You Only Live Once

“You only live once,” proclaims the smooth and persuasive radio voice of the Cadillac salesman, “but if it’s done right, once is enough.” 

For thousands of years, profound philosophical platitudes occupied the domain of poets, sages, and prophets.

Recently, their station has been usurped by advertisers striving to create the perfect jingle. The complexities of life reflected by the materialistic engineers of pop culture have reduced our existence to petty consumerism. “We buy; therefore we are.”

“The essence of life,” claim the peddlers of cheap trinkets, “flows from our desire to acquire.” We’ve retarded human progress to the point we define ourselves by our stuff. Symbols of affluence have become marks of the good life. Cadillac wants us to believe that the acquisition of a Coupe DeVille, even if we have to stretch the financing to ninety-six months, means we have somehow arrived.

Meanwhile, back on Madison Avenue, Lexus contends that Cadillac is just a stepping-stone on the journey to prosperity.

I was at a social gathering recently where a fellow unleashed his new $250,000 bright red, Formula One, street-modified Ferrari to the envy of Cadillac and Lexus owners.

Rich is relative, and the system is designed to keep you behind the curve. Some show-off will always sport a nicer set of wheels. If you envy, covet, and lust, plan to remain dissatisfied. There is no end to bigger, better faster, sharper, sleeker, fancier, hotter, smoother, and nicer.

Take the consumer electronics industry for example. The techno-gods of grandiose gadgets are genius. By the time you unpack and install the latest state-of-the-art gismo, it is out-of-date. Life unfolds in its irony, especially in the bitter futility of owning state-of-the-art. Imagine turning on your three hundred inch, high definition, flat-screen, plasma television for the first time and seeing an advertisement for a South Korean four hundred inch model with chrome bumpers for less money!

When the quality of life is defined by your purchasing power or stable of fandangled doohickies, then you have undermined the pursuit of quality with quantity. More is often less.

Many of the symbols representing the good life behave more like trappings than expressions. Americans currently support a ten trillion dollar consumer debt load. In 1945 debt was about twenty per cent of one’s disposable income. Today it is one hundred and fifteen per cent. The economic reality of the last sixty years is that we are spending ourselves into poverty. I call it economic arthritis: we are consuming ourselves.

We’ve been duped. We bought into the notion that we could buy happiness. And unfortunately, we’ve taught our children that more is better. Call it generational dysfunctionality.

Keep in mind that purveyors of materialism require a constant source of new consumers. As old folks grow slow and broke, the pitter-patter of young feet at the mall must continue. A recent article in a popular weekly magazine stated that Madison Ave. has dropped its target age to eleven. They are after your children. If they can hook them young, they will make lifetime consumers.

“Oh, daddy, if I can have your credit card for the afternoon, I’ll love you forever.”

“Oh, mommy, I just have to have that designer purse or the other kids at school will hate me.”

“Oh, grandma, please buy me the new Play Station Seventy-Seven or I’ll be bored to death and have to kill myself and no one will carry on the family name.”

“I just got to have,” appears to be the contemporary motto of every American kid.

A few days ago a precious young-to-America Hispanic lad ran up to me and proudly displayed his new shoes. “Nike’s,” he boasted, “hundred bucks!”

Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the swoosh!

Have you been to “Parent’s Day” at your child’s university lately? It’s crowded. Primarily because every lending institution in the world has a booth set up giving away free t-shirts if you’ll simply sign up for a high-interest credit card. A student running up a simple ten thousand dollar debt in college can pay for it the rest of their lives. “A small price to pay,” contend the consumerism advocates, “for the joy of joining mainstream insanity.”

Understand, please, that Cadillac may sound profound, but in reality they speak in half-truths. It is true that we only live once. It is also true that if we live right, once is enough. It is patently false to contend that purchasing (or better, yet, financing) a new Cadillac somehow makes life right. I contend they are guilty of false advertising.

I wish they would spend more advertising money on promoting sales of their popular hearses. They have, after all, sold more funeral wagons than all their competitors combined. Not only have they redefined luxury, but what it means to carry folks “from the cradle to the grave.”

Contrary to Cadillac’s broken spin on reality, the good life ultimately has nothing to do with sole ownership of their brand, and everything to do with soul ownership.

“Once is enough,” only if once brings one into relationship with God. To live and to die without becoming a disciple of Jesus is a life wasted. The wise man of old said it well: “To live without God is a tragic mistake and vanity of vanities” (read Ecclesiastes for a wake-up call!).

To add insult to soul injury, Cadillac concludes its advertisement with the admonition to buy one for someone you love: “It’s a gift of major proportion.”

Ultimately, there is only one gift of major proportion; His name is Jesus. He came. He lived perfectly. He died. He was resurrected. He conquered death. His “once and for all” sacrifice gives us eternal life.

Life is only done right when it’s done God’s way. And only a fool would do it otherwise.