Last night I looked around at all of the unpacked boxes from a recent move. I wondered, “What’s the point of opening them?” Iv’e moved four times in the last 24 years (five counting the latest, which was local). Most of the stuff that I’ve packed and unpacked (especially the things that fit into boxes) doesn’t get used in between moves. Things come off a shelf or out of a drawer and go into a box… then they come out of a box and get put on a shelf or in a drawer, where they collect dust. I spend more time dusting these things than using them. Am I Gollum? Its caused me to wonder about the relationship between spirituality and possessions.
Shortly after hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast I pastored a devastated parish community in New Orleans. For the people who lost EVERYTHING, amidst the pain of tossing mold-filled photo albums, a lot of them also felt strangely liberated, as if losing their possessions actually brought them a freedom they didn’t know they had lost.
In chapter ten of Mark’s gospel there’s a wonderful parable about possessions. When Jesus encounters a rich man seeking true righteousness Jesus tells him, ironically, that he lacks one thing, the absence of his possessions: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” When the man heard this he was “shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
So here’s the thing. Spirituality is hindered by possessions. One of the phrases related to the current struggles of the church is the claim that people today are “spiritual but not religious.” If that were really true today’s homes wouldn’t be on average a 1000 sq. ft larger than they were in 1973 and the living space per person wouldn’t have doubled in the last 40 years. That’s not a movement toward spirituality. It’s called being fooled.
If you haven’t noticed, our culture implicitly values desire and the world’s economy is driven by desire and consumption. I recently read a book called The Power of Habit. In it there’s a chilling chapter on the marketing savvy of Target (How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do) ending with these frightening words from a Target data executive: “Just wait… We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”
The spiritual journey does not require our running and screaming from life’s pleasures. But it does mean maturing in faith and learning to distinguish between what will make us whole versus what will burden us. It also requires freedom. Target, and nearly every other cog in the wheel of our global economy wants you to tie you down. How free are you?