They’ve arrived, a big pile of boxes now wait in our garage to be filled with all our worldly goods to be moved from North Yorkshire to Blackpool. Over the last 15 years we have moved 7 times, this move will be the 8th. Some of the moves have been short-term others longer, and certainly for the longer moves one thing stands out, we clear stuff out, we give away, sell and re-cycle stuff. Every time we vow that we will not collect so much stuff, and while I have to say that this time we’ve done reasonably well on that front there are additions, and some of them will inevitably be given away….
All of this has me pondering my relationship with stuff, when Tim and I first married we had very little, our coffee table was a cardboard box with a chess board on top and in the early months if people came to eat with us it was a case of bring your own cutlery! I can remember the pressures I felt, a sinking feeling of not being good enough brought on by various pressures from advertising to “well meaning” comments from friends and family.
That sense of being defined by what we had was deeply ingrained in me, this was partly a result of my upbringing where appearances were important and partly a bowing to the pressures I was surrounded with. The result of this was years of struggling to fit in and feeling unacceptable, even the church did not help for it had its own acceptable standards and demands. Like it or not most churches are middle class and exude demands if only subconsciously!
All of this pressure only added to my own sense of inadequacy and failure, this led to trying to keep up, which led to debt, which only deepened the sense of despair. It has taken me years, no decades to begin to break free of the vicious circle. Again and again I have returned to Jesus words:
Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being……
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Matthew 6)
Again and again I have failed to live free of worry, the demands upon my children, myself and my self esteem have caused me to crumble. The desire to fit in and not to be shunned is huge, and I am more and more convinced that as a Christian that I must seek to live in a radically counter-cultural way. I am not advocating a miserable ascetic existence, but rather a decision to live life to the full which means being freed from the demands and shackles of fashion and the desire to keep up with the Joneses, but for this I need friends, I need encouragement and support.
More and more I am convinced that the church needs to become again (or maybe in some cases for the first time) a community of radical hospitality where everyone and I mean everyone is accepted and welcomed! Maybe we should worry less about out shoes than our smiles when coming to worship! One of the Chapels I work with has recently opened a Christians Against Poverty Centre, CAP helps people struggling with debt, the folk who will be our clients have got there for a variety of reasons, and not a few because they have struggled with the same issues and demands as I have. We have had some discussions about whether we can afford to run such a centre but at Church Council it was decided that we could not afford not to. In our discussions we were challenged about the things we hold dear, and questioned as to whether we would be willing to sacrifice just a little so that many could be helped. The response was positive, and now the challenge to be the welcoming community of faith that accepts all lies ahead of us.
I say that this is a challenge because not too long ago I sat in another Church Council meeting (in a different church) and was told “you are reaching the wrong kind of people”, when an explanation was sought the response was “well they’ll never have much to put in the plate…” I saw red then and that attitude makes me see red now! If we are sharing the good news of God’s love for all then how dare we demand that people measure up to our standards, even subtly so! Again this has got me thinking, and while I am not opting for a vow of poverty I do believe that there is a definite call through the gospels to live a simpler life than Western culture demands, and I find the whole health, wealth and prosperity angle on the gospel particularly abhorrent ,even hints of it are unacceptable! I struggle with this because I hear it whispered through our attitudes, it may not be overt but it is there, blessing is equated over and over with financial gain and successes. Interestingly that makes Jesus the ultimate failure, and yet he has everything and holds everything in his hands…
So as I sort and clear I am aware that I need to begin again to practice what I preach, and I wonder…. do books have a category al of their own, are books “stuff”? Sadly I suspect they are….