Do I need this?

Oh dear! I’ve got an addiction! Stationary! If you were to open the top drawer of my little cabinet in my hut at the back of our miniature garden, your eyes would come out on stalks at the sheer number of pens and pencils that are stuffed in there. Do I need all of them? Of course not! For years I’ve tried to sketch, giving up frequently as a result of my disappointment at my crass lack of skill. So some of the pens and pencils lie dormant. My shelves are full of notebooks in which I try to keep a journal (with a few terrible sketches), again with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Do I need them? What’s worse is my avoidance of calculating how much money I’ve spent on stationary. Hmmm. 

Perhaps as we move more deeply into what may be a financial recession and a food crisis, the question ‘Do I need it?’ will become an important if disturbing [for some!] question. On the face of it, the following little story [a parable?] from a collection by Anthony de Mello, might put the question of ‘need’ in some perspective.

A great spiritual teacher dismissed those who spent their lives writing or speaking about theories that may have seemed reasonable but somehow never quite matched reality. He didn’t rate ideologues highly. The teacher met, one day, someone he knew that spent her time trying to persuade others about her theories. “This is a crazy world,” she ranted. “The rich buy on credit though they have plenty of money, but the poor, who are penniless, must pay cash.” The teacher asked, “So what do you suggest?”. “Oh! Turn things around. Make the rich pay cash and give the poor credit.” The teacher smiled. “But if a shopkeeper gives credit to the poor, he’ll end up poor himself!” “Great”, said the ideologue, “Then he can buy on credit too!” This is, it seems to me, a topical story, which really a parable. Don’t explain it away. Just live with it!  As Jesus of the Way might say, “If you eyes and ears to see and hear, then see and hear!”

If you and I were to go into town and do some shopping, or we were to sit in front of a laptop, I wonder what our shared answer would be to the question ‘Do I need it?’ The answer maybe a ‘yes’ but it’s too expensive. The danger in all this is that when I ask ‘Do you need it?’ I become a kill-joy. No! My dear wife Elspeth loves using the word ‘treats’, which applies to adults as well as children. A treat, I don’t need, but on occasion it brings joy. The joy becomes even greater when both we adults and children deepen our awareness of the real cost of things. I must confess to a deplorable ignorance as to what food costs and how these prices are increasing. I need educating!

It may well be that to buy only what you need will bring greater joy anyway! The mystery of God is in danger of being drowned out, perhaps, by attitudes of acquisition. As that cliché has it – to live simply so that others may simply live. Here’s a question for you economists out there! The media inform me that because people are slowing down their expenditure because of the major crises in the world,  the UK’s economy is suffering. Does that mean that the welfare of this country is dependent on us spending, whether we need to or not? You land up, it seems to me, with the silly logic of the story above. Economic ideology. Correct me, if I’m wrong. Maybe the fast approaching new austerity, [for some it’s already here!] over which we may have little or no choice, will bring a healthy change in attitude – and perhaps more joy! Maybe the question then becomes, “What do I really want? – really!”

In the Love of God,

Bishop Martin

18 May 2022
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