him out of too many other things I am not even aware of!

  5. Thank you, Leah, for sharing with so much honesty and for pondering this whole idea of affluence and luxury. I agree with Susan that you should not hold onto any guilt. (Guilt doesn’t do us any good and only holds us back from making change.) I think you are already coming a long way by recognizing and acknowledging the privileges you enjoy, lamenting this, and continuing to discern and explore how you and your family might make changes in your lifestyle and/or in how you might begin to educate the hearts of your children. (I love that Dalai Lama quote!) This is not an easy thing for any of us to and it takes a lifetime to really figure it out. Thankfully we do not do this alone – but rather in community. Thank you for beginning this journey!

    • Leah Colbeck says:

      Hi Emily – thank you for your comment and thank you for stopping by 🙂 It’s been interesting sharing this post with people who don’t regularly read or ‘know me’ and a good growth experience for me. I started reading Shane Claiborne about nine years ago and he changed my life by making me see Jesus and the world differently. It does take a lifetime to figure it out or at least I pray I keep traveling more towards having a heart like Jesus the longer I live. Specifically this post was a lament triggered by the hypocricies in my own life and in the greater ‘Christian community’ where we can so often say and believe one thing but do another. A side effect of being human I am afraid and one that without a doubt I will continue to be saddened by my whole life. I also believe there is much joy and growth and freedom in my own life. As I mentioned below to Esther I feel less comfortable sharing about those online because part of the reason I have big feelings on this is I am close to people affected by injustice and of course when we love those affected we tend to have bigger feelings. But I would never want to accidentally harm or mistreat anyone either so I am much more careful with my words now that I would have been say nine years ago when I started making major changes but wasn’t relationally involved yet. Okay thanks for all the thoughts you have spurred in me and off to see your post 🙂

      • “Specifically this post was a lament triggered by the hypocricies in my own life and in the greater ‘Christian community’ where we can so often say and believe one thing but do another.” I totally hear you on this! This is a daily struggle for me, as well, as I, too, live near and among many who are on the “margins” of society and work with many children, youth, and families whose daily sufferings and battles are up against systemic injustices. It definitely makes this more difficult to grapple with when we know so many personally who are hurting and we recognize that we, ourselves, enjoy privileges that contribute to their marginalization and suffering. And yet, on the other end, it is hard to figure out how to still live our lives and enjoy what we do have. This is such a tension to wrestle with!

        And I also hear you on lamenting the hypocrisy of the greater ‘Christian community.’
        It can be aggravating and sometimes down-right angering to see and hear hear it play out – especially within the Church. However, I think you have done a good job in choosing bold words that still speak the truth in love! Thank you for continuing to speak out boldly – even though it can be quite scary and difficult! (What is great is knowing that you are not doing it alone.)

        I love Shane Claiborne! He was one of the authors I started following years ago who really transformed me, as well! I’m curious, which city do you live in?

        So glad to joining you in this conversation and in this difficult ministry and way of life! I look forward to hearing and learning more from you in the future!

  6. I’m glad you linked this up, Leah. Here you are, right in the messy middle, and there it is. I think it is so important that we feel first, even if it is ALL THE FEELINGS, and process action later. The spiritual path is so much about acknowledging the questions, and living in the questions. And this is a true question of our day. So let’s tell the question, and keep telling it, and eventually learn to live the question.

    • Leah Colbeck says:

      Hi Esther, thanks for commenting. Yes I agree as someone with big feelings and big thoughts (and that’s how God made me) I think is important to let that out there from time to time. Just for greater understanding, I mentioned over at Jamie’s place I actually cofounded an inner city mama to mama support group six years ago and that is part of the reason I have such big feelings on these issues on a local as well as global scale. I love those women fiercly and seeing certain unjustices up close and personal happening to people you love feels a lot different. But I really never write about it online because those friends are such a treasure to me, I would never want to accidentally hurt them in any way. Six years ago before I had gotten in relationally I would have been much freer with my words and ideas on this topic. But I want to encourage others in the blessing that relational understanding is – still learning how to tread that line 🙂 And yes you are so right, telling the question, and making steps towards living it. May those steps never end.

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