A few weeks ago I promised some more thoughts on the religious problem behind too much stuff.
My wife and I, in preparation for my retirement from the pulpit after 36 years of ministry, are sorting, culling and packing. We live in a church-owned home with a wealth of storage space and are moving into a home of our own with smaller closets and cupboards and less storage space in every room.
Compounding the “stuff problem” was the fact that a month ago — while my wife and I were already sorting through the artifacts of 41 years of our married life (and things that go back even further) — my wife’s father died and we now must sort through and dispose of the possessions of a parent. This good man left us with tons of things to dispose of. I have returned from Florida determined to be as ruthless as possible as I sort my possessions.
Do I really need 13 extra extension cords tucked away in a cupboard?
Do I really need those four extra power strips ensconced in another cupboard?
What about that pair of white summer slacks I bought for $5 and have only worn once?
Those are the easy decisions. But other things are more complicated.
Do I need that coffee mug that is larger than I prefer? I never use it, but it’s from my hometown, which gives it pride of place.
Do I need that tacky handpainted plate from a Colorado town named for my ancestor? No, but I’ve had it since I was 12 years old.
What about those red and white striped Converse tennis shoes? I never wear them except on the Fourth of July; they pinch my feet. But they belonged to my father, and I was the one who bought them for him for a birthday gift long ago. How could I toss them?
Jesus often confronted people about their possessions. Some potential followers could not part with what they had. Others were able to drop their nets (surely a fishing net was a valuable possession) and head down the road with Jesus.
I’ve begun to consider that the problem with possessions is not always greed in the traditional sense of the word. The problem is that we invest certain objects with almost religious meaning. These things might be grandmother’s china, a complete set of National Geographic magazines, a grandfather’s tennis racquet or a report card from the 6th grade. These objects have sentimental meaning but it’s more than that. We have elevated them to the status of idols, a clearly forbidden sin.
It has not been easy for me to part with some of my things. I get fearful that I’ll want them back. Such anxiety betrays the creeping sense of idolatry inherent in possessions. When things begin possessing us it’s time to divest and to do so quickly. I want to travel lighter.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.