On Plastic Crack and Covetousness

Around this week, one year ago, I became addicted to building Gunpla models – or, as referred to in the Gunpla community, “plastic crack”. The word “Gunpla” is a portmanteau of “Gundam” and “plastic model”, and Gunpla is the multi-billion dollar product line of Japan’s multimedia mega-franchise Mobile Suit Gundam, which was one of my favorite anime franchises as a teenager and which I rediscovered my love for during the pandemic.

I developed this addiction at the loving behest of my wife, who noted my wistful interest in doing something like this “someday” and – facing down a summer of lockdowns and having more free time on my hands than I have ever had in my entire life – encouraged me to dive in. The top photo here is us working together on building the HG GAT-X10A Strike Gundam (bottom photo) from my favorite Gundam entry, Mobile Suit Gundam: Seed, and by the end of the week two other model kits were en route to our house. In this first year I built six total (Mel has even built one herself!) and have done post-build customization work on three of them, with plans to go all the way and do custom airbrush paint jobs “someday”.

I cannot describe all of the benefits of this hobby. I was still working in pest control when this started, but having left pest control and begun to do exclusively knowledge-based work (and passion-driven knowledge work at that), Gunpla has been the best “non-productive” hobby I could ask for. There is nothing inherently beneficial to my studies or my job by cutting plastic pieces from a sprue, sanding them down, and snapping them together, which is exactly what an insecure workaholic like myself needs. Of course, this hobby does have numerous side benefits that have benefitted both my work and my studies, but this is only the icing on the cake – the cake itself is having a 6”-18” tall giant war robot as an office or living room decoration when you’re done.

For all the good this has been for me, there is one nasty side effect to this hobby: it is both addictive and expensive. It bears the moniker “plastic crack” not only for its addictiveness but for the fact that, like an actual crack addiction, it’ll devastate your wallet. The 1/144 scale kits run $20-$30 a piece; the 1/100 scale kits start at $50 on a good day (often higher depending on supply and availability); the 1/64 scale kits are hundreds of dollars depending on the kit. Tools and accessories are an adjacent black hole, as is the black hole of airbrushing and customization. You can throw an entire paycheck at the hobby and still not be content – there are always more kits, tools, or projects that you can’t wait to buy or do “someday”, to say nothing of the question of spending money on other needs, wants, or missed opportunities for charity.

I do not believe that to simply desire something is to be guilty of covetousness, especially if those things are good and healthy. And yet, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with that nebulous grey area between desiring more of this hobby and outright covetousness. It is effortless to browse Newtype.com or USAGundamStore and to look at all the kits, tools, or supplies I want. It is even more effortless to expend mental hours daydreaming of what it would be like to have my dream project space, or all the kits I hope to work on, or the thrill of making a “haul” purchase. While many of the major Gunpla communities are healthy and pleasant spaces to be in, there is always the exalted “backlog” of models purchased long ago and sometimes hoarded for years that you will eventually build “someday” when you somehow have more time in the future than you do in the present. It is not wrong to desire to spend more time on an enjoyable hobby, but there does come a point where this otherwise good desire is baptized into the liturgies of consumerism and becomes rank covetousness. I freely confess I do not know where that point is.

There is one helpful clue, however. 1 Timothy 4:4 instructs us that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Covetousness is, by nature, the antithesis of thankfulness; consumerism, its modern spawn, is based on the inability to stop and rest in gratitude. The Gospel tells us that we are in motion towards our eternal rest with the Lord; consumerism trains us that rest comes when we are able to eat the dangling carrots of our covetousness. The primary marker for my hobbies and covetousness is found in examining how much time and energy I expend in thinking and desiring about acquiring more and more compared to how much time and energy I expend in thankfulness; often, the former absolutely dwarfs the latter.

Hobbies are good, and are to be received with thanksgiving, and thankfulness is an intentional practice that is counter-formational to the rival liturgies of consumerism of our culture and covetousness in our hearts. I suppose I can add this to one of the many unexpected benefits of this hobby: the Spirit’s ability to providentially use any means to show me hidden faults, and point me to the cross of Christ who has cleansed me of them all. I am one of many who picked up this particular hobby during the pandemic, and was only able to do so through the Lord’s providential sustenance for me and my family, who provided housing, food, and more. Thus is the secret cord of thanksgiving: begin to pull on the thread, and you will soon realize there is no end of all there is to be thankful for.

If you have thoughts, let me hear them!

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