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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Loving stuff

On Friday an automatic teller machine gave me the bad news. My bank balance was zero. Payday wasn't until Monday. We were officially broke. My family wasn't destitute. The bills were paid. We had more than enough food. But for two days we couldn't buy anything.

It shouldn't have been too hard — I'm not much of a materialist. But I hadn't counted on the pressure of habit. Every time I turned around I reached for my purse and headed for the door.

"Mommy, we don't have a TV Guide."

"The radio needs batteries."

"Didn't we have goulash last night?"

"We're out of bread." That one nearly sent me scurrying for my son's bank.

After two days without spending money, I was gasping for financial air. I had fallen into that uniquely American habit — buying stuff.

In Steve Martin's movie The Jerk, the hero goes from sudden wealth to poverty. "It's not the money I'll miss," his wife sighs as a van carts away their expensive knickknacks. "It's the stuff."

This is the American way. Stuff is almost a religion with the mall as its temple, using credit cards as its sacrament and the "beep" of computerized price scanners as its hymn of praise.

It's easy to say, "I'm not like that." But a weekend without buying taught me that I am "like that" — even though I don't own a microwave or VCR and don't use credit cards. The custom of buying was so ingrained that I didn't notice it.

Paul writes, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). To fight this love we must first recognize it as sin, then combat it with prayer and repentance.

I suggest this: Every so often go on a buying "fast." How hard is it? So hard you need to pray that the Lord will keep you from the religion of stuff.


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