Sunday, July 02, 2006

Time and Stuff

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
--Alabama

I just finished reading Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, (#14) by Judith Levine. (Hey, I didn't buy it - I put it on my birthday list and had it bought for me as a present!) I saw it on Barbara Ehrenreich's blog (who wrote Nickel and Dimed) and thought it looked interesting. I really enjoyed the read. Levine, after a frustrating Christmas-shopping experience where she's realizes she's just spent huge amounts of money in a matter of a couple hours, decides with her partner Paul to attempt to go a year without buying anything that isn't necessary.

The book chronicles their year, month by month, of not buying, and the struggles, benefits, and challenges they face. First struggle, for instance, is defining what is necessary to buy. For example, obviously food is a necessity, but what kind of food? Paul argues that wine is a necessity for any Italian. Another challenge throughout the book is how others perceive their project. Other people actually find it impacts their relationship with Paul and Judy, because they can't go out to dinner together or to movies, etc. Levine also discusses feeling out of the loop - not being able to see Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, when it comes out.

The whole time I kept thinking, "I could never do this," even though I admire their project. Levine talks a lot about how buying is so tied up with our American identities. It even, we learned after 9/11, makes us more patriotic to buy things, right? Compelling stuff.

But, the thing that hit me most, because of where my mind's been lately, was her look into working and buying and time. Levine writes, "'A nation is really rich if the work day is six hours rather than twelve,' [Marx] wrote . . . Today, idleness belongs not to the superior classes but to the 'underclass,' who, being underemployed, undereducated (and, conservatives charge, undermotivated), have nothing better to do than hang out. The 'superior' classes - the executives, surgeons, and frequent-flyer inspirational speakers - are paid well enough to while away half the year at the beach, but they do not. Their status depends in part on being busy. They don't even while away the hours between 4 and 6 AM, when . . . they are all on their Nordic Tracks, making cell phone calls, and watching CNN. To be superior, you have to be industrious, even if what you do (say, manipulate your company's earnings reports to artificially raise stock values) is not useful." (pg. 203)

Levine rightly later ties this theoretically into Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which I read in college. Weber basically argues that our Protestant religious orientations make us good worker and good capitalists. Levine's point, I think, is that somewhere in our course of history, we made being busy the same as being good.

And don't we feel it?! I recently purchased a PDA, after years being fine without one. I like it, in many ways. But I have this one agenda item on my calendar called "rolling to-do list," which is probably self-explanatory. Every day, when I don't get the things on that list done, I reschedule it for the next day. It stresses me, my inability to complete that list. And yet, I know all of those things must be done eventually. It is my constant reminder of what I still have to do. Today, a holiday, my first thoughts on waking are that I've slept too late and that I should immediately get to work on something productive. I might not actually do so, but then I have a knot of guilt instead to carry with me.

Here, perhaps, is a place where left and right, progressives and conservatives are largely alike, don't you think? And in the church, we are probably disgraceful in our stressed and busy lives, especially in our leadership. We are no models of Sabbath, at least I am not. And yet, I can't picture that Jesus ever carried around a PDA, or made appointments to see people, or had to write out a plan of ministry. In reality, there is not very much that we "have to do" in this life. We must live. How much more do we feel compelled to add to that list? Must help others. Must live the gospel. What does that really entail?

My grandfather, Millard Mudge, was a man who was dearly loved - is dearly loved, even today, eight years after his death. When my brother was at the calling hour with one of his friends, and they watched people lined up for hours even outside and around the building, the friend asked my brother, "Who was your grandfather?" Well, my grandfather was a small-town man who had a garden in his backyard, and worked at Rome Cable. After he retired, he worked as a gas-station attendant, to pay the bills, and, I thought at the time, to buy me Happy Meals. I'm not sure how many awards he had to his name (except, his joy, an award one year as Father of the Year.) In his diaries, he kept track of the weather, mostly. He wore an "Jesus Loves You" clip on his sweater-vests, and he loved to give them away when people mentioned them to him. Who was he? He was a good man. And he practically has saint-status in our family. But mostly, he just lived his life.

When did that stop being enough?

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
Post a Comment