The problem of stuff
In the midst of our materialism, a quiet revolution grows.
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Bailey McBride | The Christian Chronicle
I am drowning in my stuff.

Bailey McBride | InsightIt is entirely my fault. I cannot bring myself to throw away anything except the daily newspaper and two weekly news magazines that I read to have a balanced view of the world.

(National Geographic is another story. I have every one that has ever arrived in the mail.)

I am a book lover. Even though I have contributed thousands of volumes to the college library, I have not one inch of space on any of my many shelves.

I have never paid much attention to my clothes; they just seem to accumulate. Lately the shirts in my closet are so crowded I can’t get one out without messing up several others. I have gradually gotten rid of all the souvenir shirts and sweatshirts I collected on my travels. I have sorted out all those I can’t remember wearing, and I am determined to buy no more.

Still, the stuff is all around.

I remember vividly that, when I was 8 years old, a cigar box held all my “treasures” — a large magnifying glass to look at insects, a pencil and little notepad, an Indian-head nickel, four “aggies” and a “steely.” That was more than enough to make me happy.

My recent time in Europe — where refugees from the Middle East arrive with all of their possessions in a small bundle — has heightened my realization of wasteful habits. Every time I buy a cup of coffee, I calculate that the money I’ve spent would feed a refugee family for a day or two. The money to buy a pair of socks to match my new trousers would feed a family for a week.

After reading Augustine and some of the Franciscan desert monks, I’ve also realized how stuff keeps humankind from discovering what is most valuable about life. Willed discipline makes us more aware of our sins, our need for God and our value as his creations.
'Every time I buy a cup of coffee, I calculate that the money I’ve spent would feed a refugee family for a day or two.'
Before Jesus began his ministry, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. He did not eat and had no disruptions. And no stuff. Those 40 days prepared him to face and defeat Satan. They gave him strength to deal with adoring crowds and mobs of critical Pharisees.

In the midst of the wealth and materialism of our age, a quiet revolution is taking place. Young Christians are moving to developing countries to live and to evangelize, working with people who are barely surviving. Many of my fellow church members have gone to the Village of Hope — a ministry that serves children in the West African nation of Ghana — to help our African brethren provide these children with care and the necessities of life.

Youth groups are beating paths to Mexico, Honduras and other Central American countries to build homes, schools and houses of worship. They also build relationships with children and teens there.

These experiences bring change to our churches — change that reflects the thinking presented in Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution.” Without a direct response to the “social gospel” punching bag, Claiborne advocates living the power of a sacrificial life devoted to people, not things. Drawing heavily on the teachings of Jesus, he argues that Jesus was not just being dramatic when he told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor — then “you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).

“How many poor people do you know by name?” Claiborne asks. I can only name three in this country. I don’t mean to be selfish, but being busy with my own stuff blinds me to the way that relationships with less blessed people will enrich my life.

I must address my stuff problem.

Possessions come to possess us. They make us cling to this world when our hearts should be longing for the presence of God. We must change our hearts and seek first the Kingdom.

Contact: bailey.mcbride@christianchronicle.org
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