"All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden on others."
Bishop Milton Wright made that axiom a cornerstone in the education of his two eldest sons -- Wilbur and Orville. And, even though it is obviously built on the universalism of Christian humility, it has a rather quaint ring to it in today's world.
I thought of Bishop Wright's advice the other day while having breakfast with a group of expatriate men who make their permanent homes in Mexico. They are the type of guys who, when asked the question: "Where are your from?," respond with: "Barra" or "Melaque" rather than "Canada" or "America."
The area has suffered several burglaries lately. Some during the day. Some at night while the house is occupied -- a prospect I find rather creepy.
As we chatted along, I realized we talk about thefts almost as often as we speak about our medical issues. What is it that makes us so obsessed about losing our stuff?
Obviously, personal security is one concern. No one really feels safe in a home where a stranger has entered without permission and has left with personal property.
But it all seems to come back to the loss of stuff. Anyone who has lived here very long learns that anything portable left in an unsecured area will not be there when you return. My Mexican neighbors are quite conscientious in locking up the things they prize. Because walk they will.
I have experienced only one burglary. When I lived in Villa Obregon. Someone cut through the bars on my windows and took most of my electronic equipment and related accessories. I was not home at the time. So, I do have some skin in this discussion.
In stuff is just stuff, I rehearsed some of the arguments that went through my head at my breakfast with the guys. Anyone who knows me will recognize that I am not an anti-materialist -- not in the philosophical sense of that term, but in the sense my hippie friends misused it in the last century.
I enjoy accumulating nice things and then enjoying their use. But I hope I also have the sense to realize my stuff is not who I am. Each object may represent the hard hours of work it took to buy it, but they are all separate from who I am as a person.
"All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden on others" is about as American as any axiom can be. At least, the America where I grew up. Where the object in life was to find work that you enjoyed and that could support your family. It was a far healthier attitude than merely attempting to see who could accumulate the largest pile of stuff.
Maybe that is one reason I moved to Mexico. In my conversations with my Mexican neighbors, almost all of them wished they could earn enough money to have a few more things. That appears to be a universal desire. But none of them indicated they wanted to have the wealth of Bill Gates -- or their fellow countryman Carlos Slim.
Embedded in that conversation is the wisdom of Proverbs 30:8-9: "Provide just the food I need today; for if I have too much, I might deny
you and say, "Who is ADONAI?" And if I am poor, I might steal and thus
profane the name of my God."
I suspect Bishop Wright would have appreciated that verse. More likely, it is the source of his good advice.