A majority of Americans (hell, lets not single them out when most of the world has such problems) are in trouble. They’ve built up credit card debts that are barely managable, are just clinging on to their mortgages, and praying that their jobs will remain secure in the coming months. It’s a common problem everywhere and I understand the fear. All it takes is for that source of income to be suddenly reduced or taken away and it all starts falling apart. If only there were a way to get rid of money altogether, take away that worry, comfort that fear.
Money – material lust.
Money – that’s all they treasure.
Money – in god we trust.
Daniel Shellabarger was thinking about these problems back in 2002 and came to the exact same conclusion – eradicate money. Since that day he hasn’t spent any money at all and, for the past three years he has lived in a cave in Utah, in a beautiful canyon lined with waterfalls. He’s usually filthy and smells like he has been for a long time. His hair has collected various forms of trash in it. He begs for food and warm clothing on the streets of Moab, a small town about an hours walk from his cave, eats roadkill and takes leftovers from trash cans. Occasionally friends in the town will feed him, something he freely admits while boasting that he’s never missed a meal. Basically Daniel is a regular hobo, so why am I writing about him like he’s different and how do I even know about this man? Under the name Daniel Suelo he updates his blog using the computers at the public library in Moab, keeping people informed about his quest to live without money, his methods and what led him to this decision.
When I lived with money I was always lacking. Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present.
So he’s insane then? Not really, more that he’s better educated in the ways of the world and a little bitter (aren’t we all?) about how people destroy themselves. You see, Daniel has a degree in anthropology that saw him joining the Peace Corps and monitoring the health of an Ecuadorian village for two years. During that time he saw the people of the village adopt new methods of economy, selling the excess food grown in their fields for cash and using the cash to buy things they hadn’t needed until they were offered them – televisions, junk food, etc. As he measured their health he saw that his charts showed their health steadily declining as they spent more money on these things. In his own words, “It looked like money was impoverishing them”. It was a turning point in the way he viewed the world. Ten years, a bunch of charity work and one Buddhist monastery later Daniel decided that in order to have a happy life he needed to live a free life and not be involved with money at all – a Sadhu in the most capitalist country in the world, in his mind.
But is money that easy to get rid of? While Daniel sees himself apart from the capitalist world he still lives off of its scraps, taking what others have left behind and wouldn’t have had if money wasn’t involved. And that’s probably the reason I felt compelled to write this post and point out this man. A man who preaches regularly about the good parts of living without money, the character building toughness of it all, how it brings you closer to grace and therefore closer to God. A man who is as much a part of the system he reviles as any of us simply for the way he’s chosen to opt out. A man who seems to have missed the point.