A Basic Set of Wants
In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey describes the nature of David’s requests in the 23rd psalm:
The psalmist [in Psalm 23] has a very basic set of wants that the shepherd provides for his sheep. That list includes food, drink, tranquility, rescue when lost, freedom from the fear of evil and death, a sense of being surrounded by the grace of the Lord, and a permanent dwelling place in the house of God.
An ever-rising mountain of material possessions is not on the list. There is no hint of any need for power or control. An externally generated set of compulsive desires and the need to be constantly entertained are also absent. The sheep knows that only with the shepherd’s help can they secure the above limited list of basic wants.
Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, p.39 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A Birth Of Hope
“The reason I am a minimalist today,” Troy began, “is because of the color of my house.” I’d never heard that one before, so I asked Troy to explain what he meant. Troy was a tall man of about forty with red hair and a red beard cropped close. The two of us were at a simple-living conference in Minneapolis when he shared his story. Troy explained that, a few years earlier, he had bought a house with the understanding that his friend would move in and help with the payments. But then, because of a change in life circumstances, the friend moved out.
Rather than try to find a new roommate, Troy opted to take a second job and increase his income to support the home all on his own. “Eventually,” he said, “the situation began to take a toll on me. I had more money but less time. And to make matters worse, I was not able to save any of the excess income. It was practically all going into the mortgage payment.” Troy entered a season of despair.
He began to buy and collect things to satisfy his craving for a sense of control. Garage sales and clearance end caps became his drugs of choice. Looking back, he says, “I was out of control, totally numb to what I was doing to myself and my living space. Until I noticed the paint on my window trim beginning to chip.” In preparation for the window repair, Troy opened his browser during a lunch break at work and searched for paint colors. The search returned so many color choices that at first he felt paralyzed.
As he scrolled down, however, he happened to notice one image on the screen that did not look like the others. It showed the smallest house he had ever seen, just a few hundred square feet — a Tiny House on wheels, with chickens in the front yard. Troy was intrigued. With just a few clicks, he was immersed in a world of people purposely living in smaller homes with less stuff. It was the start of Troy’s journey to minimalism. His immediate goal was to make his existing home more livable.
Over the next month, Troy removed 1,389 things from his home. By the end of the summer, the number of items he had removed totaled more than 3,000 items. “It has not always been easy to let go of stuff,” Troy told me, “but it is a process I want and I need.” He ended our conversation with tears in his eyes. “I was really hurting for a long time, Joshua.
I needed simplicity. I needed to get out of debt. I needed to get rid of the stuff cluttering up my life. But mostly I needed hope — hope that life could be different, better. This process of becoming minimalist and living with less has given it to me.” There it is: Minimalism is about what it gives, not what it takes away. It’s the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them. It’s a new way of living that fills us with hope.
During a retreat at the Taizé compound in France, a young American shared a remarkable discovery. He said: “Back home, surrounded by all my possessions, I often feel uncertain about many things. Here, with only a backpack, in the company of people who want to be together in the presence of God, I feel rich in every way. With the prayers, the songs, the silence, and the honest conversations about faith and life, I have everything I need.”
Harvard Stephens, Taken from Wondrous Love: Devotions for Lent 2020, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2020, Kindle Location 866.
Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, once was at a party in the Hamptons. A guy came over to him and pointed at a young, 25 year old standing in the party who worked for a big hedge fund. Heller’s “friend” said to him, “see that guy over there? He made more money last year then you will ever make with all of your books combined.”
Joseph Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.”
His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?”
Heller said, “Enough.”
Frozen in Greed
In his book Feminine Faces, Clovis Chappell wrote that when the Roman city of Pompeii was being excavated, the body of a woman was found mummified by the volcanic ashes of Mount Vesuvius. Her position told a tragic story. Her feet pointed toward the city gate, but her outstretched arms and fingers were straining for something that lay behind her.
The treasure for which she was grasping was a bag of pearls. Chappel said, “Though death was hard at her heels, and life was beckoning to her beyond the city gates, she could not shake off their spell…But it was not the eruption of Vesuvius that made her love pearls more than life. It only froze her in this attitude of greed.”
Submitted by Chris Stroup, Clovis Chappell, Feminine Faces.
Holding on to the Extreme
Have you ever seen an episode of the A&E TV show Hoarders? It’s a show about perfectly normal-looking people who live in perfectly normal-looking houses who become overwhelmed by their possessions. Their problems start when what appears to be an innocent collection of baseball cards takes over the attic.
Meanwhile, a pile of magazines stashed in a closet forces its way into the hallway before claiming the living room. But that’s nothing compared to the sacks of bargains—beautiful new clothes with the price tags attached, shiny red blenders, and Star Wars figures still in their boxes, all of which conspire to push the car out of the garage and into the front yard. Add in a few bags of trash that can’t find their way to the curb for pickup, and the next thing anyone knows, the people residing in the house are trapped.
Most end up sleeping on top of a pile of dirty clothes because they can no longer find their beds. Of course the situation wouldn’t have gotten so bad if their army of non-neutered cats hadn’t continued to spawn new litters of kittens. Before the occupants knew what happened, their house became a mewing, mildewy, macabre mess, a mess you’d think they’d love to be rescued from, but no!
When a concerned family member tries to remove so much as a cobweb, the trapped inhabitant protests, “But that’s Sylvia, my favorite spider. I couldn’t possibly part with her. Her work has been hanging on my walls for years!”But by the end of the show, after a professional cleanup team sorts through the massive contents of the house, clears away the carcasses of a few expired pets, and hauls away the trash, a miracle happens. With their belongings no longer piled to the ceiling, the homeowners walk from room to room admiring the fact that, yes, their house does have a floor, and even a couch you can sit on!
One woman gushes, “I have so much space that I can now open my refrigerator door!” while a man admits, “With the hallways passable, I don’t have to use the outdoor toilet in the backyard.” Another amazed homeowner looks around at her now livable space and says, “I had no idea I’d let things get so bad.” Really? You didn’t notice the smell of your dead pets or that you had to climb over a mountain of clothes and newspapers to get to the kitchen? Somehow, I believe their admission of blindness because I’ve seen this same blindness at work in my own life.
Living In Excess Comes in Different Sizes
For many of us, living in excess doesn’t express itself in extremities. It doesn’t translate to tying $4,000 to balloons and releasing it into the air. It doesn’t have to amount to owning six houses (two of which we never use) and four Rolls-Royces. Excess comes in petite sizes, too.
Maybe we need a comfortable pair of sneakers because we’re on our feet all day at work. Instead of just getting a pair from a trusted brand, we walk out of the mall with three pairs of Air Jordans. Lavishness is unique to each of us in our own position and means of living. Lavishness is not a type of owning—that is, it’s not a true representation of owning—but a malformed way to own.
Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems
At the airport, Hugh Maclellan Jr. saw an acquaintance who looked troubled. “What’s the matter?” Hugh asked. The man sighed. “I thought I was finally going to have a weekend to myself. But now I have to go supervise repairs on my house in Florida.” Dejected, he sat waiting to take off in his private jet.
Our Stuff in America
In America, we consume twice as many material goods as we did fifty years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled, and today that average home contains about three hundred thousand items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than people. And the US Department of Energy reports that, due to clutter, 25 percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside and another percent have room for only one vehicle.
Home organization, the service that’s trying to find places for all our clutter, is now an $8 billion industry, growing at a rate of 10 percent each year. And still one out of every ten American households rents off-site storage — the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades. No wonder we have a personal-debt problem. The average household’s credit-card debt stands at over $15,000, while the average mortgage debt is over $150,000.
A Pile of Stuff with A Cover
In his classic monologue, comedian George Carlin riffed on the mountain of stuff we compile. His assertion is that a “house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
So when you get right down to it, your house is nothing more than a place to keep your stuff…while you go out and get…more stuff. ‘Cause that’s what this country is all about. Trying to get more stuff. Stuff you don’t want, stuff you don’t need, stuff that’s poorly made, stuff that’s overpriced. Even stuff you can’t afford! Gotta keep on getting more stuff.
So keep gettin’ more and more stuff, and puttin’ it in different places. In the closets, in the attic, in the basement, in the garage….So now you got a household of stuff. And, even though you might like your house, you gotta move. Get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff!
The Plane Crash
Picture 269 people entering eternity in a plane crash in the Sea of Japan. Before the crash there is a noted politician, a millionaire corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents. After the crash they stand before God utterly stripped of MasterCards, checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton reservations.
Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing, in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day—like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection he misses the last train.
Preparing a Table
In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides helpful context to “preparing a table before my enemies” in Psalm 23:
In traditional Middle Eastern culture, when you want the community to know that you have acquired wealth, you do not buy an expensive car or a large house with acres of grass around it. Rather, you host meals with three times as much food on the table as the numerous guests can eat. The modern Western way of showing off possessions assumes isolation and distance from the community. It is enough that you drive by, note my palatial house and see my expensive car parked beside it.
The psalmist’s imagery(Psalm 23) has to do with community life that is strengthened and solidified by shared meals. But there is more. To “prepare a table” means to “prepare a meal” (Ps 78:19; Prov 9:2; Is 21:5; 65:11; Ezek 23:41). This phrase cannot mean “set the table,” because in traditional Middle Eastern society people eat without using individual plates or eating utensils.
Eating is carried out by tearing off a small piece of flat bread and using it to lift food from the common dish to the mouth. Each bite starts with a fresh piece of bread. There is nothing to do to “set the table” except perhaps “spread the rugs” (Is 21:5). As regards the food, servants and women prepare it. The master of the house provides the food, he does not prepare it.
Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, pp.50, 54-55 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Surrounded by Possessions
Members of the Natomo family sit on the flat roof of their mud house in Mali, Africa, posing for their early morning photograph. Their earthly belongings are arrayed in front of them. Two kettles, plastic water containers, woven baskets, an assortment of agricultural tools, and a fishing net can be identified among the objects. Their village has no electricity, paved roads, or cars, but a battery operated radio sits at the father’s feet, and behind him on the roof is his transportation: a bicycle.
The portrait of the Wu family from China differs significantly as seven members of the extended family stare into the camera from their perches in a long, narrow boat that floats on the fish pond beside their home. The two adult sons, adorned in hip waders, stand in the shallow water at opposite ends of their vessel.
A coffee table in the middle of the bobbing boat, a TV precariously bounced upon it. Other household possessions are staged on shore in front of the Wu’s home-bicycles, electric fans, a guitar, clothing, a sewing machine, a rice cooker, a table, a sofa, and dinnerware. The image evokes the impression of moderate prosperity achieved through diligence and industry.
I first encountered these captivating portraits while waiting for an international flight in Chicago. The art exhibit featured families from around the world, sitting in front of their homes, surrounded by their possessions. The pictures were part of a project envisioned by photojournalist Peter Menzel, who desired to capture the lifestyles of average families around the globe. His book Material World leads us on a photographic journey into the lives and possessions of families from thirty countries.”
Taking Care for the Next Generation
Known for their luxury watches, Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for its clever advertising slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.” So it is with what we “own”: money, gifts, ministries, time, and our very lives.
The Two Hermits Attempt to Quarrel
Two hermits lived together for many years without a quarrel. One said to the other, “Let’s have a quarrel with each other, as other men do.” The other answered, “I don’t know how a quarrel happens.” The first said, “Look here, I put a brick between us, and I say, ‘That’s mine.’ Then you say, ‘No, it’s mine.’ That is how you begin a quarrel.” So they put a brick between them and one of them said, “That’s mine.” The other said, “No, it’s mine.” He answered, “Yes, it’s yours. Take it away.” They were unable to argue with each other.”