on greed and possessions


According to WordPress, I created this blog 5 years ago today. Neat.

This post is more religious than some of my other ones, so if that’s not your thing, that’s cool. But promised myself to always just to be as authentic and honest in my writing and this is what I’ve been thinking about:

Greed and possessions. This topic has followed me around since I was in high school and read Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

I highly recommend the book. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Shane says all the time but he has a prophetic vision, I think, and a mischievous spirit, in a holy way, and he has stretched my understanding of living a gospel-worthy life and love affair with the poor and oppressed in the best of ways. One of my favorite quotes of his: “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” This sermon of his changed me in high school. It might not be everything I remember it to be but it was a delicious morsel of truth in a time in my life when I was sitting on top of the dryer in our laundry room stealing wifi from the neighbors and starving for something real.)

Where were we? Okay, so this topic has followed me around for a while, getting super loud in some seasons and humming quietly in the background in others. In the past when it has gotten loud, I’ve had to eventually choose to consciously turn down the volume each time, as painful as that was for me to do, because I am extremely prone to legalism. This area was no exception.

I want things to be black and white. I want the expectations to come in bullet points so I can confidently and accurately assess how I’m doing, my progress, where I stand.

You must not own more than X amount.

You must live below X means.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found such a list and God has let me chew on and chew on this rather than feeding it to me mama bird style (not a gross analogy at all).

Recently my husband and I moved to a new place. (You can read about my mental breakdown in the middle of it, here.) In the process of packing and unpacking, you tend to get reacquainted with all the things you’ve accumulated over the years. While I have done quite a bit of decluttering over the past 8 months or so, I still have so much, “Why do I have this?” or “Why do have I have so many of these?” things. That got me back on the greed and possessions train again.

I’ve also just finished the book Seven by Jen Hatmaker where in 7 months she focused on fasting from different things each month. Clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. (The book was pretty good. It didn’t turn my life upside down or anything but I finished it, which is saying something. It’s entertaining. I have a copy if someone I’ll see in the next six months wants to borrow it.).

I like what she said about fasting and it was actually the inspiration for me cutting out noise, which I wrote about here.

“[A fast] is supposed to be uncomfortable and inconvenient… because the discomfort creates space for the Holy Spirit to move. This shake-up of my routine commands my attention. I can no longer default to normal, usual, mindless, thoughtless… I will reduce, so [the Holy Spirit] can increase.”

You get the idea. I’ve been thinking about greed and possession. And I think I had a little bit of a break through yesterday.

In The Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus says to guard against every kind of greed.

Guard against.

So my perception of what that means, for now, is when it comes to possession and riches, my focus should not be on living with a particular number of things or within a certain means range but rather on guarding against every kind of greed. Possessions and otherwise. I say otherwise because I tend to be more greedy with things like my time. I want to stick to possessions today though, so this word vomit doesn’t get too big.

I’m starting to see it’s not about how many shirts I own (for example), but in owning or purchasing shirts guarding against greed.

Why am I buying this shirt? Do I need this? Is this an impulse to buy I need to curb to make room for the Holy Spirit as Jen says? Am I trying to change others’ superficial impression of me? Am I purchasing it ethically (second-hand or through a socially/environmentally responsible company when possible) or am I being greedy for convenience? Will I use it? Just because I want it, does it mean I should have it? Will this help or hurt my soul’s growth away from materialism? 

The concept is somehow harder and easier. It’s hard because you have to stop, reflect, and be honest with yourself. You’re forced to be mindful of your choices and why you’re accumulating something, your motives. But it’s easier too, because you don’t have to carry the load of legalism telling you you’re not enough after imposing impossible standards on you. It’s a movement toward something better, toward freedom from the ickiness of greed.

Because that’s what Jesus was all about, right? Keeping your treasures in heaven. If I’m focused on the numbers of what I do or don’t own, that’s still focusing on material things. But if I’m focusing on guarding my soul against greed, that’s whole. ‘nother. level. A spiritual level.

It’s just that I’ve found–and it could very well be user error–that no matter where I set the line of what was acceptable to keep, it would always be too much compared to someone somewhere. And if I tried to literally give away anything I had more than one of like when John the Baptist says if you have one tunic give the other to someone without one (who knows, maybe that is how it should be but it’s too much for me to grasp right now) than I would waste a lot of time washing clothes or dishes or wouldn’t have a spare bed for family and friends traveling through the area. Doesn’t seem practical. And no matter how much I could give away, it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the need the world has. That is a deep, deep hole.

On the other hand,  people have brushed me off in the past with, “It’s not how much you own; it’s if you’re valuing your things above God.” I think that’s bull shit and I think it’s lazy. It’s completely ignoring the other (of TWO) commandments Jesus gave us: to love your neighbor as yourself. So many of the teachings of Jesus are about how we treat our neighbors. But if we’re only focusing on our own relationship to our possessions and God, we’re basically ignoring our neighbor’s existence entirely. Maybe I value God above, let’s say, ten winter coats, but the person I teach English to and the woman at the domestic violence shelter where a friend words and the homeless folks at the soup kitchen where a co-worker volunteers all need coats or my physical neighbor are freezing because they can’t afford a good one. It’s starting to seem kind of greedy to keep all those coats, isn’t it? We can’t forget about our neighbors.

Which brings me to another of my favorite quotes from Shane Claiborne:

“The great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

I think this is very true. I saw it firsthand (I’ve also been and am, I’m sure, in many ways still the rich Christian) when I worked at a refugee resettlement office in the past. Sometimes people would bring in the silliest donations. To be clear, there were plenty of generous souls who brought in much needed items and were an answer to prayers. But there were also people who would donate 5 inch stilettos and Tupperware with no lids and long romance novels and crusty backpacks one notebook from disintegrating and weird, broken house decorations. That straight up goofy.

I’m not, I hope, trying to shame them. We all only have so many hours in the day and can be dedicated to only so many causes and hurting groups. But, the truth of the matter, regardless, wasn’t that donators, bless their hearts, didn’t care about refugees. It was that they hadn’t taken the time to get to know any refugees or at least the people who do know them.

In order to meet the needs of the poor and oppressed, we have to know them. Personally.  Not just theoretically care. Or we need to listen to the people who do know them. Listen closely. Not only does that make us more in touch with how we can help, as people who were born into or able to make it to a more advantageous place, but it makes it almost impossible not to. When someone you care because you know their name and face and babies has a need, it’s an entirely different ball game than it is when you hear about a general cause. You know what their need is without it being broadcasted. You see it with your own eyes or you’re told about it in confidence. You witness the struggle they are facing and you don’t think twice. Because you don’t need to. It wouldn’t make sense not to sacrifice.

When I decluttered my closet before the move, I took my clothes personally to an Eritrean family who arrived here as refugees a few years ago because I knew specifically they had multiple daughters my size who would wear the types of clothes I wore.

Now, I will say I experienced no sacrifice in any way by giving  of bunch of my clothes to them. If anything, they were doing me a favor and getting them off my hands. I’m not some sort of saint and don’t want you to think I’m trying to elevate myself. My motivations were self-centered but the point is I got the clothes to the right place because I personally knew someone isn’t lower on the food chain than me.

Not everyone knows a refugee (or insert X hurting group here) family. And I don’t have a clear answer for how to get to know whoever it is you’re supposed to form a relationship with. As someone who is painfully shy, the idea of just showing up somewhere to get to know people makes me want to run. But maybe look around your community and see who you can volunteer for or where you can read or listen to words of people who do have that time you don’t have to volunteer. Ask questions about the causes the bleeding hearts in your life desperately want other people to care about. Make it personal in one way or another, any way you can. You win because you’re guarding against greed and other people win too because needs are being met. They go hand in hand.

I have a long way to go in making what I think into what I live. But I have real peace about this breakthrough I’ve made and hope I can move forward into being a more responsible citizen of Earth and of Heaven, whatever that is.



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luh u


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