“Keep your life free from live of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?’ … for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods… do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” — Hebrews 13: 4-16.
Christians, and Americans by and large claim that faith, are supposed to adhere to the above passage. As many have noticed, Americans by and large are also materialists, capitalists, gunslingers devoted to their individual freedom, and/or envious of everyone more wealthy and successful than they are. The typical American’s knee-jerk reaction to this passage might be the question: “But this doesn’t mean we have to be poor because we’re Christians and share with, you know, the people who won’t use our stuff wisely, right?”
And the most honest answer would be, as Jim Wilson might say, well, because you asked, maybe it does. You should keep in mind that the founder of Christianity was a penniless, homeless Jewish man, who seemed to think being poor wasn’t such a bad estate and being rich just might be. His immediate reaction to financial oppression was in accordance with the Jewish law of giving four times as much as you originally took.
In this country at least, our errors tend to be of the selfish kind; rarely do we err on the side of being too generous. Rather, we keep boxes and boxes of stuff we don’t use on the off chance that it might come in handy someday. Rather, we buy the iPod, the more expensive appliance, the half-price Armani jacket, the book we’ll never read, the movie we may or may not even like, the knick-knack for the already-crowded shelf, because we suddenly, urgently need it. We may be defrauding another by doing this, particularly if, when we return home and place it on the shelf, it gets knocked over and broken, and its shards eat away our hearts. How dare this person be so stupid, so clumsy, so unconscious as to knock over something that didn’t belong to them? We will strike them from our will! They have obviously had too much leisure and too much luxury to understand the importance of possession, so they should be granted none. That’ll teach ‘em.
And we, being satiated with the importance of possession, nod knowingly, because we recognize the true value of Stuff.
The other day I was chatting about this concept with a co-worker, and mentioned that when I was a kid, my sister and I were fighting over a balloon. A common, cheap little balloon one of us had filled with air. My dad came over, took the balloon away, and popped it. He said: You must never let a thing become more important than your sister. At the time, I thought this barbaric (it was our balloon! He didn’t understand!) but looking back, it was a good lesson. My co-worker said: “That’s hella cool,” and proceeded to go home and clean out her house. She came in today with a sweater she thought would fit me and said as she was cleaning out all that stuff that no longer fit and were just taking up space, she repeated to herself: “it’s just a balloon. It’s just a balloon.”
By and large, it’s just a balloon, folks. I really like those shoes my grandmother gave me from the 1940s and I really liked my antique wedding ring (before it disappeared) and I really like my old journals and the photos I’ve taken and books I’ve collected and sand from different parts of the globe; my sweet French road bike and my more expensive but less sweet mountain bike; the clunky car my parents gave me for graduation—except it got dented from a deer and the door doesn’t open very well—the Hermes perfume I’ve only been able to find in Europe—and all that. But if I die, it’s just going to sit there. Or be used by somebody else. So why wouldn’t I share that stuff now, when it can actually do me some good to share it?