Janis Joplin, Thanksgiving & A Mercedes Benz
"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends." ~Janis Joplin~
Thanksgiving is a season to take stock of what really influences us. A big dead bird roasted to a golden brown and surrounded by all the traditional trimmings represents much more than just a holiday feast.
In the midst of family we can measure the attitudes that command our lifestyle choices. Self-evaluation implies the opportunity to recalibrate or make course corrections.
The need to adjust or fine-tune our perspective is a recurrent necessity because in affluent North America there is an emphasis that constantly yanks our chains. In our culture personal significance is proclaimed by material possessions. The acquisition of goods—whether it is big-ticket items or knickknacks—often is the target we aim to hit.
Unless we intentionally resist the advertising onslaught, we will coast along the path of least resistance. The danger is that we’ll become engrossed in a hollow value system that is deceptive and potentially detrimental to spiritual balance.
The coaxing and manipulating by marketing wizards is ever-present—the strategy blatantly unrepentant. We are told what we must purchase to be satisfied and content, and we are often duped by their slick campaigns. Never mind the fact we cannot afford what they’re hawking—that’s why some genius invented credit cards and easy money rip-offs.
We want what we want, and we want it immediately, thank you very much. More often than not what we really desire is what someone else has already acquired. We yearn for the shiny car parked in the driveway across the road, or look with longing at the state of the art entertainment center in a friend’s rec-room.
Janis Joplin’s song Mercedes Benz captures the pervasive attitude of the age in which we live. Written by her in partnership with poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, it was recorded in one take in October 1970 as an a cappella pearl. In a much later remixed version a beat and background melody was added, but the original remains the unpretentious, raw-edged standard that hits the mark. The succinctly eloquent lyrics define well the human compulsion to want what others possess.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd embodies the spirit of envy that saturates the human condition. It is a manifestation of mobocracy—those spoiled by the age-old lies of prosperity are now the poster children for pampered avarice. We think we are enlightened and far-removed from the ignorance displayed by our ancient forefathers, but in the hordes of whining occupiers we are witnessing full-blown idolatry—this time the Golden Calf is self-absorbed materialism.
The explosion of unprecedented wealth that occurred after World War II gave birth to a brutish creature with a voracious appetite—the leviathan of consumerism demands to be fed. When it misses too many meals it goes on a mad rampage that wreaks havoc to the economy.
That is why in the era of billion dollar stimulus giveaways we are told that it is our duty to feed the monstrosity by keeping the cash registers ringing. Indeed, according to politicians of every stripe, we are to shop with patriotic fervor to hasten the end of the recession.
How pathetic is that? Wrapping the flag around what is essentially greed is a twisted bit of reasoning. A slight paraphrase of dialog from the movie On The Waterfront underscores the issue: Do you want to know what’s wrong with our country? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making the love of a buck and the cushy job more important than the love of man.
When economic prosperity for its own sake is the goal it will never be reached because enough is never enough. We’ll always want more. We will chase after what we do not have—we’ll stare with jealousy at the valuables or toys that our neighbors have managed to obtain.
Covetousness may be an archaic sounding word, but it is alive and well in 21st century America. Keeping up to the pace set by excessive opulence never goes out of style. If our friends all drive Porches, then we most definitely must have a Mercedes Benz.
We humans are slow learners at best and flat-out idiotic at worse. Placing all our eggs in the basket of economic prosperity has damaged us in the past. A healthy marketplace is necessary, but it should not be achieved or maintained by surrendering basic principles of decency.
There is an inescapable enticement for us to compromise or look the other way in exchange for robust economic indicators. Are there any boundaries we will not cross in exchange for riches? If human history is any indicator it is clear that in the quest for worldly goods the lines of morality can evaporate as rapidly as disappearing ink.
The frenzy to satisfy the beast of consumerism is nonstop. Every year Black Friday beckons. It’s always the same: Seemingly intelligent human beings take on the characteristics of rats being led along by Pied Piper advertisers playing seductive tunes.
People camp out to get more stuff—the promise of saving dollars is always overblown and unrealistic, yet barbarian shoppers routinely storm the gates. Stampedes and near riots are commonplace.
What exactly will it take for us to realize that malls are spiritually bankrupt places that cannot speak to what is actually important in life? We need to rediscover that trinkets and treasures cannot determine self-worth or define character—we need to have an awakening to understand the fragile nature of life and relationships.
If that light bulb would switch on we’d hold loved ones just a little tighter—we’d notice sunsets and starry nights as though we were seeing them for the first time. We desperately need to come to the conclusion that the meaning of life cannot be found in buying and selling.
To do so we must heed the profoundly plain wisdom put forth by Jesus of Nazareth: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. This is not a mere walk in the park sort of proposition. It is indeed difficult to stand strong against the overwhelming societal battle cry to accumulate possessions on top of possessions. To suggest otherwise creeps close to being delusional because the latent self-worship within is effortlessly triggered by the surging tide of selfishness flowing all around us.
So while we are immersed in the flood of materialism, what truly motivates us—what keeps our cranks turning? The question begs asking again and again because we regularly flounder in the culturally acceptable current.
Thanksgiving Day is an excellent occasion to take a deep breath and examine our lives in the bright glare of genuine honesty. While basking in the whole concept of being thankful and counting blessings, we ought to be contemplative and take a hard look at our hearts. Have we taken God’s gracious gifts for granted?
To be appreciative of the simple pleasures and tender mercies of life is the beginning of understanding that God is good all the time—and all the time God is good. To regard the wondrous mystery of life itself, and respond by breathing a grateful prayer soaked in humility is where faith meets reality—we ought to invest much time at that intersection because gratitude is a marvelous antidote against all kinds of greed.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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