Simple Living Offers Antidote to ‘Affluenza’

By Julie K. Buzbee

The Wesches
Family and church life are important to the Wesche family, who belong to Central United Methodist Church in Kansas City. From left, standing are: Laura, Nathan and Brandon. Seated are Gary and Amanda. A UMNS photo by Chuck Arlund.
It’s almost dinnertime, and the kitchen at the Wesches’ house in Kansas City, Mo., is a hub of activity. Laura Wesche is chopping vegetables and dropping them into a bubbling pot of what will be chicken noodle soup.
“When we don’t know what to have, we boil a chicken,” she says, as husband Gary nods in agreement.
Two of their three children, Brandon, 11, and Amanda, 5, pop in and out, munching on freshly sliced bread. Nathan, 14, is playing football out of town.
Talk flows freely. Unlike many homes, you won’t find a television set blaring. In fact, there is only one TV in the large home, and it is not connected to cable.
“If a family spends their money to have 500 channels on a TV set, then they don’t have to talk to each other at all,” Laura explains.
Family and church life are important to the Wesches, who belong to Central United Methodist Church. Their stewardship and volunteer work prompted their pastor, the Rev. Diane Nunnelee, to recommend them as a family living out the Gospel.
People in the United States have the wrong perspective in more than one way when it comes to material goods, Nunnelee says. “We talk about how blessed we are. No, we’re advantaged. Blessings from God don’t come in what we have materially,” she says. “This society is so seductive. For those who need it, who have to have it, it becomes addictive.”
That addiction has a name, “affluenza,” thanks to Vicki Robin, co-author with Joe Dominguez of the book Your Money or Your Life. Others, too, are addressing affluenza. The Public Broadcasting System has made two documentaries on affluenza, defining it as “the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream; an unsustainable addiction to economic growth.”
Nunnelee’s district superintendent, the Rev. Ken Lutgen – a former director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief – preaches a global point of view.
“If you ask a typical Christian if they’re rich,” he says, their response will be, “‘Why no, at best we’re middle class.’ People look at the abundance of resources of what we have rather than in the larger global context. We really have a lot of resources that could make a difference in the world in the lives of poor people and developing countries. The problem is we really don’t have a global vision,” he says.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had a global vision and a heart for the poor, says the Rev. Theodore Runyon, professor emeritus at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He recommends reading three Wesley sermons: “The Use of Money,” “The Danger of Riches” and “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity.”
Stewardship often is equated with money, and giving is important because dollars allow the church to undertake vital missions. “If we could get people in the church to give 10 percent of their income, that would be a revolutionary act,” says the Rev. Tex Sample of Arizona, professor emeritus of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.
The Wesches give 10 percent of Laura’s IBM salary to their church and use other income to support other charities and arts organizations. But the Scriptures also require giving of time and talents, Laura notes.
Simple lifestyles don’t have to be Spartan, says Janet Luhrs, editor of Simple Living Oasis magazine. She defines simplicity as working and shopping less, spending more time with friends and families, volunteering in communities and enjoying life more.
John S. Hill, program director for environmental justice at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington, cites a statistic from the New York Times: “Total waste per person in the U.S. was 4.51 pounds per day in 2000 (or 1,646 pounds per year – of which 496 pounds is recycled).” Such numbers cry out for change, and the church must respond, he says.
United Methodist views about “God’s Vision of Abundant Living” and “Environmental Stewardship” can be found in the denomination’s Book of Resolutions.
“People get so wrapped up in saying it’s about money,” Nunnelee says, “but it’s a stewardship of life. Stewardship is about your relationship with God and how that shapes your using your life in service.”

Buzbee is a journalist residing in St. Joseph, Mo.


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