"And covetousness, which is idolatry ..." (Colossians 3:5)
"And take heed of greediness and earthly mindedness, and covetousness, which the apostle called idolatry; for it is a great spot and blot of the world that lieth in wickedness."
From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," which offers thoughts of George Fox for every day of the year. This one is for Nov. 15.
Having just witnessed the economic meltdown, attributable mostly to greed, I find Fox's words especially relevant. In fact, having lived for a year in England and been stunned at the size and granduer of some of the great houses, I would have to say greed is a recurrent phenomenom and something which connects us with the earliest Quakers.
Two houses stand out in my mind: the first is Blenheim Palace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. I had never seen a place so overwhelmingly grand in my life, not only huge but set like a jewel on thousands of acres of stunningly beautiful English countryside. I remember how huge the rooms were, how tall the ceilings, how everything was on an almost non-human scale. It was somewhat like the palace Charlie Chaplin lives in in the Great Dictator. I remember having a visceral sense of the class system, and I would argue we really have nothing comparable to this home in the United States (or didn't). I also had a sudden realization: Winston Churchill came from the highest of rarified circles. I had a sense of the huge gulf between people like him and people like me. In essence, the palace did what I imagine it was intended to do: it made me feel small and insignificant.
The other great house that struck me was Ham House, located in or near London. It's a much smaller house, more on the scale of grand houses I've seen in the U.S., and growth has surrounded it, so it's not set in the midst of vast acreage. What struck me was the silver everywhere. Because of colonial plunders, the family which owned Ham House had vast amounts of silver. To preserve it, they melted it and had it made into big tables, in part to make the silver difficult to steal. So in the midst of, in the 20th century, a still relatively low standard of living, sat these vastly wasteful tables. I almost couldn't get over it.
Now that I'm a Quaker, it strikes me that both these house were built (or begun) in the late seventeenth century (I will check this out). So Fox and his followers would have seen these monuments to greed in the midst of great poverty. And they would have seen a concentration of wealth making ordinary people feel small. Thinking about this, it's easy to see why they pushed so hard for addressing people as equals and for equality itself.
But let's not dwell on the past. If we heed Fox's advice, how do we steer clear of greed and covetousness. Do we simply have to accept it as inevitable?