Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Buy Things . . . or By Grace?

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” ( Luke 12:15).

Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping chronicles her year-long experiment in abstaining from the consumerism that had come to dominate her life. A closet crammed with coats and boots, drawers that could barely be shut because of the clothing that bulged from within them, a cupboard stocked with seven different kinds of rice, not to mention the credit card debt – all of these pushed Levine to the point of saying “enough.” For a full year she stopped shopping, buying only necessities. Of course, one of her first challenges came in defining “necessity.”

A review of the book in Publishers Weekly made the following statement: “As Levine trades in movies and restaurants for the public library system and dinner parties at home, she is forced to reflect on not only the personal indulgences she's become used to but also their place in defining her social space.”

What’s true of Levine is true of all of us to some extent. Somehow our things acquire the power to define our “social space.” Possessions begin to tell us who we are and where we belong. That’s exactly what Jesus is warning us about.

The story in Luke 12 known to us as the parable of the rich fool is used by Jesus as an illustration of a very simple point. Jesus is telling us “your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Don’t let what you have tell you who you are.”

The reason for this word of warning isn’t hard to understand. There may come a day when you no longer have that thing that gave you your sense of self. In another teaching Jesus reminded us that earthly treasures can be stolen and they can decay. They can break or burn or go bust.

When you no longer have what you once had, then who are you?

We’re hearing plenty these days about the economic crisis. But what the journalists won’t report on is the unseen crisis of identity that is tearing at the human soul. There are many who no longer know who they are or where they belong: lost job, lost house, lost dreams, lost friends. Who are they now? More than portfolios need to be salvaged. The entire self is being undone in all of this.

The tragedy of the parable Jesus told has little to do with wealth. The man in the story isn’t a fool because he’s rich. He’s a fool because that’s all he is.

We were made to know who we are in relation to our creator. Our “social space” is defined by one key relationship: our relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship informs all others. It tells us why we’re here and what we were put here to do. Those things can never be given to us by something we purchase. They come by grace from one who loves us.

Every day, O Lord, we need to be reminded of simple things. We need to hear again of your love freely given. We need to be convicted of the ways we let the world and the world’s things define us. We need to give you thanks for what we have, and then treasure you above your gifts. Help us today by reminding us of these things, we pray. Amen.

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