Monday, November 21, 2005

LESS IS MORE by Keith Giles

LESS IS MORE by Keith Giles

Moving is one of the most painful and emotionally draining experiences imaginable. I do not recommend it unless absolutely necessary.

Having recently endured the suffering of relocation, I have several observations to share.

The first one is the fact that I have entirely too much.

As we were moving recently, into our new house, I had the very painful experience of moving my stuff into storage for about two weeks and then moving it back out of storage again.

As I went through this process, I found myself repenting of my materialism every few seconds. Finally, those who had come along to help us move even asked me to stop apologizing for all the stuff I had. Maybe I was making them feel guilty about all the stuff they were hanging on to, I’m not sure.

Seriously, I think that if most of what I own were to go up in flames, I’d be a happier person.

Last week, as I was unpacking one of my many boxes, I re-discovered an article in Print Magazine that reviewed the book “On Brand” by Wally Olins. His book took a look at brand identity and our consumerist culture.

Here’s a bit of the article for review:

“Our personal identities are so entwined with brands that it has become difficult to distinguish our preferences from our beliefs. Olins (the author of the book) says that brands have “a kind of spiritual power…In a sense, brand affiliation seems, in our individualistic, materialistic, acquisitive, egocentric era, to have become a kind of replacement for or supplement to religious belief.’

“Olins cites the book ‘Lead Us Into Temptation’ which draws analogies between consumer behavior today and the behavior of individuals in a more conventionally religious era, (imposing) the shopping mall as cathedral, the designer label as crucifix, and so on.

“He asserts that brands have replaced religion…yet answering this question is essesntial. Why have we replaced our spiritual beliefs with products that provide social confidence? Why do more and more of us affiliate with consumerist clubs and with churches, temples, communities- or each other?” – (from the review of the book “On Brand” by Wally Olins; Print Magazine, May/June, 2004).

Why indeed?

It makes me sad to think that, as the Church has retreated from its God-given role in society, the vacuum has been filled by shopping malls, advertising and materialism.

It's like when I was a little kid I'd want that new toy so badly, and a few weeks after I got it I'd realize that it didn't really make me happy. Then I'd see another new toy and want that one, yet once again the disappointment would follow after the initial excitement of acquisition.

The toys never made me happy.

Our society has elevated the act of purchasing, owning and acquiring material wealth above the virtues of giving, sharing or being content with what we have.

Maybe I’m overreacting again? I know that many of my friends accuse me of taking things too seriously, and maybe that’s true.

But, I have learned to take the conviction of the Holy Spirit seriously these days, and as I look at the piles of boxes in my garage, I am cut to the heart. Some of these boxes are actually labeled “Junk”.

Maybe what I’m feeling is a combination of guilt over my materialism, and a genuine shame for having so much, when I have friends who have so little?

One of the little girls at the motel where we serve was in our Kids Rock class this last Sunday. Our lesson was about being thankful and not complaining, as the Israelites did when God continually provided manna for them to survive on.

This sweet little girl, who shares a single room with her parents and her little brother at a local motel, raised her hand and shared with us how she would not complain that way if it was her. “I would be happy that God gave me food to eat and a place to sleep,” she said.

I almost asked her to come up front and finish teaching the lesson while the rest of listened. If anyone understands what it means to be thankful and not to complain, it’s this little girl.

What do I know about feeling thankful? What do I know about being content with little when I have so much? Maybe even too much?

I’m reminded of a section in the book “Fight Club” where Tyler Durden says, “I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions, because only through destroying myself can I discover the great power of my spirit. The liberator who destroys my property is fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all possessions from my path will set me free.”

Earlier on in the same book, the main character is chided by the doorman of his building on the evils of materialism. He says, “A lot of young people try to impress the world and buy too many things…a lot of young people don’t know what they really want...if you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t”.

I think maybe now I’m beginning to understand what it is that I want…what I really want…and even more, what I really need.

Maybe that’s why I secretly wish that I could just ditch all my ‘stuff’ and live a more simple life?

Didn’t Jesus warn us that it was possible to gain the whole world and yet lose our soul? Didn’t Jesus say that the man who finds his life will lose it, and the person who looses his life for His sake will find it?

Yeah…I think it was Jesus.

So, should I take a vow of poverty? Should I start donating all my most valuable things to the local Thrift Store? Should I drag my junk out onto the driveway and post a giant sign that says, “Free Stuff”?

Wait a minute…I’m still thinking about this one.

My wife and I have vowed to spend at least one night each week going through at least one box with the intention of getting rid of junk we don’t need and donating things that are superfluous to us but might be of use to others.

It’s not as dramatic as lighting the match, or renting the dumpster, but it’s a start.

“Everybody has one, and one is enough for anybody” – Willy Wonka


1 comment:

othentic said...

Amen, brother! As I've lived my life this past several months with at least 90% of my belongings in storage, I've come to a similar point. I too am embarassed to think of returning to my storage unit with you and others in tow, to load up a moving van with things that now seem fairly superfluous. Not that things are innately bad! In the book Money, Possessions & Eternity, the author urges people to just think about who owns what. Do we own our things, or do they own us? Look with intent at belongings and ask if they further or hinder our purpose, passion and calling. Some may very well help, others may not.

I've had the privelege of making friends with a few Africans these past months. I'm liberated by their different cultural context for material possessions. There is a lack of ownership and belonging. Things are useful and when they become more useful to someone else, they are passed on. I've seen you and Wendy do the same, repeatedly, so don't beat yourselves up too much. Allow the Spirit to continue to teach you and direct your ways and you won't go wrong.