Slavery: Alive and Well in America
They say that slavery was abolished after the Civil War. But I say that slavery is alive and well in America today. Who are these slaves? What do they look like and where do they live? Most important of all, are you one of them?
Today I’m going to explore the idea that Ownership is Bondage. Many of us have become slaves – slaves to our stuff. We think we are wealthy and free when we own a lot of stuff. My contention is that just the opposite is true. Our stuff owns us! We become slaves to our stuff. Ownership is not freedom. Ownership is Bondage!
What is Slavery?
What is slavery anyway? Slavery is being under the control of another person or thing. It is having your liberty taken away. It is being in bondage. It is being dictated how you should spend your time and money. It is taking away your ability to make choices and the freedom to do the things you wish to do. It is the suppression of the human will. That’s what slavery is.
Many years ago the slave ships sailed to the coasts of Africa where the slave traders ran through the jungles capturing the natives, binding them in chains, and forcing them into servitude. Today we are pursued on TV, the radio, and in the newspapers. The slave traders come at us from every direction, luring us with their bait – stuff! And guess what, we willingly put our hands and feet in the shackles and count it a great privilege to do so.
You think I’m joking! “Surely this can’t be true,” you say. Let me illustrate:
Of Slavery and Bondage – Lake Powell
I have a neighbor who is very wealthy. We’re talking millions of dollars here. This person has a huge home. It is so big that when they built it I thought they were building an apartment complex. The family owns a lot of things; boats and snowmobiles and many other fun things.
One thing they own is a houseboat on Lake Powell. I had the opportunity several years ago to be invited with a group of young people to spend a few days at Lake Powell on their houseboat. This wasn’t just any houseboat, but a huge beautiful houseboat. Not only was there a houseboat but a water ski boat and several jet skis.
During the several days we were there I had the opportunity to observe this friend of mine, the one who owned it all. When we got to Lake Powell the houseboat wouldn’t start. The batteries were dead. So my friend had to make a number of phone calls to get the right people there to take care of the problem.
Finally he got the houseboat started and we got it out to the beach where we were to stay the few days we were there. He got everyone together and gave out a long list of rules about the usage of his things. Now it was very generous of him to let us all come on this trip and use his houseboat and ski boat and jet skis. But I noticed that he was stressed the whole time we were there, worrying about every little thing.
The teenagers would take these jet skis out on the lake and when they would come back they would come right up to shore and my friend would yell at them and tell them to get away from the sand, watch out for the rocks, don’t suck sand into the engine and on and on. He pretty much chewed them out for not taking proper care of his things. One of the jet skis quit working so he had to tow it in to the shop at the marina so it could be fixed.
Literally the whole time we were there he was dealing with one issue and problem after another. To watch this friend of mine and what he went through on that trip was very interesting to me. He seemed like he was stressed the whole time dealing with all the problems and issues related to his stuff. Honestly, he couldn’t have had any fun!
Of Slavery and Bondage – The Cabin
I have another friend whose family decided it would be a great thing to own a cabin. So they bought a cabin up in the mountains. It’s two or three hours away from where they live. I suppose it’s a great thing to have a cabin but what I’ve noticed is that he’s never around. Whenever I ask his wife where he is she always tells me he’s up at the cabin. Either he’s fixing the plumbing or painting or doing some other repairs. He’s constantly up there working on that cabin. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends more time working on that cabin than he spends enjoying it! I think to myself, “For Pete’s sake, you can rent a cabin and then when you’re done you give the keys back and you don’t have to deal with it any more.”
Of Slavery and Bondage – The Swimming Pool
Well let’s not leave me out of the bad example section. I remember a few years ago when my kids were young and we were at the store. I saw one of those do-it-yourself swimming pools that you set up in your back yard. You’ve probably seen them, the kind that are three feet high and fifteen feet in diameter. My wife and I looked at the pool and thought, you know, for a $150 it would be great to have a swimming pool in the back yard. You could come home from work and go out there and take a dip in the pool. The kids could have so much fun. So we splurged and bought the $150 pool.
I remember we bought the pool on a Saturday afternoon. We thought we would just go home and set up the pool and be swimming by that evening and it would be great. So we get home and take the pool out of the box and spread out all the parts. We start going through the instructions and begin to realize that, “Wow, this thing is going to be really difficult to put up!”
First of all you have to have an exactly level ground, fifteen feet in diameter. I also didn’t realize that you can’t just set it up on the lawn. You have to dig out the grass and create this huge hole that is perfectly level. It took me hours and hours to dig out the sod and dig the dirt out to make it level.
Then there were so many pieces to that pool! After hours of work I finally had the pool set up. It was 9:00 o’clock at night. Now I had to fill the pool with water. I had all my garden hoses going and it still took forever to fill it. Of course we didn’t get to swim in it that day.
So we get the pool set up and filled with water and finally we can swim in it. That lasts for about a day. Guess what, you don’t just fill it up and swim for the rest of the summer. No way! Now you have to maintain the thing. It takes about 10 minutes of kids swimming in it before the thing is filthy with grass and dirt and leaves.
Now we get to buy filters and chemicals for the constant battle to keep it clean! Now who do you think gets to take care of that pool? That’s right, me! I’m the one who had to test the chlorination and the PH balance every day. I was amazed at how fast that pool would turn green and the moss would begin growing. It was horrible to maintain. I had to buy a special pool vacuum that you hook to your garden hose to suck up all the leaves. We had to buy a pool cover to keep all the leaves from flying in. We had to buy a special solar blanket to heat the water. When the kids ripped the liner we had to buy a new one for $50.00. We had to constantly buy more chemicals and filters. Finally the pool would get so bad that you just couldn’t clean the water anymore. So I had to drain the whole thing, scrub it all out, refill it with water, and put more chemicals in.
Do you think that I ever got to swim in that thing? Hah, hardly ever! The kids swam in it all the time. My time was always spent taking care of the pool. It was a nightmare! It got to be where I hated that swimming pool. Yes, I swam in it a few times and it was fun, but boy, was it worth it? How cheap is it to get a season pass at the local swimming pool or the local water park and let someone else deal with all that?
Of Freedom and Independence – Simple Wealth
I have another friend I would like to tell you about. This other friend has an equally large amount of money as the first person I told you about. But this friend has chosen a different lifestyle. To look at his house, his car and the way he lives, you would never know that he was wealthy. He has a nice, beautiful home, but it’s a normal size. It’s a regular home just like everyone else along his street. He drives a seven-year-old car. He could literally drive any car in existence and pay cash and yet he chooses to drive this vehicle because he’s content. He doesn’t need anything more. He’s not out to show anybody anything.
What he has is freedom. He doesn’t own tons of things such as the boats and toys that other people have to deal with. He lives a simple life. Yet he has the freedom to go and do what he pleases. I also know, and am one of the few people who know, that he has helped numerous people and family members by doing simple little charity acts like paying off the mortgage on their homes. He gets great satisfaction by doing these kinds of things. He also gets great satisfaction out of living a simple life because what it gives him is freedom.
Of Freedom and Independence – The Simple Life
Now I’m not an enormously wealthy person. I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank. But I also have chosen to live a simple lifestyle and have chosen to live well below my means. I’ve been able to get to the point of being completely out of debt. My home is paid off. I own nothing on my vehicles. In fact I don’t owe anybody anything. Everything I have I own free and clear. There is a very satisfying feeling to that. It’s a feeling of freedom. If I were to lose my source of income tomorrow I could live for a long time because I don’t have many expenses. I don’t have the latest and greatest of everything and I don’t need it. The cars I have are a number of years old but they are great. They are nice looking. They start up and take me where I want to go in comfort. They have power windows. They have air conditioning. They have CD players. Really, what more do you need?
Living simply has given me the freedom to take my wife and family many places and experience many things.
What You Own, Owns You
When you start to think about the stuff you own, ask yourself this question, “Do you own it or does it own YOU?” You’ve perhaps heard of the term “golden handcuffs.” I think it might apply here.
Let’s use the example of owning a boat. First of all, once you own a boat you feel obligated to use it. You paid all that money for it and now you have to get your money’s worth out of it. So every vacation now has to be a boating vacation.
Then you have to store the boat. You either have to park it right in front of your house in the driveway or pour a big cement pad on the side of your house to park it or you keep it in a storage unit somewhere.
Then you have to register it every year and you also have to insure it. Whenever you use the boat you have to pay the marina fees to launch it at the lake. Then is consumes a huge amount of fuel. Then when you’re done you have to obsessively wash the boat. Haven’t you noticed that with boat owners? Every boat owner I know seems to be obsessed with wiping every water spot off their boat and shining it up.
It’s often been said that the two happiest days of a person’s life are the day they bought their boat and the day they sold it.
Of Human Bondage
I have a very wealthy aunt and uncle who have an abundance of possessions. They have homes and condos all over the place. They own a number of businesses. They have very nice cars and motor homes. Lots of stuff! One day my uncle took me aside and said to me, “You know Gary, I would love to just sell everything I have and live in a small home and not have to deal with it all.” What an interesting and telling comment from a very wealthy person. I remember when he told me that I was thinking, “Is this what being wealthy is all about?” What a pain!
Can We Still Have Fun?
So what does this all mean? Can we still have fun? Can we still go boating or are we supposed to live a frugal, meager life? Let’s address these questions.
Yes, you can still have fun. You can still go boating. You can still go to Lake Powell. You can still go water skiing. You can still enjoy the fun things of life. You just don’t have to own them! Here’s an example of what you can do:
For my wife’s 40th birthday we decided we were going to go to the lake and go boating. So for about $150.00 I rented two jet skies. We went and picked them up. I signed some papers and off we went to the lake. We had a day of fun. We rode them all day. When we were done we filled them up with gas, wiped them down a bit, took them back to the rental place and handed them the keys and we were done! Maybe $150.00 sounds like a lot of money for one day but I don’t have to store those things. I don’t have to insure them. I don’t have to maintain them. And I don’t have to feel obligated to go boating all the time to justify the enormous cost of buying the dumb things! I return them and I’m done with it. Somebody else can store them and maintain them.
So for my next outing I may want to rent a water-ski boat, or 4-wheelers or snowmobiles or a motor home or a cabin. You can rent all these things! And when you are done you just hand over the keys and someone else has to deal with it. So, yes, you can still have fun but without all the hassle.
Imagine a Life…
Imagine a life where you live simply, where you don’t owe anything to anyone, where you don’t have huge amounts of stuff to take care of. Imagine a life where you can come and go as you please. Imagine having the freedom to pay cash for things. Imagine the freedom from storing, fixing, insuring, registering and keeping track of loads of stuff. Imagine leaving a smaller footprint on this precious planet of ours.
Treasures on Earth, Treasures in Heaven
Let us be mindful about what we have set our hearts on. Let us be careful of how closely we get tied to the things we own. Are they so important? It’s nice to have a home and I really love the home I’m in, but we have to be careful that we don’t get so tied to things that they become a part of us. We aren’t our things. They are just things.
Someday we are going to die and somebody else is going to be living in that house and somebody else is going to be driving that car and it’s not going to matter. What matters is what kind of legacy you have left in this life. What have you done to make this world a better place? The purpose of this life is not to amass great amounts of stuff.
There is a story in the Bible that tells it best. It is found in Luke, chapter 12:
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
So what is the meaning of this life? Is it to amass possessions? I don’t think so. I think about Hurricane Katrina and other disasters that have occurred over the last few years. Invariably they will interview someone on the news who has lost everything, and yet they will say, “I’m so blessed because I’ve got my family. My family was safe and everyone was accounted for. We can build another house, we can buy another car, but all that matters is that I’ve got my family.”
When all is said and done it’s your family and the people you love that matter, not the things you own. Don’t become a slave to your stuff. Remember, ownership is not freedom. Ownership is Bondage.