Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Cost of Ownership

As I work on my draft manuscript for Deliver Us from Me-Ville I find myself turning a lot to Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk from the mid-twentieth century. I'm reminded again how volatile the times were before I was born, and how comparatively we've not had to deal with much in our day. Sure, we've seen the evolution of the i-Phone and on-demand television programming, but Merton and his contemporaries sat through a great depression, a world war, a cold war, two American wars in Asia and the civil rights movement. Still, I suspect he wrote the following (in his Secular Journals)not so much for his generation as for ours:

I am scared to take a proprietary interest in anything, for fear that my love of what I own may be killing somebody somewhere.


Merton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are proving to be my main teachers as I write this book. Merton is the spiritual director; Bonhoeffer the theologian. His Cost of Discipleship, written in the same era as Merton's Secular Journals, looks at what Christ calls us to lay down in our pursuit of a life with him. Meanwhile, Merton hints at this idea that what a consumerist, materialist culture calls us to take on makes us complicit in what that culture does to the world we inhabit. That's the hidden cost of ownership: we don't only own what we buy, we own the just and unjust business practices that secured the production of what we buy, we own the environmental degradation that such production causes, we own the hoarding of intellectual property that makes luxury items out of life-saving medication. We own all sorts of things alongside the things we invest in or buy.

Read my friend Chris Heuertz's article "Breaking Her Back to Clothe Mine" for a good up-close look at the cost of ownership and some ways of mitigating it.

2 comments:

Charity Singleton said...

These great costs of ownership are so hidden when the only thing we think we are paying is money. This is such a thoughtful piece. And I appreciated Chris' article. Extricating ourselves from this "ownership" society feels almost impossible. Yet we can start with some small steps.

Kami Rice said...

Nice post, Dave. It had me thinking that Wendell Berry (I'm sure you know of Wendell Berry, right?) might be another interesting voice in the Bonhoeffer-Merton conversation...since Berry is such a proponent of local economy for some of those very reasons. Local economy offers some checks and balances for the problem of our owning things creating someone else's injustice. The collection of essays in his Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community book are such a good starting point.