Back in 2017, a group of three anthropologists from UCLA wrote a book called “Life at Home in the 21st Century.” I suppose that to write a book about the 21st Century only 16 years in, is a little presumptuous, but what they set out to study was very interesting. I think of anthropology as digging through dirt to study human remains (I know, that sounds like archeology), so studying something so current seemed out of the norm.
For this particular study, they asked 32 families to open their homes so they could study what the families owned. And these families agreed. On the day the anthropologists came, many families cleaned up. You know, like we all do when guests are coming. But these weren’t guests, they were scientists. They politely went around counting EVERY picture on the wall (or refrigerator), every knick-knack on shelves, every piece of furniture. And then, horror of horrors, they opened cabinets and closets and drawers and garages, and the cabinets in the garages. That’s when the interesting stuff emerged.
Only an anthropologist would think to compare the amount of food refrigerated in an American home (think the size of our refrigerators plus the freezers in our garages) compared to a home in Scandinavia. Or Africa. Or think about the amount of toys held by one household. They photo-documented where toys were kept. Some were in the children’s bedroom, some in rooms dedicated to toys, in the living room, bathroom, and even in the master bedroom.
I could comment on a variety of other things they studied, but I kind of got stuck on the toys. You are talking to somebody who still has his childhood Matchbox cars, and assorted other Corgis and Hot Wheels. I like toys! Our boys had lots of toys, and a lot more cars than I did. Why?
Well, for one thing, a Matchbox car in the ‘60’s cost about $0.69. I LOVED it when my parents bought me a Matchbox car. Today, you can go to Walmart and buy a pack of 9 of them for $6.47 (they won’t be Matchbox brand, but still). That’s $0.72! This compared to, say, eggs, which cost $0.57/dozen in the 60’s and now are almost $5.00.
No wonder we buy so many toys. We have figured out how to make stuff, not just toys, incredibly cheap (relatively), and so we buy and buy and buy. And our homes reflect that. The Apostle Paul told folks 2000 years ago to not “become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” (that would be Romans 12:2 in The Message).
If an anthropologist came into your home to document everything in it, how much would your home reflect current culture? How long would it take them to find that you are different, that you are a Christian? As I survey my family room, not really. The living room? Yes. My study? Definitely! The garage? Not so much.
Turns out, I am as vulnerable to the advertising on TV as everybody else. I may not be asking my doctor about Eliquis, but I do look like a pretty average American, and I have a house full of stuff to prove it.
Lent is a time to be introspective this way. It’s a time to ask what I might do without, that will lead me to think about Jesus more. I think we appreciate the redemptive work of the cross more when we are mindful of just how needy we are of redemption. “Giving something up for Lent” helps in that. Sitting complacently on the ottoman that Rooms to Go was advertising the other day? Not so much.
Standing up for Jesus,
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce. Proverbs 3:9