Looking For A Line

Photo by LucasTheExperience, via Flickr

I wasn’t there. I was supervising the little ones at Children’s Liturgy. But Alex, my thoughtful, empathetic Alex, was riveted to the missionary’s story of life in Haiti, of poverty so intense that children eat “cookies” made of clay.

When church was over, we drove home to a building that would house dozens of people in other parts of the world, but which shelters only six, a house filled with Stuff we rarely use but can’t or won’t get rid of, and a refrigerator stuffed with food, which we often stand in front of and sigh heavily, “There’s nothing to eat!”

In the days before, we bought a new DSLR camera for which we’ve been saving for well over a year, as well as solar lights for the front and a lovely arbor for my climbing roses. Each of these purchases, long anticipated, fills me with quiet happiness every time I look at them.

“Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

But now there’s an undercurrent of disquiet in my soul. The umbrellas and brooms in the coat closet fall over for the umpteenth time, and I growl, “We need some sort of closet organizer!”–and I think of children eating clay. “I hate all my clothes,” I complain. “As soon as I lose this baby weight I’m going shopping for things that actually look good on me!” And then I remember this picture, and I recognize my supposed necessities for the vanity they are.

We live in a world defined by our consumption. If we don’t consume, everything will fall to pieces, and everyone will be in dire straits, not just those in developing countries. Yet I look at the list of things I want to purchase, and I can’t help thinking how much better spent the money would be going to a place like Haiti, to keep people alive instead of feeding my need for more, more, more. Everything I want to do–travel, home decor, scrapbooking–in the face of such poverty, it feels vaguely immoral. It feels like a scam for me to earn money for singing or writing music or stories, for instance.

I know it isn’t. Beauty is built into the human psyche. What we need to stay alive is only part of the story; God made us to be fulfilled, not just survive, and art, music, beauty–all those “luxuries” are part of that. Somewhere there must be a line between using money to affirm and enjoy the beauty of the world…and gross waste of resources.

But I don’t know where it is.

How do you reconcile consumption and care for the larger world?