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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Master's Treasure

The stuff you own ends up owning you, says Tyler from Fight Club. Jesus' message was similar: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The point of both is that we are not the master of our things, but the slave. We do not invest in the things our heart treasures; rather, the heart follows the treasure. We become what we buy; we are what we eat.

My take on the general mood of American Christianity (my very humble opinion) is that one can have stuff as long as one has a good perspective. So, for example, we can justify buying that bigger house if we say, "This is the Lord's house!" It's all a matter of perspective: if we have the correct mind set, then we can buy more stuff and increase our standard of living. Hence, the boat is not my boat, it is God's boat that I am going to use for ministry and for God's glory.

But is this perspective legitimate? Is it possible to merely be an "owner" of stuff, or is it more correct to understand that the more we have, the more we are controlled and shaped by our things? For example, as a house size gets bigger, does the person who "owns" it get smaller? Does ownership of more things steal away bits and pieces of our souls? And does this happens regardless of whether it is "God's house" or "God's ministry boat"? I suggest that the idea that "It's not my house, but God's!" is merely a fantasy. It is true that it is not your house, but neither is it God's house. The house belongs to itself and to the complex cultural and societal matrix in which it is embedded.

To the extent that we accumulate more stuff, buy the boats, and take out a bigger mortgage for a bigger house, we participate in the cultural/societal matrix; this means we give away our control and our souls to the culture/society. I don't know that this is necessarily "wrong" (I'm not here to make a value judgment), but I do think that we are kidding ourselves if we think we can sanctify our stuff as "belonging to God." Each purchase we make costs us more than the money we give; we literally pay with our lives and give ourselves over to the control of our possessions. Again, I'm not saying that this is wrong; I'm merely presenting this as a discussion point.

So.....on that note, it is interesting to spot a new trend amongst American consumers. In a land of unparalleled affluence (which is, perhaps, unprecedented in all of human history) people are cutting back.

Here are a few selections (emphasis added) from an article in Time, How to Live with just 100 Things. I find it interesting to note the psychology (and perhaps spirituality) that goes into "ownership" of things:

Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive. With all this stuff piling up and never quite getting put away, we're no longer huddled masses yearning to breathe free; we're huddled masses yearning to free up space on a countertop. Which is why people are so intrigued by the 100 Thing Challenge, a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.

But what about Christmas ornaments? Family heirlooms? Those skinny jeans you hope to--but will probably never--wear again? "It's a very emotional process," says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern. Her new book, When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, lays out a plan for clearing out both physical and sentimental clutter. "Often these are things that represent who you once were," she says. "But once their purpose is over, they just keep you stagnant." SHED, by the way, is an acronym for "separate the treasures, heave the trash, embrace your identity from within and drive yourself forward." Which is a handy little guide to Dumpstering your way into a state of Zen.

"It comes down to the products vs. the promise," says organizational consultant Peter Walsh, who characterizes himself as part contractor, part therapist. "It's not necessarily about the new pots and pans but the idea of the cozy family meals that they will provide. People are finding that their homes are full of stuff, but their lives are littered with unfulfilled promises."

Walsh isn't surprised that decluttering is so popular these days. Between worrying about gas prices and the faltering economy, people's first reaction, he says, "is often, 'I need to get some control over my life, even if it is just a tidy kitchen counter.'"


Emily said...

Hmmm... What can I do without?

I think I still have every accounting textbook and every issue of the Journal of Accountancy I ever got. Can't part with those. They could come in handy in a later class or when studying for the CPA exam.

How about old cds I never listen to? I might like them again at some point.

What about that exercise machine I bought a few years ago that stopped working months ago? Someday I might get around to tampering with it (and it's very handy for hanging the next day's clothes on).

I think it's about facing reality and getting rid of excuses, similar to the "unfulfilled promises" mentioned by Walsh.

Craig said...

Jonathan, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I’ve really just started to seriously read hermeneutical theory so I’m not sure how great of a conversation partner on the topic I’ll be right now as I’m getting my head wrapped around some of the terminology and ideas. Never-the-less, it’s a fantastic topic so I’ll be sure to drop you a line when I post on more on Hermeneutics.

dawn said...

Amen, amen, and amen again! I'm so happy to hear a pastor speak in this manner. Too many are saying, "God wants you to be rich, to have a huge house, and a gorgeous husband!" While I'm hoping for the gorgeous hubbie part, I can leave the rest behind.

There's a great book called "Serve God, Save the Planet" by J. Matthew Sleeth that talks about how not only is it possibly not biblical to think this way, but it definitely harms the planet.

hoosier reborn said...

This is good...and Dawn is right, it needs preached in more pulpits. Not sure about your community, but I've been praying that God would break the power of greed/wealth in our town....and our churches. I don't know that God can really reach the heart when there is so much stuff in the way...that's low-brow theology.

cheers Jon, great post.

blueVicar said...

I think this is right on, Jonathan. Since my family's various cross-continental moves we have shed and shed again...and again, so that by the time we returned here to Colorado we had to essentially start over; this time, though, deliberately and primarily with recycled goods.

I am on a soul-searching mission to figure out how to use our experiences to help others out of the bind of their things. Thanks for the resources you pointed out.

It is a topic that we should--no, must--address as individuals, as a culture, as a society, as people.

And the mixed messages we get about the health of our economy depending on us continuing to consume while at the same time hearing that we are using up our natural resources with each purchase...the worst kind of Catch-22.

So...keep the good thoughts coming. I'm right with you.

Meilleurs voeux!!

daniel said...

"It's not necessarily about the new pots and pans but the idea of the cozy family meals that they will provide."

That's the real problem, the deception that a product can fulfil our deepest desires, not to mention the production of those deep desires in the first place.

When family values, healthy living and other good things become an end in themselves we find idolatory.

Truly cozy families and healthy living comes as an outward evidence of a heart right with God - any other way is either temporary or fake.