I’m stealing the title for my post from this article in the NY Times, because it captures what I’ve been thinking about and where I want to explore. I recommend that you read the article, if you get the chance — it’s brief but intriguing — as a precursor to discussion.
The topic is money and our social relationships within the Church.
As an undergrad at BYU, I did not run with a wealthy crowd. I tried to pay my own way through school with summer jobs and financial aid. I had a car, but not a lot of cash to throw around. For the most part, I was far from unique — even the rich kids I knew were on budgets, even if they were externally determined. Still, it was strange sometimes to go to the Creamery of any of the various Provo attractions and see those who would toss $20s at the cashier while others would just get water.
10 years later, I consider myself far from rich. I don’t have a lot of debt, outside my mortgage, and my wife works too. I think I probably make more now than my parents ever did, and the thought freaks me out. Have I acheived anything? Probably not, but for some reason it strikes me as some kind of milestone. But here’s what has happened: somewhere along the line, social class has snuck in.
I’m more self-conscious about money, even though I have more of it than I used to. Two weeks ago on vacation in California, the rental car agency screwed up and offered us a convertible instead of the compact car we reserved. We almost didn’t take it, not just because it was a horrible gigantic Chrysler, but because of the thought — what will people think if we pull up in a convertible? The pressure to fit in has grown up and reversed itself: instead of the priciest jeans, now we want to preserve the image of our humble origins.
We talked with some long-time friends the other day, and they told us about how things were tight and how I made the right choice in becoming a lawyer and how they didn’t know how they were going to make things work. They have kids, responsibilities and are some of the best people we know in the world. Compared to them, I’m rich. Then the thought occurs to me, how much money I have, and how I could give them my money. Pride, my stinginess and this social barrier of wealth ensures that will never happen. And the whole time I’m thinking: this is sin, isn’t it?