Avarice

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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. flytrap.jpgThe 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.
—Philippians 4:8-9

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!

12 thoughts on “Avarice

  1. Amy Heague

    Oh my goodness Dan, this post is amazing. I am not American, but the world you describe in the beginning of your post could be any ‘western’ country. When you hit the church, I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for your amazing eloquence.

  2. Dan,
    I hope you and yours are doing tolerably well. Your voice has been missed.

    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.

    That is one of the most insightful things I have seen written about the church, or maybe I should say (since I’m one of them), the charismatic church. Sometimes we act like spoiled children in an amusement park, oblivious to what is decent and orderly, what is right and just, what is good for others, or even what is good for ourselves in the long run, in our headlong, addictive frenzy for the next thrill.

    Superb post brother.

  3. This was so much needed as reminder to myself. I appreciate it. How then are we to purge this reckless tendency in ourselves? Spurgeon would say that he was “drawing near to the Cross and searching the mistery of Christ’s wounds”. Paul would say “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified”.

    Lord help us in our weakness!

  4. Diane R

    Averice isn’t the only problem.

    One of the root problems is a “What can I get away” mentality of many CEO’s. The only way to curb this is through Boards of Directors but the only way to curb them is through the government which would present new problems of gov’t. interference. The same people sit on each others’ Boards and play the “good ‘ole boy” game of “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine.” We saw the exact same thing in the now-defunct Jim Bakker PTL ministry. And, sadly, we still see it on Boards in some other parachurch ministries too.

  5. Frank

    Dan– I appreciate your linking to Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube video. I was unfamiliar with her work and found it fascinating. One thing she’s rather convinced of, however, is that the plight of the middle class is decidedly not the result of overconsumption (“avarice?”) and that, in fact, Americans are spending less on food, clothing, appliances, and furniture than they did a generation ago. Her research shows other causes: devastating health care costs, a deregulated mortgage industry, and divorce, among others. She also notes the impact of home-buying decisions, which are increasingly driven by safety and education concerns–much less the case 25 years ago.

    I guess I’m a little confused about where you stand on this, Dan. On the one hand, you write about the increasing wealth of the already wealthy; but then you also write that “(t)he avarice of the average man and woman in America (a ‘Christian nation,’ mind you) has led our country into a dark place.”

    I’m sure we’d all be better off with less greed, less avarice. But is the core problem really “the average man?” –not according to Professor Warren.

    • Frank,

      The problem is multi-faceted.

      At the top, you have the ultra-rich, many of whom have abandoned any concept of moral rectitude or responsibility as the rich, who are soaking the average guy on the street and don’t really care.

      The average guy on the street, on the other hand, can’t stop consuming, be it material things or faddish ones, Rather than calling the ultra-rich to repentance, the average man or woman is wondering, How can I get me some of that same action?

      So in truth, it’s really a problem with both sides. I blame the lawyers for much of this mess as they egg on the average man on woman to sue, sue, sue so that we’ve created this world where every price is artificially jacked up because of regulations and lawsuits.

      • Frank

        Thank you, Dan– that’s most helpful. I think Professor Warren’s point is valid, i.e., that overconsumption isn’t the root cause of the middle class squeeze, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of avarice to go around. Fair enough.

  6. Thankfully, I don’t buy green peppers.

    If the costs of pizza starts to rise though I’m going to get cheesed. (No pun intended)

    I dunno, somewhere in all this, God seems to have stashed me deep in what I thought was a financial dungeon while the world flourished, and I’m only now beginning to realize it was really a financial bomb shelter. Everything I thought would have been great to own then would have been a severe liability now (including owning a home). Now I feel bad for shaking my fist at God when all this time He was just protecting me from what was to come. Even in spite of a financial implosion, I can still enjoy my pizzas. 😀

  7. David Riggins

    Dan, I’ve been praying for you and your family. I know that whatever He has in store it will be a) difficult, and b) the best thing for you.

    “Content” is another word that is passed over or misused. Paul said that in whatever situation, he had learned to be content. Christians, I think, are very discontented people. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that we are too often conformed to this world, which thrives on discontent.

    We need to learn contentment.

  8. Thank you so much for your posts like these, Dan. This summer my dh and I are starting a garden in our backyard. In addition to the motivation of enjoying home-grown tomatoes, your post encouraging people to start incorporating survival strategies in their lives–i.e., learning how to use their land to grow food–has been on my mind the last while.

    Growing up, summers with my family were consumed with backbreaking rows of green beans and corn–I was so ready to be done with that grimy job when I moved out! But now I’m realizing how just useful those sustainability skills might be in the not-so-distant future.

    Not to pick a bone or anything, but in relation to Frank’s comments above, I think the argument could be made that regulations for corporations have been diminished in the last few years, not strengthened. I would say regulation roll-backs in the last decades have contributed to the polarization of wealth more than the costs of litigation have. I agree that there are problems with frivolous lawsuits and average Americans, but they’re a tiny fraction of the billions that corporations are syphoning away from deserving workers–or workers who would be deserving if their minimum-wage jobs didn’t drain away all morale

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