Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Provident Living...

Provident Living...
The subject of provident living comes up a lot in our church, especially lately in the down economy. (If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term provident living, you can find out about it here and here). In fact, a friend of mine said that Mormons walk around all day with the idea of food storage in the back of their heads... Yep.
Before he passed away, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the prophet of our church warned that we should get out of debt, put away some for a rainy day and gather a storage of food for at least 3 months and preferably a year. I know some people who followed his counsel and have lived to be very grateful for it. As jobs disappear and incomes shrink, these folks have a peace of mind others do not. They know their children will have a roof over their heads, food to eat and clothes to wear. I believe in the doctrine of provident living with all my heart.
Even when C and I had no children and lived in a 1 bedroom condo with no space, we tried to follow the prophet’s advice and we had a few things put by and in a disaster, we could have made it a week or two. (Think of the difference just a few things put by would have meant to the victims of Katrina). Now that we have children, the counsel to gather and maintain a food storage has become a more urgent concern and since we have moved into a home with a bit more storage space, we have been trying to gather all the needful things.
However, in our Sunday School lesson three weeks ago (this is still bugging me), I made a comment that was kind of dumb. I told a short story about a family my Dad converted to the church in Hong Kong who went without a great deal including shampoo to be able to come to SLC and have their family sealed in the temple. Meeting this family made a great impression on me when I was young and they are wonderful people.
But, I don’t think the prophet’s counsel means that we should go without shampoo or anything really and so my comment made a wrong impression and it made me sound like one of those Mormons who takes the prophet’s counsel to an extreme and then goes wrong with it. I’m not going to point fingers, but if your family is prepared for a nuclear event, you have a 10 year supply of food and a bunker in your basement.. I might be talking about you.
After a person is out of debt and has set by a reasonable savings and a supply of food, I don’t believe that they should go about denying themselves of every convenience. Of course money is a gift and a tool that should be used responsibly, but what does that mean?
Several years ago I got into a discussion with a friend about a Hollywood type who threw this lavish party... over-the-top. I’m sure that it cost several hundred thousand dollars. My friend maintained that the kind of spending it took to throw this party was gross and wrong. I wasn’t sure..
First of all, the person could afford it. Debt was not incurred to throw this party. Secondly, this person has money and investments set by and they will be fine in a disaster. Thirdly, this person is very generous and supports many good causes. Forth, it’s not my money.. so...
But, the main reason that I’m not sure it was wrong is that there were party planners, caterers, rental companies, florists, bakers, designers, lighting people, wait staff and on and on that made money that day for putting in a hard days work. If no one throws a party.. all of those people are out of work, the businesses goes under and there are that many more folks who need a handout because they don’t have job.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give our money away to those who are sick, elderly or handicapped and can’t for any reason earn a living for themselves because we should, but I would hate for people to decide in a tough economy that we just cannot spend. Earning a living for oneself and family is, in my opinion a spiritual principle that offers a person self worth and dignity. In other words, I think it’s great when a person can be hired to do a real job rather than receive a handout.
So, I think that what I said was wrong. Don’t be the person to go without shampoo. If you can afford it, buy the shampoo, the new car or redecorate the living room if that’s what you want. In America, our quality of life comes from the efforts and labors of our neighbors who are nurses, firefighters, podiatrists, car dealers and even party planners. This is capitalism and while imperfect, it works better than anything else. So, I think it’s provident living to give your neighbor a real job rather than a handout and hope they give you a job as well. Our wealth as a nation, as Benjamin Franklin put it, is not our gold or natural resources of any kind, but our collective efforts in all the different things that we do. (sorry.. someday I will find the exact quote.. I lost it but it’s found in Benjamin Franklin An American Life by Walter Isaacson).
People really get into this discussion. I went to a party recently where the birthday girl was needled, a bit strongly I thought, for going through a drive through every day to buy a soda. "It’s a waste of money!" they said. Maybe so, but my soda drinking friend is in great shape and she isn’t spending money she doesn’t have on soda so ... My point is that it doesn’t have to be a luxury mansion that causes disagreement about money.. it can be just a soda.
What do you think? Does it bother you if your neighbor buys an expensive car or spends a fortune to remodel their bathroom. Is it "grinding the faces of the poor" to enjoy a vacation to Paris? Does it bug you if your friend drives though and buys a soda.. she is, after all, supporting a business and a family.. or should she be donating her $1.50 to the poor or buying more wheat?