I own a lot of stuff. Although I’m quick to get rid of broken things and clothes I don’t wear, there are still boxes we have never unpacked since moving from Arlington, VA seven years ago. Do we really need things we haven’t used for seven years? There might be a Bible verse about that.
Two things about having dead parents:
- If we had kept every sentimental thing, we would need a warehouse.
- I still have all their love letters from just before and just after their wedding because they lived apart for several months even after they got married. (Dad was based in AZ with the US Army & Mom lived in NC with her parents for a while even after the honeymoon.) Note: their letters are boring. “I got a new white top today,” Mom wrote in one not-so-scintillating missive.
Because we’ve cleaned out parents’ and grandparents’ houses, I am hoping to avoid a similarly exhausting fate for my own children. And in my situation, my siblings did most of the work.
Yesterday’s Sunday Morning featured a man who collects washing machines. It gave me chest pains. All I could think about it that this man’s heirs will “get to” deal with this after he passes away. Washing machines. Why couldn’t he have collected Pez dispensers or pennies?
Collecting things is the hobby of the privileged. Rich people collect art. The rest of us (who are also quite rich by global standards) collect everything from salt and pepper shakers to aluminum Christmas trees. But what happens when we die? Do our grandkids bear the brunt of our sentimentality?
Religious organizations deal with this as well in myriad ways:
- We can’t possibly merge with The Church on the Hill because all our church china says First Church in the Valley.
- When Miss Judy died, she left us her Hummel collection and we can’t get rid of them, so we’re displaying them in the church parlor – which probably says to visitors, “We are old and don’t care who knows it.”
- We’ve saved every copy of every church bulletin just in case.
- Our worship service is the same as it’s been for fifty years because …. Red Hymnal.
We are a sentimental bunch while most of the world is increasingly not by virtue of human tragedy. Refugees don’t get to be sentimental as they run for their lives. Natural disaster victims joltingly lose their stuff in fires and floods.
What if we focussed less on accumulating stuff and more on accumulating experiences – like deep human conversation or travel that broadens our world view? We might find that we become more generous with sharing what we have. We might find that we didn’t need those things after all. We might find that we are not what we own.
Churches are not their buildings or their Hummel figurines. We are the people who long to connect with each other and with God, who are looking for meaning and purpose, who are broken and afraid (which makes us cling to our things.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t own anything. I’m just saying that when we travel lightly we more easily appreciate what really matters in life.