Wednesday, April 15, 2009


A couple weeks ago I attended a speaking tour by Rob Bell, the pastor of the church that my fellow blogger Alex and his fiancee attend. The subject discussed was the link between suffering and creativity. In the discussion Mr. Bell said something that struck me, and relates to something that has consumed much of my thoughts recently. He said "you can own something, but not possess it, and you can possess something, but not own it." We own things we don't necessarily use as we should. Either we don't respect the function they provide (like admitting technology is incredible but we are not entitled - see last posting), or we simply don't need them. Basically, we misuse many of the things we own, and should reevaluate our possessions.

Moving across the country a few weeks ago put the subject of "stuff" square on my mind, and it has persisted. Packing everything up in Boston forced me to confront the physical items I call my own in the harshest way - as basically a chore. And while standing in my room before I started packing I could have told you with confidence that I didn't really have much stuff, when it came time to pack it all up I swear items were being materialized every minute. Stuff just came out of the woodwork, and I really had to evaluate why I own the things I do and if I really need them.

Clothes are a good example. There are so many shirts that I have that I like owning. But I never wear most of them. I pulled some of them aside into a bag I would potentially donate, including some shirts that I was really on the fence about. And after weeks I didn't notice their absence one bit, and I don't imagine I will. We have these attachments to things that cause us to hold on to them much after they have expended their utility. Another example is my former mp3 player. I loved that thing. I bought it together with my brother, it came with me to Ecuador and had photos on it to prove it, and it picked me up when feeling down. And I sold it on eBay a month or so ago. I never used it. It was bulky, and I have an ipod shuffle I use now because I like the simplicity of not really having to spend time choosing exactly what to listen to. But when I packed up that player and had to erase all the data, it was hard. I second guessed my decision big time. I felt like I was losing a part of me, like I was giving up my past. Now, months later, I don't miss it one bit.

I think we put parts of our selves in the items we call our own. And sentimentality isn't necessarily a bad thing, don't get me wrong. But when we hang on to things long after we stop using them, all of a sudden our stuff becomes a burden. One more thing to carry, to worry about, to protect, to defend.

There is something simple and serene about having few material possessions. Thoreau said it best; "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" I am not advocating swearing off all material possessions. Quite the contrary, I am advocating being conscious of everything you own. Make the distinction between things you simply own and things you possess. The story Rob Bell told to illustrate this point came from a poverty stricken village he visited in Rwanda. He had just finished talking with a family devastated by AIDS, in a community ravaged by the disease, as well as war, when he walked out of a hut to the sound of a loud ruckus nearby. He followed the sound to an old, run down building. Inside, members of the community were dancing like it was their last moment on Earth, hands and faces to the sky, singing, pouring their hearts out. Rob turned to a man nearby and asked "what are they doing? Why are they doing this today?" And the man responded, "oh, they do this everyday at lunchtime." Perfect. As Rob said, they had been given this moment, why wouldn't they dance. Ravaged by unimaginable suffering, they created something beautiful, everyday. As he said, none of them owned the building, but they all possessed it. They gave it life.

What do you own but you don't possess. What do you hold on to long after it has lost its utility. And what do you possess? What do you give life to.

No comments:

Post a Comment