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Out of tune

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The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

-William Wordsworth

The road that Wordsworth saw his contemporaries paving in the early in the 1800s is sadly, the same path that society continues to follow today. The glimpse of change that he calls for at the end of this poem never really came, as we–humanity–continue to throw our powers away and offer our hearts as immoral and selfish gifts to things that do not really matter. I love this poem, and the way in which Wordsworth calls us back to nature, and points out how–as we get and spend–we are simply throwing away our powers. When I consider the consumer culture in which I live, and really think about how we spend our time and resources I can’t help but wish with Wordsworth that I could “Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn.” Wordsworth longs to see Proteus, a sea-god of Greek mythology who supposedly had the power to tell the future. Unfortunately, had Wordsworth’s wish been granted, the story of the future would have told of a people just as sordid and wasteful as Wordsworth’s 19th century contemporaries.

I found myself thinking of this poem in light of the recent events on Wall Street; the financial crisis that American has found herself in is certainly an example of humanity’s impecable ability to throw our powers away. Granted I am no financial expert, and admittedly know very little about the the details of the crisis. But from what I understand, it has to do with the fact that our economy is based on a system of lending and borrowing. At the root of the problem is the simple fact that Americans have been getting and spending above their means. And one has only to look at the standard of living our culture subscribes to before he can recognize why. It is no longer enough to simply have shelter and food. For many, cutting back means taking less vacations or eating out less often.

If I stepped into America with no understanding of the state of the economy, you would have a difficult time convincing me that Americans were on the brink of a financial crisis. Why? Because I would see what I see everyday on the way to work, or when I stop at the grocery store: Americans, talking on cell phones, putting gas in their cars (despite increased prices), going to movies, and spending weekends at the shopping mall. I say this not to judge the culture around me, but rather, to draw attention to something I have been convicted about in my own life: living in the land of abundance, we have forgotten what true necessities are; we don’t really know what it means to be in want.

In an article about his perspective on the 700 billion dollar bailout, Tim Costello, head of World Vision’s Australia office, helped me put the whole economic situation into perspective: “When we describe a crisis, an emergency like Wall Street, suddenly the money’s there. When 25,000 children are dying each day from preventable disease and lack of food we don’t call that a crisis.” In this statement, Costello makes an important point. When the American economy starts failing, we scramble becausue something must be done right away–our future and the futures of our children are at stake. Yet when we hear about poverty and hunger around the world, well, we will do something about that soon–as soon as we have some extra money. It doesn’t directly effect our children or our future.

Wordsworth called us “sleeping flowers” and said that “we are out of tune,” and the sad reality is that, 200 years later, not much has changed. The winds of crisis howl, and the sea tries to alert us to the problems around us yet, “it moves us not.” The American economy is important, and I think it is important that we care about and protect those who are in danger of loosing jobs and homes. Yet, in the midst of this crisis, let’s not forget that, even when times are tough for us economically, we are still so blessed. When Costello points out there is a crisis that perhaps should be more pressing than the failure of America’s major banks, he’s essentially saying the same thing Wordsworth said in the 1800s: society is out of tune.

Link to article quoting Costello:

Read entire poem “The World is too Much With Us”


Written by liferenewed

October 1, 2008 at 12:39 am

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