espn just showed a ten part series called “the last dance”. it documented the behind the scenes life of the chicago bulls– especially michael jordan– in their 1998 title run. it touched on how nike with mj as its forntman had changed the marketing world and the sales of basketball shoes as part of a hip lifestyle. i, myself, loved those first commercials of mj with mars blackmon (spike lee) because they were so fresh, captivating and funny. if you wanted to be cool, like mike, then you had to have his kicks. this was the beginning of the sneakerhead culture of hip hop. desire for coolness through b-ball shoes would grow with the release of each new shoe.
then we started to see kids in inner cities get beat up and shot for their air jordans
wanting b-ball shoes had existed before. in the mid 70s, my idol was clyde frazier of the ny knicks. he was the first player to have his own signature b-ball shoe with his suede pumas and i really wanted a pair– but mom kept buying me chuck taylor converse. in the later 70s, my doctor j cons were my most valuable possession– especially when i took the court!
but when people started stealing others’ air jordans, i knew we had entered into a new era. when these shoes started costing over $100, i knew there was no turning back. madison avenue had captured our hearts and minds; imelda marcos syndrome hit US culture and it is still growing today!
coveting and envy have a wide open playing field in our world– and not just with air jordans
in all of the countless confessions that i have heard over these years, there have only been a handful of times that i have heard someone specifically say that they have coveted. thanks be to God that we priests have the gift of forgetting– because if we remembered confessions it would take an emotional toll on us. i remember, not the specifics of these covet-confessions, but because they always surprise me– they are that rare.
why do we often overlook this commandment of God? perhaps because it is the last in the list of the ten commandments that we do not give it much thought. perhaps because coveting is so much part of our capitalist way of being that we just accept it. perhaps because jealousy and envy are strong and scary emotions that trump what it means to covet
here is my conflated definition of the verb to covet: being discontent that what God has given me/us is not good enough; shows itself in a strong envious desire to possess what others have.
so here are my random thoughts about this definition of what it means to covet:
the capital sin of envy is closely related to as well as jealousy. they can work together at times. but the emotions that related to envy and jealousy can blur any vision. one way or the other, our desires are affected; our relationships with others and material things can change us negatively.
“keeping up with the jones'” is an axiom that advertisers depend on. they reach into our minds and hearts and tweat our desires. they know that we do not buy what we need, we buy what we want. car sales is one example. if need was the standard, we would drive ford fiestas or chevy colorados. but with our desires edging to what we want–we will end up spending thousands– even tens of thousands– more because of what our next door neighbors–the jones’– might think of us. we are often unaware of this dynamic and how it changes who we are
when we cannot control our desires, they will control us. it’s not that we own stuff, it is that they own us (in our minds and hearts). these affect our relationship with ourselves, others and the world.
in faith, we strive to be people of gratitude. in the framework of stewardship we believe that all that we have, all that we are is are gifts given by God. the three main categories are time, treasure and talent. to realize these gifts is to see graciousness in our lives and then give God thanks. all is gift; God will provide for our needs. the more we live this, the more grateful to God we can be. at our best, we can even be thankful for the crosses and difficulties in life.
coveting moves us away from thankfulness because it says that what i have and who i am is not good enough. i need more and God has not provided it. therefore there is a unfulfilled desire in my heart and it is up to me to obtain the goods or “my neighbors wife” in order to satisfy this desire for what i lack. there is not a peace of mind but a discontentedness of who i am and what i have. i do not know the grace of being loved as i am and being content and thankful for what i do have.
all of this is on a continuum: at best, we are sometimes times obscured by these desires; at worst we become self-centered people who hurt and use others and know not what thankfulness is. thus, we cannot really know who God is.
‘thou shalt not covet” shapes us: we become thankful for what we do have, our desires move us toward inner peace and we do not envy what others have
that is grace; that is love
Perfectly said, Fr. Art. For me, I am less likely to covet a physical thing, and more likely to covet less tangible things.
amen! this sin has many layers to it and most of us do not realize its effect in our lives
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