We Request Your Presents at Our Wedding: Materialism

Skip top banner“In 1997, an opinion poll published in Harper’s revealed that 79 percent of Americans had ‘pretty much everything’ they needed. Yet many still lust for Rolexes they dare not wear in the presence of the ‘have-nots.’” Skip Eisiminger

Skip the B.S.

by Skip Eisiminger

CLEMSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—6/4/2012—

“Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the can.”—Anonymous

“The glare of the world’s wealth hides its hollow heart.”—The Wordspinner

A saint’s bejeweled reliquary: the gold outlived the flesh.
A saint’s bejeweled reliquary: the gold outlived the flesh.

The bones of Christian saints and martyrs, many of whom died destitute, are wrapped today in gold and warted with jewels. Ironically, these reliquaries lie in stately churches whose faithful believe that before any bones can rise in The Rapture, they must shed their holdings. Unless they do, they run the risk of remaining in the locked glass cases where they have been interred for centuries.

Meanwhile, the Pope flies Shepherd One about the globe, with beef tenderloin for supper and Belgian-linen sheets on his king-size bed. (For the 99 percent, homes are built larger, basements and garages are full to bursting, and the storage-shed business is booming in a weak economy.)

In 1997, an opinion poll published in Harper’s revealed that 79 percent of Americans had “pretty much everything” they needed. Yet many still lust for Rolexes they dare not wear in the presence of the “have-nots.”

To see the symptoms of this curious affliction, please admit the following characters into your imagination.

Shake hands with Rev. St. Jude Got-Rocks, whose missionaries are living at subsistence level, while The Reverend buys gold-plated faucets for his bathrooms.

Greet Elaine, whose sight is failing but who can feel the difference between a nickel and dime through the sole of her Gucci slipper.

And then, there’s Stanley, who claims he loves his ailing father but rues the way his patrimony is being squandered at the pharmacy.

Most probably, it will come as no surprise that these three list the Neiman-Marcus catalogue as their favorite book after the Bible.

These characters would have enjoyed knowing a friend of mine who before his death said, “If I had 25 more years, I could make a billion.” As if $50 million, his estimated net worth, were insufficient. To disburse $40 million of his fortune, one might spend $100,000 each day for ten years on “amusements” and still have $10 million left for food, shelter, and health care.

In 2012, Bill Gates is a rare exception to the stereotypical billionaire. He labors as hard giving away what he earned as he worked to make it. If he has his way, polio and malaria will be eradicated from the planet in the next 20 years. Godspeed, Mr. Gates.

Like the physician’s stethoscope, the pens that American cartoonists have recently pressed against the nation’s chest reveal an ailing subculture.

Robert Mankoff drew a talking head framed by a world map captioned, “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Details at 11:00.” Michael Crawford drew a child in bed between her parents saying, “Now, if only Daddy were rich and Mommy were good-looking, everything would be so totally awesome.” Stuart Leeds drew a CEO standing before the statue of a bull, telling his board, “I say it’s golden, I say it’s a calf, and I say worship it.” And J. B. Handelsman drew a man in prayer saying, “And now, if I may, I’d like to put You on hold for a moment while I have a few words with Mammon.”

All of which points up the fact that the Sioux warrior whose papoose blanket was woven to double as his shroud . . . now runs a casino.

The Muslims tell a story of Jesus that didn’t make the final cut in the West.

In it, according to Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the worldly possessions of Jesus included a comb and a cup. But when Jesus saw a man raking his beard with his fingers, he threw away his comb. When he saw a man drinking water from his cupped hands, he tossed aside his cup. The omission of that story from the New Testament may have saved the cup-and-comb industries west of the Nile and, despite the impression you may have received above, that has not been a bad thing. Just compare the economic well-being of the average Egyptian to that of the average American.

A “traveling reliquary” of Saint Andrew. He still couldn’t take it with him.
A “traveling reliquary” of Saint Andrew. He still couldn’t take it with him.

Having grown up in a home that was far from ascetic, I understand the desire to cherish the tangibles in one’s life.

A colleague of mine has an iron dinner bell in his home that he once rang to summon his parents when the family farm house caught fire.

Four feet tall at age ten, Phillip could not reach the rope his father had shortened to stop his mischievous son from ringing the bell indiscriminately.

As the fire spread, the boy dragged his grandfather’s porch rocker to the bell pole, but still he could not reach the rope. Finally, tears streaming, he put his shoulder to the pole and shook it with all his might, ringing the bell which brought his parents from the fields . . . but it was too late.

The Bible asks, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Of course, it’s not the whole world my friend has gained, just a rusting bell and a hand-hewn rocker, but who can blame him for holding on to these objects?

There’s an old chestnut about a philosophy professor who brings a large-mouthed jar to class, along with a box of fist-sized rocks and a box of sand. To begin with, he fills the jar with rocks; then asks his students, “Is the jar full?”

“Yes,” the puzzled class finally answers.

“Are you sure?” the professor asks, opening the box of dry sand, which he pours amongst the stones while gently shaking the jar. Explaining the object lesson, he says, “The rocks represent your family and health, while the sand stands in for your clothes and car, etc. The point is: had I filled the jar with sand to begin with, there would have been no room for the rocks. Learn to discern between life’s big stuff, and the filler.”

As much as I like this allegory, I’d change the sand to loose, dry dirt. Then, I’d add water and some seeds. Family and health are still represented by the ballast but, with soil and water, I can raise a crop, sell the excess, and stop sponging off my parents. Roots have a way of finding nutrients and supporting growth.

In my humble estimation, those monks on Mt. Athos, who’ve renounced personal knives, will be faced with many knots they cannot untie with fingers alone. It is true that combs and cups may be replaced by hands, as we have seen, but the Swiss Army knife on my keychain is not entirely without its allure. Indeed, its toothpick, tweezers, nail file, screw driver, scissors, and knife are small charms against some of the vexations of life.

So, while I have no interest in a Rolex that I’d be ashamed or frightened to wear below my sleeve, I’ll keep my pocket knife at the ready.

Dr. Sterling (“Skip”) Eisiminger was born in Washington DC in 1941. The son of an Army officer, he traveled widely but often reluctantly with his family in the United States and Europe. After finishing a master’s degree at Auburn and taking a job at Clemson University in 1968, he promised himself that he would put down some deep roots. These roots now reach back through fifty years of Carolina clay. In 1974, Eisiminger received a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, where poet James Dickey “guided” his creative dissertation. His publications include Non-Prescription Medicine (poems), The Pleasures of Language: From Acropox to Word Clay (essays), Omi and the Christmas Candles (a children’s book), and Wordspinner (word games). He is married to the former Ingrid (“Omi”) Barmwater, a native of Germany, and is the proud father of a son, Shane, a daughter, Anja, and grandfather to four grandchildren, Edgar, Sterling, Spencer, and Lena. (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)

One Comment

  • John Idol

    I keep waiting for Romney to be trufhful and assert: “By getting and spending
    we create jobs and leap out of recession. Bringing the nation to greatness again
    is as easy as PIE. Just watch me do it on day Ol.”

    And here’s a man who follows Joseph Smith. Let him read Mark Twain on the Book of the Mormons.