You don’t own these things…these things own you.

Lottery Ticket

This past week, there have been people all over the country who have been fantasizing about how $550 million would change their lives and the lives of those around them.  To be honest, I even gave the idea quite a bit of consideration in the last 72 hours.  Then, thankfully, I was reminded of something that I heard about 15 years ago.

I had a teacher in undergrad who was brilliant.  His name is R. Wayne Stacy and he is simply one of the best New Testament scholars that I’ve ever seen.  He had this interesting take on Luke 12:13-21 because his grasp of Koine Greek was, quite frankly, much better than most of the authors of the majority of New Testament commentary.  Dr. Stacy was going over this text that we’ve all heard from the pulpit at one point or another about the foolishness of how this man laid up treasures for himself only to die and leave them behind.  Oh, the tragedy, right?  Well, maybe not so much.

You see, there exists another and perhaps better translation from the Greek in which the story ends with the statement that “that night, these things demanded his life of him.”  So here we are, left with the story of a man who lays up wealth for himself, only to find that the things which he thought that he owned…well, they actually owned him.  Truthfully, isn’t that what most of us have come to experience in America?

My friends in Five Iron Frenzy wrote a song about this very thing about 10 years ago.  It is called American Kryptonite and it addresses what I think is one of the greatest tragedies of the American experience.  Oddly, this seems to be even more true among Christians.  As citizens of one of the most broadly affluent nations in the world (even those we consider “low income” are wealthy by the rest of the world’s standards), we have grown to accept the accumulation of wealth or “stuff” as a normal part of life.

We’ve got more family dysfunction, more people on medicine for depression or hypertension.  We’ve got tons of suicide and truckloads of obesity.  In fact, we have societal ills by the truckload.  With all of these problems, many are seeking the source of the problem.  They blame the banks or Wall Street or the government or “those” people.

I’ve got a sense that I know what we should be blaming.  It lives in our bank accounts or our closets or our driveways and garages or in our living rooms.  On one hand, winning the lottery might initially provide financial freedom, but on the other, it would most likely lead to being enslaved to even more stuff.

If it’s free…YOU are the product.

I’ve been trying to get people to understand for a while that they need to be almost conspiracy-theory-level paranoid about what they put online, particularly on Facebook.  I used to tell all my students to make sure that there were never any cameras around if they were about to do something stupid.  In the age of camera phones, that rule seems almost impossible.

Still, I seem to get some funny looks when I try to explain to people that their personal information is the real commodity that is being sold on Facebook.  I use a note program that allows me to scan in images and text for business cards, internet clippings, old hand-written notes, etc.  That same image recognition technology is being used by Facebook and other sites to catalog ALL of your data.  It is called data mining.  Why would they do that?  So they can sell you something.

As creepy as that is, there is perhaps a more sinister question.  Who else will have access to that data?  Insurance companies who will set your premiums based on your activities?  Future or current employers who will hire based on your personal choices?  Governmental agencies who won’t need a warrant to see everything about you?

Think that I’m crazy?  Look at the picture.  One targeted ad is based on the dirty boots my daughter is wearing in the photo.  Another ad is based on my friend’s comment and the content of the picture.

Have fun trying to scrub your Facebook content.