Materialism Stories

The Greatest Forger

It was perhaps the greatest hoax in art history. Han van Meegeren was an artist with a grudge. Painting in the Netherlands pre World War 2, critics mercilessly panned his exhibitions. One critic described him as “A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality.” Stung, van Meegreen decided to strike back. He painted a work with flourishes of the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, and submitted it to the prominent critic Abraham Bredius. Bredius took the bait, writing that “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master… And what a picture! We have here a – I am inclined to say the – masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.”  The art world gasped, the painting was sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars, and displayed in  the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterda.

Han van Meegren planned to expose the forgery at the opening of the Gallery’s 400 Years of European Art exhibition, in which his forgery was given pride of place. His critics would be humiliated and their reputations shattered. Greed, however, got the better of him. Rather than exposing the forgery, he made more, raking in millions more dollars. When the Nazis swept through Europe, he even managed to sell The Supper at Emmaus to them.

This almost proved his undoing.After the war the victorious Allied forces were determined to return the artworks collected by the Nazis to their previous owners. A receipy led two soldiers from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of vm Meegren. They wanted to know from whom van Meegran had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, van Megreen was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Confined in prison, facing death, van Megreen had a change of heart. He confessed, but no-one believed him. Experts testified that the work was indeed an original by the Dutch master Vermeer. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake, anfd so he did, spending weeks literally painting for his life!

The final twist to the story is that van Meegren was not only acquitted, but became a national hero, for he had fooled the Nazis, shown them to be the corrupt regime everyone knew they were.

Source: information found in “The forger who fooled the world” The Telegraph, Aug 5, 2006

I Wish You Enough

Speaker Bob Perks was at an airport when he ‘overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her departure and standing near the security gate, they hugged and he said, “I love you. I wish you enough.” She in turn said, “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy.”

They kissed and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say goodbye to someone knowing it would be forever?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Dad had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited, I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me.

So I knew what this man experiencing.

“Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever goodbye?” I asked.

“I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, the next trip back would be for my funeral,” he said.

“When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, “I wish you enough.” May I ask what that means?”

He began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more.”When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

He then began to sob and walked away.

My friends, I wish you enough!’

Source: Bob Perks. Used with permission

Why Would I Give It to You?

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”


Source: unknown

The Midas Touch

“He’s got the Midas touch”…or so we say about people who seem to be good at making money. The story of King Midas comes to us from ancient Greek mythology, and it’s worth retelling in full. King Midas once found Silenus, the tutor of the god Bacchus, and showed the lost Silenus the way back to his pupil. Excited at the return of Silenus Bacchus promised Midas any reward he wished. Midas’ wish was the wish shared by many – unbelievable wealth. Midas asked that everything he touched might be changed to gold. Bacchus immediately granted his wish and Midas returned to his palace with his newfound talent. True to Bacchus’ promise everything Midas touched turned to gold. Midas could take a stick and with a touch turn it into a stick of gold. He could take a mud brick and with a touch turn it into a brick of gold.

But this talent was not the blessing it first appeared to be. Elated at his new talent Midas had his servants prepare a sumptuous feast. The choice dishes were placed before him, but the moment Midas touched anything it turned to gold. The cloth, the plates, the cups, the food, all turned to gold as soon as they touched his fingers or his lips.

In the end Midas found enormous wealth could not satisfy his most basic need. Desperately hungry he returned to Bacchus and begged him to remove the gift, which Bacchus did.

The Midas touch is not the blessing we often assume it to be.

Corporate Rule

On July 4, 2001, Independence Day in the United States, many United States homes flew not the traditional American flag but a corporatised version. The top left corner of the US flag has white stars set on a blue background. In the corporatised version the stars have been replaced with corporate logos – those of Nike, Warner Bros, PepsiCo, McDonalds and more.

No this is not a new marketing strategy for these firms but a protest strategy organised by the Adbusters group. Their claim is that America has lost its independence to massive global corporations, that the directions of the nation and the world are not being set in the interests of people, but in the interests of profit.

The Clock Thief. A Parable About Contentment

Once upon a time there was a rotund little man with dark brooding eyes who was obsessed with collecting clocks. The world is filled with an almost limitless number of clocks – grandfather clocks, grandmother clocks, cuckoo clocks, alarm clocks, digital clocks, analogue clocks, big clocks, little clocks, medium size clocks. And our rotund little clock collector with the brooding eyes was obsessed with collecting as many as possible. By day he thought about clocks, by night he dreamed about clocks. He visited antique dealers to buy old clocks, perused the shelves of department stores to buy the latest clocks, scoured garage sales to find unwanted clocks.

Soon he had so many clocks he had to build a warehouse to hold them.  And each time he found a clock the process was the same. He’d hold the clock, feel the contours, listen for its tick, and then take it to his clock warehouse. When he arrived he’d undo the super heavy duty padlock on the barbed wire fence. Then he’d drive to the front door, look to make sure there was no one else around, and only when he was sure no one was able to peer on his magnificent collection, he’d quickly unlock the security locks, rush into his warehouse, shut the door behind him, and carefully place his latest acquisition in its allocated place.

He was however haunted by each visit to his clock warehouse. It was as though each time he opened and shut those doors someone was whispering in his ear: “Hans of Sweden has more clocks than you…Jillian of London has rarer clocks than you… If only you could get another clock, then you’d be happy.” On occasions the whispering was sinister:  “Is your warehouse secure enough? People might steal your clocks…” At times the whispering was indignant “Why should low income earners get a clock concession. Why don’t you get a clock concession too?”

Whenever the whispering started the rotund little clock collector with the brooding eyes was sure he could see someone out of the corner of his eye. But the moment he turned there was nothing.

One day the rotund little clock collector came to his warehouse with his latest prize. He was pleasantly surprised not to hear the whispering inside his head. But his pleasant demeanour ended the moment he opened the warehouse door. There was someone else in the warehouse, right in front of him, a tall, wiry fellow with impish eyes. In his hands the tall, wiry fellow with impish eyes held the most exquisite antique cuckoo clock. It was not one the rotund little clock collector with the brooding eyes had ever seen before. “Who are you?” demanded the clock collector.

“Why I’m a thief” said the tall, wiry fellow with impish eyes. With that he carried the exquisite antique clock to a shelf, placed it gently down and gave it a quick dusting. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not stolen. It’s mine, and it’s my gift to you.”

As the tall, wiry fellow with impish eyes spoke his voice sounded familiar to the rotund little clock collector with the brooding eyes. Yes, that was it, this was the voice of the whisperer; this was the voice that whispered in his ear each time he unlocked his warehouse.

“A thief! A thief!” cried the rotund clock collector. “But a thief would be removing clocks from my collection, not adding to them! What sort of thief are you?!”

“Oh, I haven’t come to steal your clocks” replied the tall, wiry fellow with the impish eyes. “ You know my voice, don’t you? You’ve heard me many times before…” At this the tall, wiry fellow with the impish eyes leaned in close and whispered “Hans has more clocks, Jillian has rarer clocks, if only you could get another clock, is your warehouse secure? Why do lower income earners get a clock concession?” He continued “I’ve been here every time you’ve visited your warehouse. I haven’t come to steal your clocks my friend. I’ve come to steal your contentment.”

Who or what is the contentment thief for us today?

Source: Scott Higgins

Is That It?

George Harrison was one of the Beatles, one of the greatest and most influential pop bands of all time. Harrison knew fame, adulation, the pleasure of mastering his craft, the sense that his was a formative influence on music. So his comment in the Beatles Anthology is instructive: “When you’ve had all the experiences – met all the famous people, made some money, toured the world and got all the acclaim – you still think ‘is that it?’. Some people might be satisfied with that, but I wasn’t and I’m still not.”

Source: Reported by Ananova News Service, Nov 30 2001

Hunting Monkeys

In early 2001 some towns in India were stricken by a plague of monkeys. The monkeys were so numerous they would invade homes, bite people, and make off with food supplies. It was agreed the monkey’s would have to be caught and relocated. The people in these towns resorted to a traditional method for catching them. They gathered their old milk bottles, tied them to the ground, and then placed something sweet such as a lolly inside the bottle. Then when a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. Our monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with his hand in the lolly jar!

Application: Materialism. Although we know Jesus’ warning that materialism is destructive to our souls (and our world!) we find it very difficult to let go of possessions and the need to consume and possess them.

Application: Bitterness, forgiveness: unless we let go of our hurts and bitterness we will become trapped by the past, wanting to move forward yet unable to. Yet this is difficult, as we find it perversely attractive to hold onto our pain and bitterness.

Application: Sin, Temptation: often in life we are like the monkey, presented with an attractive offer, yet knowing that unless we let go of it, it will destroy us.

Source: reported in news stories at the time of the episode occuring.

How Poor You Are

The great novelist Rudyard Kipling, once gave a commencement address at McGill University in Montreal. He warned them about making money, position or glory their life ambition. “Some day,” he said, “you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”

Source: Reported by Dale Turner in the Seattle Times, August 7, 1999

Billionaire George Soros on Materialism

George Soros is multi-billionaire financial wiz. He retired from his Investment Agency at the age of 70 in the year 2000. He was also phenomenally successful as an investor. If you had invested $1,000 in his Quantum Fund when he started out in 1969, he would have turned your $1000 into $4 million by the year 2000.

Yet life was not always so easy for Soros. He was born in Budapest in 1930. He also Jewish. When the Nazis invaded his homeland during World War 2 his father had to bribe government officials for false identity papers so that George could pretend to be the godson of a gentile bureaucrat. Then the family had to spend a period of the war hiding in the attics and concealed stone cellars of almost a dozen homes.

After the war the teenage Soros moved to England and worked odd jobs. As a waiter at Quaglino’s, a posh restaurant in London, he found himself scavenging the leftover profiteroles. Eventually Soros enrolled in the London School of Economics, and the rest is history.

Partly because of his background Soros is not only a capitalist, he’s also a philanthropist. He has injected almost $3 billion into foundations designed to promote open and free societies throughout the world. He plans to give away the rest of his fortune – another $5 billion – by the time he turns 80.

In recent years Soros has turned his attention to the sorts of societies being created by our international economy. And he is concerned by what he sees. Unlike others who have had a rags to riches story Soros does not believe anyone can do it. Indeed, he is worried at the way financial success has become the dominant value of our age and the skewed social outcomes this is delivering. “Markets reduce everything, including human beings (labor) and nature (land), to commodities” he says. “We can have a market economy but we cannot have a market society.”

Source: Biographical information found at Soros Foundation website. Quotation on markets taken from George Soros, “Toward a Global Open Society”, The Atlantic Monthly; January 1998. Volume 281, No. 1; pages 20 – 32.

Galileo's Telescope

In the year 1609 a man looked through a telescope and unleashed a revolution that would change the world forever. His name was Galileo Galilei. But how did this simple act of looking through a telescope unleash a revolution? Because Galileo Galilee was looking at the surface of the moon, and saw that it was full of craters and mountains. To you and I this is old news, but to Galileo and the people of his day it was a terrifying revolution. Galileo had grown up learning what everyone in his day “knew” to be “fact”. The earth was the changeable, imperfect, impure centre of an unchangeable, perfect and pure universe. And this universe spoke powerfully of God and humanity’s place in it. The earth was placed at the centre of the universe because humankind was at the centre of God’s concern. The various elements of the universe – the sun, moon and stars, existed for our benefit and ours alone. We were the focus of God’s unfathomable love. The heavens, being the creation of a pure, perfect and unchangeable God, were likewise pure, perfect and unchangeable. All that is, except the earth, which had become impure, imperfect and changeable as a result of human sin. Being at the centre of God’s concerns God had sent Christ to atone for our sin and reconcile us to himself.

But with one glance through his telescope Galileo’s view of the world was changed forever. The heavens were not perfect, pure and unchangeable and the earth was not the centre of the universe. Rather, the earth was a ball of mud floating through the vast, dark expanse of space. And so it raised the question. If we were not the physical centre of the universe, were we the centre of God’s love and purposes?

In the year Galileo died another great scientist, Isaac Newtown was born. Newton was the towering genius of his day, who demonstrated that the earth was part of an infinite universe governed by a variety of laws. These operated with mathematical certainty. If we knew those laws and the precise details of each circumstance we could accurately predict every event that would happen. Not just some events like the appearance of comets, but every event of the future. This seemed to make a miracle working, involved God impossible. God was removed from the ever-present helper to the Divine Watchmaker, who made the clock, then wound it up and let it go.

All however was not lost. Though we came to discover we were floating on a ball of mud through an infinite expanse of space governed by unmovable laws of nature, we take comfort that we human beings were created by God in 4004BC and created distinct from the animals to occupy a special place in his creation. But the comfort was ever so brief. For hot on the heels of Newtown came the geologist James Hutton and his argument that the earth’s shape was the result of tiny but continual changes taking place over aeons of time. Now we were not only a speck in space but a speck in time. Then came the final, dizzying blow to our sense of place, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. We were not the special, unique creation of God but the distant descendents of prehistoric microbes and the cousin of the ape.

This has become the dominant story of our culture, the mental map by which we navigate life. We see the world around us that we can see and touch as what is truly real. We pursue the only logical goal in such a world – individual happiness – and believe we’ll find it solely in what we can see and touch – possessions, relationships, work, leisure.

Source: Scott Higgins