The Spirituality of Pants II or We are Living in a Material World and I am a Material Girl.
Intro to the problem:
I’d like to begin this morning by jumping in the pop music time machine and going back to the days of my youth; the days of jelly shoes and leg warmers, up-turned collars, learning to do the Thriller dance and really bright neon colored clothing… the 80’s…
Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me
I think they're O.K.
If they don't give me proper credit
I just walk away
They can beg and they can plead
But they can't see the light, that's right
Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right, 'cause we are
C D D Em
Living in a material world
C D G
And I am a material girl
You know that we are
C D D Em
living in a material world
C D G
And I am a material girl
[Note; Yes I did sing this... No I did not sing it well]
Our first reaction as a Christian Community is… No we are NOT materials boys and girls. We are spiritual. We do not over value possessions and we know that there is more to life than having stuff.
On the other hand we are all familiar with George Carlin’s classic rant about stuff…
Now, its funny, because we do identify with it. We do collect stuff. We throw away lots of stuff. We ease our troubled souls by shopping for more stuff. And we feel a little conflicted about our stuff and the amount of stuff we have because of Jesus’ words today….
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Don’t worry about your stuff… its sound’s like Jesus is saying… Get rid of all your stuff… which sounds impossible, impractical and well, no fun at all. Like you I feel conflicted about the amount of stuff that I have collected, but I also find comfort and meaning in my stuff…
What Jesus is talking about in saying ‘don’t worry about food and clothing’ is that the pull of the security of possessions is subtle. We don’t think consciously that cars and computers, cells phones and shoes are more secure than God. But without thinking about it, we can act like it.
But what exactly does Jesus mean? What are we supposed to do with these commands to not worry about what we eat or what we wear? And wouldn’t following these commands cause us to end up on the doll waiting for a state check?
What gets complicated, I think, is that we tend to interpret what Jesus says as meaning we shouldn’t care too much for things… so we try not too… but we are also in a society where stuff is cheap, easy to get, and constantly thrown at us. And stuff can be easily discarded and replaced. How many of us call a tv repairman anymore, or go to a cobbler? So as Christians we don’t really know how to fit what Jesus is saying into our existence. We don’t over-value stuff, which is what Jesus is saying… but we also collect a lot of stuff, and discard a lot of stuff. We don’t know where it was made or if the workers were paid or treated with dignity. As long as after it has run the course of usefulness it is out of our house we tend not to think about where it is, although we have a vague sense that the world, the natural world is increasing clutter with all of our cheap plastic crap.
As a parent I see it. It causes me anxiety. I do worry about the amount of stuff that get accumulated in a house with kids…. All those toys. And on the one hand, they make the kids happy and in some cases cause enjoyment and even intellectual and physical development. On the other hand a growing pile of stuff in the basement shows me that most of the stuff doesn’t get used. The thrill was the getting and not the having and using. The high is pursuing something new and once the new has worn off, we discard it and move on to something else. And that does concern me. What is that teaching my children about living carefully in God’s creation? What is that teaching them about using money? What is that teaching them about other things like relationships? The connection may not seem obvious, but recall the story of Esther. (explain)
And I know that adult too consider these things and worry over them. We buy something, a car, a motorcycle, jewelry, clothing… because it makes us happy and we enjoy it… but we also feel a little guilty about spending when we could have used that money for someone in need or for a cause that we believe in and support.
We are bothered by what Jesus says about stuff, his warning that we place too much faith in things through our actions, but not exactly sure how to navigate through the conflict of needing, wanting, caring for others, enjoying things for ourselves…
We don’t want to keep up with the Kardashians, but neither do we want to become Amish…
What struck me about Jesus words is the fact that to my ears, he is reminding us of the creation story. I know it is subtle and scholars would probably disagree with me. But notice how Jesus encourages us not to place too much value on stuff by calling our attention to the beauty of Creation. In the midst of the anxiety we feel about our stuff Jesus reminds us of the story of God Creating.
24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you,
God speaks and the constellations are cast in the heavens; God breathes and the planets flow on their courses through space. At a word from God all this exists and part of this story is the story of Adam and Eve being invited to participate. Name the animals, serve and protect creation.
It seems as if jesus is saying, God is still creating and you are invited to participate in that creating.
That is exciting stuff…
You and I were created by God and called by God to join in the creating.
It isn’t just about getting stuff… it is about being creative…
In a world where we read stories of violence around the globe, the shooting of aid workers in Afghanistan, oil spills not just in the gulf, but in china and Michigan, surrounded by unemployment and the poverty that it spawns, it is so tempting to feel overwhelmed, to feel unimportant, to feel that we have nothing to contribute to such overwhelming and complex brokenness…
I just need to go home and forget about it all with some of my stuff…
For me that stuff is brownies and my Lord of the Rings DVD’s…
But Jesus is saying that we have a place in Creating and Redeeming all this brokenness… we are called participate creatively in the healing of the nations…
And I think that point for Christians today is that our stuff, our possessions is not outside or separate from this calling, this healing this creating… our stuff is a part of our call, a part of our message, a part of our creativity with God.
Let me ask you a question. In your high school year book under my picture was a list that summarized who I was at that point in time… a list with items like… Most prized possession…
Did you have that in your yearbook?
If you did, can you remember what your most prized possession was?
My most prized possession was my collection of Dokken tapes.
Dokken was a heavy metal hair band that was kinda popular, but not terribly popular.
It was my prized possession because of what it said about me.
I was NOT into pop music like Michael Jackson or Madonna or NKOTB…
I was into an edgier, more musically complex, slightly more esoteric type of music…
Our stuff, our possessions are important because they do say something about who we are.
I drive a Prius. Now if you think that I drive a Prius because I love it you are wrong. (I do love the gas mileage) but I do not like the size, its very cramped with three kids and the performance is lacking. I do not love stepping on and the gas and watching joggers, bicyclists and residents of Ashton court out walking their dogs pass me by as the Prius whispers up to top speed.
I have the Prius because I do believe that humanity is having a negative impact on God’s Creation and because I worship the Creator God, part of that worship means the practice of caring for Creation. The Prius means that I care about the Earth because God created the Earth and if I must sacrifice performance for loving care of what God created, so be it. The prius tells people a bit about who I am and if they ask, it is an opportunity to tell people about my faith.
Our stuff means something. Possessions are not only things that we own or have, they are an extension or an expression of who we are and what we are becoming.
I remember a moment that really made this apparent to me especially the difficulty on our consumer culture of maneuvering through the meaning of our things. I was visiting a friend at work, stopped by for lunch and he said, come out and meet one of my clients. Now I want you to look at the pin on her coat and then her vehicle. Ok. So I go out into the parking lot, shake hands, exchange pleasantries… on her coat a button that says NO FUR. So, she is taking a moral stand against the use and abuse of animals for conspicuous consumption. She was driving a Cadillac Escalade with a leather interior.
My point is that it is easy for us to think consciously that our values and beliefs are embodied in our lives by our thoughts and our ideas, but to connect that to actions and possessions, takes careful planning and thought. AND, without careful consideration and awareness we can contradict what we believe with what we have, pursue, value, own…
To best honor what Jesus is saying to us today, I think we need to embrace that we are Material boys and girls.
And instead of keeping our spiritual life separate from our stuff, we need to let the Spirit invade our stuff.
If you think about it, that is the heart of our faith. The word became flesh and dwelt among us, John says. The spirit invaded, flesh, stuff. God doesn’t want faith and stuff separate, but together, working in concert, for the renewing of Creation. We proclaim it every month when we say together, this bread is my body, this cup is a new covenant. Spirit and stuff, together creating us, recreating the world.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to start taking a spiritual inventory of my stuff and how I use my stuff. The biggest struggle for me will probably be the TV, I can so easily become entranced and addicted to TV. But I will honor both my spirit and the Creative Holy Spirit if I turn it off and have game night with the boys, or take Anna for a walk with Bert, or read a book.
Your inventory will be different. There will be different things that cloud the image of God that you were created to be, and different things that help you to realize your creative potential. The struggle will be to rid ourselves of the things that twist us, subtly out of the shape God is trying to mold us into. The challenging but hopefully redeeming practice for us as Christians embracing the spirit of our stuff, will be to pause and ask ourselves, when we are thinking of getting more stuff, is how will this stuff feed my spirit? How did its production affect the spirit of the one producing it? Will this develop the image of God within me or distort that image? Will others see my faith through my stuff?