I was talking to a friend a few weeks back about my hometown, which is a rugged little West Texas town with lots of oil fields and cattle ranchers. One of the great things about West Texans is their utter lack of pretension. Two generations ago, the wealthiest guy in town, the one with the booming oil rigs, drove an old beat up F-150 and wore boots covered with dust and mud from the fields. He did not look at his oil wells on paper. He knew how the machinery worked, he checked on their progress himself, he felt the oil with his own hands. In his truck he had a sturdy layer of West Texas dust, a collection of weathered tools and a rifle in case of a rattlesnake.
The last time I was back in Midland, the streets were still filled with trucks. But they had changed. They were now being driven by the sons of the wealthy oil men and ranchers. They weren’t F-150s but F-350’s, big and hefty, the kind whose engine you can almost hear panting as it waits to pull a bear out of a waterfall or a rip a tree from its roots. The truck bed had a dense liner, like a black Batman cape, rubberized and impermeable. The chrome bumper was massive, with a towing hitch the size of a small globe. I can’t imagine much of anything this truck couldn’t do.
But that was the thing. This truck clearly wasn’t doing anything. It glistened and shined like the day it sat waiting for an owner on the lot. The tires were shiny. That liner in the truck bed didn’t need to protect the bed from anything, because the bed was empty. (I wonder if the fancy cab storage box was empty too.) The chrome hitch had not a scratch on it. This truck had every option and gadget imaginable, and it wasn’t putting any of them to use.
I think there’s a sense in which our current society has become the shiny truck. We have accumulated gadget after gizmo after app, but we aren’t actually doing anything. Has it ever been easier to sit and click in front of a computer for hours on end without getting one solitary thing accomplished? We are so removed from actual labor—work, with our hands—that we see even chrome hitches as accessories, like a bauble.
(As a completely rant-y aside, all this also could be said using every non-military Hummer ever made as the example. Why on earth would a soccer mom think she needs a war tank?)
I have been thinking these things because, as we talk about the economy, and taxes, and other things for which I am entirely ill-equipped to grasp fully, I sense a kind of panic that the problem is one of supply, like we are going to run out of what we need. I think the opposite is true. I think our problems, at least through a theological lens, have come because we have way more than we need. We are like tricked out trucks with no logs to haul, drowning in our lack of purpose and yet somehow still basking in self-importance. And this has gotten us credit card debt, and bad mortgages, and business executives with golden parachutes, and on and on.
Our current lack of jobs and money are not a lack of supply. They’re a direct result of our lack of restraint. And maybe we should let this one ride itself out all the way and receive the lesson.