I call it the Green Pepper Price Index (GPPI).
Just two and a half years ago, I could buy a green pepper in my local grocery store for $0.59. Sometimes the price even went down to $0.49. This last Saturday, that same green pepper was $1.29.
People can’t seem to connect the rising prices of food in their grocery stores with the cost of fuel to truck it there. They can’t see that when a big farming operation goes through as much as 2,500 gallons of diesel a day, $4.59 a gallon diesel fuel (up from just $1.29/gal. in my area a few summers ago) drives up the cost of that green pepper.
And why are gas prices that high? Oil speculation. When you have to cover the costs of bid-up oil futures as one rich multi-millionaire after another plays the speculation game, you’ve got to raise prices. When a billionaire like Mark Cuban, owner of The Dallas Mavericks, says that rich guys are squeezing the little guys like us in their no-holds-barred gambling in the oil speculation market—and that it has to stop for the sake of our country (though the scoundrels behind this show no sign of easing up)—you know we live in unprecedented, self-centered times.
Every study out there shows the middle class losing ground. (Here’s an eye-opening analysis.) Meanwhile, the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country have never been richer. The CEO of UnitedHealthcare made $1.2 billion in compensation in 2006. That’s billion. Yeah, with a b.
It’s not a word we use too often anymore, avarice. The continued dumbing-down of our vocabulary excludes it in favor of the more common greed. But avarice is a more compelling word, with a ferocity that greed lacks. Greed is snatching a slice more pizza than you deserve. Avarice is buying the pizzeria and forcing it to make pizzas for no one else but you. Avarice doesn’t merely want one more; it wants to change the structure of reality at a deeper level to feed that greed.
The problem with the kind of avarice I’ve highlighted so far is that it’s easy to spot. Some CEO runs his company into the ground and walks away with 9-digits of golden parachute exit money…well, only the CEO and his board of directors consider that a rational response.
But avarice goes much deeper, affecting the common man, too. Sometimes, we even see it in our churches.
The kind of avarice I’m talking about finds it’s revealing in these verses:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I believe that at its core, avarice is an inability to consider the inherent good in what God has created or done for us and be satisfied with it.
Avarice cannot think on what is good or pure because they aren’t good or pure enough, at least as the person stricken by avarice thinks. Such a person sees a beautiful, verdant forest filled with the Lord’s good gifts to us and thinks, If we cut down all the trees, we could put in a strip mall. That shrunken soul finds no excellence in the forest. Such a mind is warped to only see what it believes is good, whether that “good” has any grounding in God’s good or not. Such a mind would pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.
The avarice of the average man and woman in America (a “Christian nation,” mind you) has led our country into a dark place. To that average person, no good exists save that it provide him or her an immediate, self-centered gratification. This even extends to our American heritage. Today’s Americans value freedom so little that we are willing to give it away for perceived personal gain, even if the wholesale barter of American guiding principles destroys the country in the process. We have become people adrift on a tiny ice flow in the middle of a vast ocean, looking for ways to start a fire because “it’s a little chilly on this ice.”
And what about our churches?
Avarice in our churches means that we will moan and whine about our pet issue until it splits the church in two. No matter that the church goes belly up and fellow believers are hurt. No, it’s better to “stand up for the truth” (even if that truth isn’t) than to do a little self-discovery and realize the world doesn’t revolve around us and our pet issue. Better that we leave our sacrifice and be reconciled with our brother and sister in Christ before we might offer it.
Avarice in our churches precludes teachability. When our hearts swell with avarice, no room is left to grow in grace.
Avarice in our churches means that we won’t be satisfied with the speed at which God is doing good things in our midst, so we’ll find some man-made way to stoke that fire, ultimately burning everything up, including the good we started out with.
Avarice in our supposedly Christ-centered lives will force us to distrust the Faith of our Fathers and explore every newfangled Christian fad that comes down the pike, even if such fads derail our journey with Christ. That inability to appreciate the good for its inherent goodness only wrecks our faith as we seek to add to what is already perfect in Christ.
Avarice cannot meditate on the good because it perpetually searches for something better, even if that supposed better mauls everyone it touches. Woe to us if we are on the receiving end of that mauling! We’ll find that our “better” turns to devour us.
God, how we need to purge our lives of avarice!