As I was examining one of the new nickels today, it struck me that not only is our country creating new commemorative quarters, but nickels, $10, $20 and $50 bills too (maybe higher but I don't see those often...)--where will it end??? It's interesting for two reasons: first, I always think it's funny when things are created just because someday they'll be collectors itmes--like Beanie Babies (remember that fad?) or commemorative plates. It's like we're completely full of ourselves. We think that because we dig up random old stuff and think it's really amazing just because it's old and rare, that people will think the same thing about our junk in several thousand years. (I think if anyone does do archaeological digs on our stuff they'll have way too much information than they'll even care about, and everything will be preserved really well because it's made of plastic!)
Second, it got me thinking about the fact that every day our country creates more money by printing and minting it. It makes sense to make some new money--some gets lost or damaged, so we need replacements. But to make new money all the time? Why?
Why, you ask? Because our economy is based on growth. If we don't have inflation our economy fails.
Now if you ask me, this isn't a very good way to found a lifestyle that a whole culture depends upon. I'm not an economist, but it seems like at some point it has to fall apart. At some point there can't be any more. At some point there is too much excess and the system can't hold it. At some point someone has to start paying their debts.
This made me think about the way we as Westerners, or at least Americans, live our individual lives. We (as a culture--hopefully not those individuals reading this blog!) live based so much on progress, on getting better and more and faster. People work so hard so they can buy the newest thing, or spend gratuitously on food or entertainment or vacation--but do they ever have time to enjoy the food? Do they ever take a vacation? Americans spend plenty of time doing "entertainment" that is mainly sit-on-your-butt-and-be-brainwashed type entertainment like movies and TV, and they have to buy the best system to do that with and have the right snacks to go with it. (Note: movies and TV aren't inherently bad, I think, but if we do them just to "escape," what is it that we're "escaping" from?)
I'm not so bad with the entertainment issue, but I do spend a lot of my time and energy becoming "more" educated, knowing "more," learning the newest stuff in my field, getting better at languages and everything so I can progress to the next level, so academia can progress because of all the work I and my colleagues are doing in my generation to advance the field.
All this "more," all this "better," all this stuff--when do we just sit and be happy with what we have?
George W. was right [I could make a sarcastic comment here but I'll refrain] when he counseled Americans to go out and be consumers when the economy was lagging after 9/11. If no one buys anything, no one gets paid and the economy doesn't go around. But this seems to me an economy based on fear, and it breeds anxiety in everyone in a majority of people in our culture. We always need to have and be the best--but how do we know when we've gotten there?
I think this is the time when we need to sit and contemplate who we truly are, to let God inform our self-identity with love for ourselves and for God that overflows into love for those around us. In this space of freedom, in the security that comes from knowing who we are and that we are loved and are free to love others, there is no need for more or better. There is just me, and God, and the good news of that freedom that I get to share with those around me.
Doesn't that sound so much more appealing than this crazy rat race?