Today we bought a new (to us) vehicle. I have spent the past week dedicating a significant amount of mental energy into the process of shopping for cars, researching prices, negotiating, and crunching numbers. Throughout the week I’ve felt a sense of unease and exhaustion. I don’t like talking about money or haggling over material items like a car. I feel a bit guilty relishing the creature comforts that come with an upgrade to a vehicle that is seven years newer than my previous one. Am I trying to serve two masters? I say my motives are to make a smart financial choice to get out of an older car that may need repairs or new parts in the next year or so and is getting high in miles. I say my main priorities are safety and reliability, yet I have to admit I am quite excited about details like heated seats and Bluetooth connectivity. It all feels so suburban and vain. It feels like moth and rust and like my heart is being drawn away from heavenly treasures. Car shopping is undeniably in conflict with my values.
Wendell Berry’s manifesto (and mine) begins with a warning about consumerism and love of money.
“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.”
Instead, Berry insists that we should value the odd, counterintuitive blessings of life that go overlooked by the world and those who belong to it– Lying in the shade. Planting an uncertain harvest. Loving someone who doesn’t deserve it. Like Jesus to the Rich Young Ruler, Berry urges me to
“Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.”
I can tell you with assurance that this car I bought today will not be fitting through the eye of any needle.
During various parts of this process I had Ezra with me out of necessity. I watched with dismay as he gleefully inspected the shiny new sports cars in the show room with copious oohs and ahs. What am I implicitly teaching my children about the value of possessions? How do I model an appropriate relationship to money and the things it can buy? I don’t have the answers to these questions.
When the all the papers were signed the kind salesperson helped me switch my car seats over to the new car and I strapped Ezra in.
“Do we get to keep it forever?” he asked me.
“No, buddy cars don’t last forever.” I replied uncomfortably and then eagerly changed the subject by asking,
“What song should we listen to for our very first song in our new car?”
(I was expecting him to say some Story Bots song or Dora the Explorer.)
“Um, I know!” he exclaimed, “How about ‘Yes Jesus Loves Me?’”
As Andrew likes to say sometimes—that’ll preach. Jesus does love me. He knows I have need of these things and I’m grateful to be of more value to him than any sparrow. But what my anxious mind truly needed in that moment was the drive home, listening to that simple song about child-like faith in God’s great big love for all of His children and his strength when we are weak and know it. My little ones that I feel so responsible for actually to Him belong and the same goes for all of my so-called belongings. The Bible tells me so.
To leave you with a laugh and a squirm, please enjoy the infamous used car dealership scene from the ever-enchanting Matilda.