Friday, April 15, 2016

Religious life residue

By the term religious life in the title of this post, I mean a form of life found in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some other Christian communities, a life often lived in community and marked by vows or promises, usually of poverty, chastity and obedience. (Similar forms of life, of course, are found outside the Christian tradition.) Think monk, nun, friar and so on. Although some communities have different vows, often related to a specific mission, or somewhat varying interpretations of the three common ones, that doesn't matter for the purposes of this post.

I spent three decades as a member of a Roman Catholic religious community, the Discalced Carmelite Friars, as regular readers know. I spent the years 1972 to 2004 basically paying little attention to the price of most things. Sometimes found myself in the role of the person doing grocery shopping for the community, but I had little ongoing contact with ordinary living expenses. Another friar in the community took care of paying bills and making community purchases. For the limited personal expenditures I made on my own, with a small weekly stipend provided by the community, I tended to shop thrift stores and discount outlets. (I did not get a salary as such from the community and all my earnings for various things went directly into the community purse.) I took my personal vow of poverty quite seriously and did not buy much.

When I left the monastery in 2004, with no pension or financial assistance (beyond being kept on their health insurance for a year, which was very generous), I was making a very small salary. Friends introduced me to larger and better thrift stores, but in general I continued to do without what I did not absolutely need and to spend little on what I did. 

Tom and I are very comfortably off when it comes to finances, but we are both ... frugal, shall we say. (He and Michelangelo are the ones who introduced me to those better thrift stores, after all.) When we eat out, I instinctively look for the less expensive items on the menu. When we go shopping for something for the apartment -- most recently furniture for the balcony -- I find that we automatically look at the lower end of the price range. It is, as the GEICO commercials say, what we do.

I realized the other day, however, that we can easily afford to pay more and that this gives us more options.

More relaxed, I turned my attention to some of those other choices. When I looked at the prices, however, I was horrified to see that people spend hundreds of dollars for a single patio chair, that a set of two chairs and a table can cost more than my first car. Admittedly inflation accounts for much/most of this, but I still get sticker shock.

I don't exactly blame my thirty years in the monastery for this. No one is to blame. But that culture inadvertently prevented/protected me from noticing how things were changing around me. 

Even now I save the rubber bands that wrap the greenery on green onions and save them in a cup on the kitchen counter. I keep the plastic ties from bread wrappers in the same cup. There are probably paper clips in my desk supplies that I have been using for a decade.

Now you know another part of my dark story.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I appreciated your insight in today's blog. I am glad I am not the only one who saves elastics from the veggies and the twist ties from the loaves of bread. I had a long, relatively well paid career and am well off in retirement. But I will always be the eldest of a six kid family who grew up with little extra. And probably am the better for it. Although I shop in regular and better thrift stores (regularly), I have long learned to not equate the real value of something with the price on the sticker. Wes

Michael Dodd said...

Wes,
I recently read about a study of wine experts. Their consensus ranking of best wines, based on taste tests alone, placed the most expensive wines fairly low on the scale. Obviously cheap wine may be cheap because it is bad. But quite expensive wines did not rate as well as many wines priced in the mid- or even low-mid-range.

Our $18 patio chairs are quite comfortable and attractive.

Dave R said...

It's American Capitalism. As long as people pay the price, retailers will increase costs between 3% and 5% a year. Working with paint, I buy most of my clothing at Community Aid - no way am I going to pay $40 for a Polo shirt that's going to get splattered with paint.

Anonymous said...

2003-2005 must have been a huge for you. I'd imagine you would have had plenty of opportunity for growth over that time. The bits of your story you share are fascinating. Thank you.
Kato

Anonymous said...

How did you manage to get the experience that was necessary to write Except for His Wings?
Kato

Mitchell is Moving said...

Thirty years of that kind of living might have done us both here some good. $100 for a patio chair? Why's it so cheap? What's wrong with it? We're a bit idiotic when it comes to spending and we don't have a bottomless pot of money either!

Michael Dodd said...

Kato
Some of the events and sayings in Except for His Wings are stories adapted from family and other memories. In my years in the monastery, I not only studied Twelve Step programs (we were required to attend workshops on these topics every three years), but I knew/still know any number of people in such programs for many issues. The more I learned about addictions and the more I recognized the dynamic within myself, the more I saw how the teachings of John of the Cross about inordinate attachments applied to such things.

They guy with wings came from who knows where, in my mind as well as in the book.

Life provides us all with plenty of material for creating, whether it be books or drawings or song or dance. All I do is observe and ponder.

2003 - 2005 were huge. So were 1972 - 2003. (I could write another book on 1984-1985!) And 2003 - 2016.

Life, as they say in Jurassic Park, finds a way.

Lavada said...

I save rubber bands, leftover screws and bolts and such from flat packs we buy....buttons off clothing that is worn beyond repair or charity shop donation stage...I use old tee shirts for polishing cloths.....I get very creative with things we have around the house before the last resort of getting rid of......

It comes from being part of a large family and being poor when I was a young adult til I found my footing in life.
And it has served me well.

doreus said...

First time visitor here, and I have yet to explore more of this blog, but I find myself in very similar shoes. My family taught me to be thrifty and to save what can be reused, if only because it can be useful (yes, I also have a container with veggie rubber bands, reuse paper clips, and wash out and reuse zip-closing bags.
I also was in a religious order (an apostolic one, not a monastic one), an experience that in total covers about ten years of my life, although my formal committment was for five. Although I did not have the disconnection from the value of money you experienced, I know what it means to have to readjust.
I'll be back!

Ur-spo said...

I always enjoy your entries about your personal Journey, and those about the religious life. Thank you for sharing this.

Michael Dodd said...

Doreus,
Welcome!