Stuff: Compulsion and Attachment

Stuff:  Compulsion and Attachment

I’ve been thinking about stuff lately.

My stuff.

Literal “stuff.”

I have a lot of stuff.

I have an office full of books and religious mementos, and even more at home.

I have a “growing” collection of bonsai trees, orchids and cacti.  I also have a collection of bonsai pots, most of which are really too small to use.  But, I think they’re neat and fun to look at.

I have collections of statues – monks, asian “mud men,” and carvings of saints from Guatemala.

We have more chairs in our home than we’ve ever entertained enough people at one time to use.  We, likewise, have enough cups and glasses to serve beverages to more people than could actually fit in our home, including if a few were double-fisted drinkers!

My garage is packed wall-to-wall with tools, Christmas decor, future projects, my Harley, and misc biker paraphernalia.

My closets are stuffed with more clothes than I need, including, thankfully, many items that are now too large for me to wear.  Given my history of weight fluctuation, I haven’t had the courage to give away the fat clothes yet.

Though I’ve greatly reduced the collection I had, I still have an assortment of musical instruments, ranging from bongos to guitars to an 8-string ukulele.

I do have a lot of stuff.

Why so much?  Well, I’ve been reflecting on that.

None of my “stuff” is of great monetary value.  But, a lot of if has great value too me.  In some cases, the value is knowledge, as in the books I own and read.  In some cases, the value is enjoyment and entertainment, as in the plants I tend and the instruments I play.  In some cases, the value is pragmatic, as in the different clothes I wear for different occasions and climates.  In some cases, the value is beauty, as in the items decorating my home and office.  In same cases, the value is sentimental, as in the items I’ve collected from varying life experiences.  In some cases, the value is utilitarian, as in the tools in my garage.

Somehow, I confess, I’m comforted by my things.  I enjoy being surrounded by them, looking at them, using them, and remembering where I got one thing or another.  Each thing, unless it is purely utilitarian, tells a story for me.  While some feel pleasure and freedom in simplicity, and some enjoy minimalist design, I like environments that tell a story through the objects on display.

Come into my office, and we could spend hours discussing where all of the different things have come from, what they mean, and why they matter to me.  The same thing could happen in my home, or on my back porch.

I also particularly enjoy the process of searching and finding different things.  It’s like a treasure hunt!  And, at times, I enjoy passing my finds along to others, so they can enjoy them.  (BTW – I have a few plants I’d be glad to share with anyone who is interested!)

But, I also recognize my accumulation of “stuff” might be a problem.  Though I never spend a lot of money on any one thing, the accumulated value of my things is likely greater than I’d like to admit, and those dollars probably could have been used in better ways.  Things take time to maintain – especially plants and Harleys – which is time I could use for other, better, activities.  And, someday, when I’m gone, someone will have to deal with getting rid of all of it (sorry kids!).

The area I likely need to work on most is the way “stuff” can be like a drug.  I’ll admit, there’s a “high” that comes from finding the “unexpected.”  Always on the search for another book, another piece of clothing, another plant, another bonsai pot can be rather compulsive, and perhaps an escapist method of looking for comfort and pleasure in things rather than God.  It can be a way of avoiding, or numbing, negative feelings, too.

Some call it, “Retail Therapy.”

While I love all of my varied and miscellaneous things, I’ve been reflecting on how attached I am to them.  I’ve sold a few things lately, and I’m working on selling some more.  Some things I hold on to because I’ll likely want or need it later.  There are other things, though, I think I could part with… if I had to.  I don’t necessarily want to.  But, if life demanded it, I could part with any number of things I like, but don’t necessarily need.

I think that’s the goal.  Regardless of how much stuff a person has – a lot or a little, minimalist or maximalist – the issue is compulsion and attachment.  Does the thing really have value, beyond the feeling that drove the acquisition?  And, how attached am I to the thing?

In pastoral counseling, I often ask people to hold out their hands, palms up, and to imagine whatever hope, dream, desire, need, demand they have, resting in their open hands.  The point of the exercise is that when we want something badly, we tend to grip it tightly.  But, even with hands open, we still hold the thing.  The difference is, when we stop gripping the thing, it can be removed from our hands, possibly to be replaced with something better.  Or maybe having open, empty, receptive hands is good too.

So, yes, I confess, I have a lot of stuff.  I’m working on the compulsive collecting, and appreciating what I already have.  And, I’m working on holding all things loosely.

How much stuff have you got?

Getting Out of the Echo Chamber

Getting Out of the Echo Chamber

About a year ago, I heard a Korean-American, female pastor challenge white, male, North American pastors to stop reading white, male theologians for the next year.  Her point was, we need to broaden our theologies and perspectives by adding new voices into our learning.  And, I think, her point was, white men reading white men was a bit like reading in an echo chamber – just hearing the same voices repeated over and over and over, reinforcing firmly-established belief-systems.

I didn’t obey her challenge perfectly.  I’ve still read a few white, male authors.  But, I respectfully took her point, and have expanded my reading by intentionally selecting a broader range of authors, than I  have in the past.  And, I’m so glad that I did!

Over the last year, or so, my reading has included, in no particular order…

  • Desmund Tutu – male, South-African
  • Pope Francis – male, Argentinian
  • Dorothy Day – female, Anglo-American
  • Makoto Fujimura – male, Japanese-American
  • Renita Weems – female, African-American
  • Ta-nehisi Coates – male, African-American
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – male, African-American
  • Deidra Riggs – female, African-American
  • Lisa Sharon Harper – female, African-American
  • Elizabeth Gilbert – female, Anglo-American
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – female, Nigerian
  • Bryan Stevenson – male, African-American
  • Oscar Romero – male, El Salvadoran

This is a challenge I’m glad I accepted, and intend to continue.  The truth is, my shelves are covered with books authored by white men.  While many of them are brilliant and deeply spiritual, they do tend to speak from a vernacular of common life, education, and experience.

By adding new and varied influences, my perspective is being broadened and deepened.  I’m increasingly, painfully aware of the inherent advantages I have as a white, Southern, college-educated, man – advantages I’ve taken for granted, perhaps even assuming I have “earned.”  I’m increasingly aware of the disadvantages others have, simply because of their gender, skin-color, ethnicity, or country-of-origin.  I’m increasingly aware of injustice and unfairness, ways that I’m complicit, and ways that I’m called to live and lead differently.  I’m increasingly aware of my wrong assumptions, attitudes, and biases.

My eyes, and my mind are being opened.  And, while that’s not always easy, I am thankful.

While white, male authors are not permanently banned  from my bookshelves, I plan to continue reading an increasingly diverse group of authors.  I plan to continue being challenged, stretched, and deepened.  I encourage you to do the same.

I wonder, any non-white, male authors you might suggest I read next?