Monday, August 06, 2007

Making purses that don't wear out

I am not a fashion maven. I don't have the latest shoes. I don't look forward to the fashion shows to see what the latest cut, color and style of suit is going to be this fall's "hot ticket." Though I appreciate fine things, I am not one to troll pop culture for the "next big thing."

Sure, I confess a love of the latest electronic toy (still wanting that iphone, I confess) and those around me reserve the right to tease me about "the latest upgrade." But, I attempt to at least make a pale effort to justify those indulgences with the justification that I am truly seeking to create the most effective toolbox for the tasks work and life.

So, today I write from the middle ground of wanting with restraint...and am starting to work on this coming Sunday's sermon in which Christ enjoins us to make purses for ourselves that do not wear out.

What does that mean? It would be easy to indict our own postmodern culture of consumerism. That latest bag is always good for ten minutes on the morning news shows each fashion season. The number of knockoffs of the latest bag on the street vendors' sales racks is testimony that though we all want, only a few can afford...but no matter the origin of the piece-be it from the designer's personal stock or from the curbside exploiters who attempt to offer up that their product is "just as good" as the original...those bags and purses will eventually wear out. The fashion style will pass. The uses we put those bags to will cause them to scuff and fray. Eventually, if they don't break down, they will wind up in that hidden closet back down under the stairs, joining the sedimentary host of bags from bygone days.

I don't think those are the purses Jesus was talking about, but Lord do they provide an apt illustration. I know folks who pine for the latest Louis Vuitton-even Mikhail Gorbachev in the new ads making their rounds on the Internet. For those with the resources, I suppose it is fine. For others who receive them as gifts, please release the guilt. This is NOT about selling it all and giving it to the poor...or is it?

Jesus, in this passage from Luke, is pretty explicit about the shackles of possession and attachment. Set those down, get rid of them, he offers. Don't worry so much. Don't be afraid. God gives us the kingdom and no thief can take that away from you.

That doesn't mean we all have to mimic Francis and Clare and give it all up for God. If that were the case, we would I hope be living in a world in which Marx would not have to make his arguments against capitalism and Adam Smith would have a lot more to say about economic altruism. The world we live in today, though, struggles with the cancer of poverty and economic subjugation, and most of the devices and tools created by our culture to alleviate those burdens tend more often than not to reinforce them. This goes well beyond any conspiracy of the Illuminati. It can't be laid at anyone's feet. It is too old, to diverse and profound an aspect of the human condition to be so easily ascribed and applied.

To change those traits in human nature-the desire to possess things over and against the valuation of relationships-means conversion. That is the thing Jesus is attempting to assert, I believe, in describing a faithful servant waiting on the master to arrive. Set down attachment and live in expectation of the coming of the one who really does "have it all." That one is God, not Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. We are to wait up for God, through the night watches, in anticipation of the inbreaking Kingdom.

That is a great idea, but it becomes our responsibility to absorb two hard truths: the first is that we can't buy "it" or possess "it," we can only borrow it; and the second is that life in faith in God requires an optimistic expectancy that requires of us a willingness to realize that "it" can't make us happy or fulfill our existence.

I don't know if I have learned those lessons yet in this life. I still want an upgrade to my ipod. I still want the luxury of a Nintendo Wii. I still would like to upgrade our cable. I want to add on to the house and expand the back deck. I want a lot of "things." But I am wise enough to know that obtainment will not bring happiness.

What brings happiness is living into that joyous expectancy of the coming of the Master...in the morning, afternoon, evening and even in the darkest hours of the night watches.

Where do we learn how to embrace that? I am learning it at table with friends. I am learning it at bedside with the sick. I am learning it when I go to funerals and laugh and cry over losses that cannot be restored.

A life well lived is one in which we find ourselves walking around with purses that seem larger inside than without-ones fashioned to embrace the rich life of the kingdom of God, and filled with the grace and riches of Christ-consciousness.

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