Sunday, December 03, 2006

Nathan Dungan

an interesting show on NPR about the divide between what we say about money and greed and how we spend our money. don't know about the malls in your city but they're pretty crowded around these parts this time of year.

americans seem to agree that society has become too materialistic but this christmas, more than not, people will take on more debt to pay for gifts. why?
here's the transcript:
Nathan Dungan talks about the reasons. Mr. Dungan teaches about money through his share-save-spend philosophy.
if you're not christian, you can look past the religious content -- i see myself as a student of all religions -- and see the value of what he says.

Mr. Dungan: And I think this is very appropriate for your question because my grandparents, particularly on my mother’s side, farmers, eastern — southeastern Colorado, raising five children on a 70-acre farm, OK, vegetable farm, they had a very clear definition of needs and wants.

Ms. Tippett: And the difference between needs and wants.

Mr. Dungan: And the difference between needs and wants. They paid cash and they physically had to get in the car to drive into town, you know, to purchase items. And then my grandparents on the other side, I remember my dad telling me stories about in the Depression when he was very young, they had very little food in the house, but yet they still would invite neighbors over to share what they had because that’s just the way it was.

So here we are, there’s kind of the role of the church, I think, is sort of a guiding light in terms of needs of others and gratitude, and really understanding again what is your purpose and place for being on this earth. You know, I think you can’t argue that it’s a good thing that people perhaps have prospered and that more people are homeowners and those kinds of things, but it’s come at a bit of a price as well in terms of the amount of debt that we hold, and from a very young age. I mean, the amount of credit card and, you know, education debt that young people have today is just…

Ms. Tippett: And I think that’s new.

Mr. Dungan: It’s new and it’s…

Ms. Tippett: In the last few years, it’s that college students have credit cards.

Mr. Dungan: Absolutely. I mean, it’s new and it’s debilitating. And I think, in some respects, I believe the church has been complicit in sort of getting sucked into this whole persuasive argument about the role of consumerism in our culture, and I really don’t think they have understood the impact. I believe they are starting to get it, but I don’t think they have fully thought through the impact of what that means for people’s souls, for our, you know, sense of place and time and space, and what it robs of us in terms of just our personal sense of being.

Ms. Tippett: I think that this was in an article you wrote. You asked a pretty condemning question, kind of the bumper sticker question, What would Jesus do?, but it was a version of that. What would Jesus say about churches’ complicity or even just complacence about turning the holiday that is Jesus’ birthday that we’re moving towards, turning that into this consumer fest?

Mr. Dungan: Yes. Well, I think it was in the context, actually, of a sermon that I gave recently at Christ Church Cathedral down in Indianapolis.

Ms. Tippett: And, you know, even though that sounds like a pretty obvious question, it’s not a question I’ve heard anyone ask quite so pointedly.

Mr. Dungan: One of my goals is really to get people to stop and think about where we’re at. You know, there’s the great metaphor about the frog and the boiling pot of water, and that the heat just continues to get turned up but you can’t really tell that it’s getting warmer in the pot, right? The frog can’t. I think, to some degree, that’s our society around consumption. The heat has been turned up, but I don't know that there’s been really a voice of kind of calling the question to say, ‘Is that acceptable; is that OK?’ And so when I put that phrase in the sermon, it was really a call-out to say, ‘Are we thinking about that?’ I mean, if Jesus were in the room today, I think He would be flummoxed by our obsession with consumption. And it doesn’t mean that we haven’t — aren’t still somewhat, to some degree, a generous people, but I do think there’s a point where that is going to be challenging for us to continue to follow through, to be generous when we’re so distracted by the time that we spend.

Jacob Needleman really, I think, focuses a lot on this issue in his book Money and the Meaning of Life, his whole notion about, you know, what is money about, what’s it for, what is the role that it plays in our life. And I think it was in some of his readings that I really started to ponder that.

Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist from Princeton, also asking many of these very same questions. I guess maybe what I’ve tried to do is put the question forth so that people on just a practical day-to-day level start to think about this intersection of money, values, and the culture, you know, and I ask people, are your values really reflected in the choices you’re making with money, or are those values being imposed on you?

read the whole transcript here