The Gospel of Christ proposes a radical materialism, particularly in the light of the rich young ruler and the early Christian communities in the book of Acts. Christ should profoundly change our relationship with stuff. I am not a Gnostic who believes that the material is evil; yet we encounter a deep shift within our priorities when we de-centralize our incessant need for material stuff.
We like our stuff. And, additionally, the vast majority of us live with far more than we actually require for living. We have systems redundant beyond measure to ensure that we are clothed; we call them “outfits.” We own so many things that may see use once or twice a year. We go to great lengths to ensure that we have places to put all of our stuff, even to the point of building bigger houses.
Our relationship with stuff has been so embedded in our psyche as completely normal that we often miss out on living simply because of all of the things that we “need” in order to have life. Getting rid of things can be terribly difficult, particularly when related to prized possessions and the ever-abundant sentimental artifact. Not having things in terrible physical abundance is associated with lack. Getting rid of the things that we acquire create an emotional roller coaster as we equate may divestiture with failure.
We can forget that truly living lives invested meaningfully in other human beings requires sacrifice. We must offer our time, energy, and presence to another person in order to be present as a fully supportive individual. We have any myriad of opportunities to engage in relationships with other human beings that make us fully human. But our incessant relationship with our stuff has a way of killing off natural and human connection. Yet I find very few people interested in radically reshaping their relationship with stuff because, let’s face it, reshaping one’s relationship with stuff is hard.
A very rich man who lived in Alexandria prayed to God every day that the lives of the indigent be made easier. On hearing about this, Abba Makarios sent him a message: “I would like to own all your estate.”
The man was puzzled, and sent one of his servants to ask what [Abba Makarios] would do with all that wealth.
Abba Makarios said: “Tell your master that I would immediately answer his prayer.”
How can we put our relationship with stuff to good use? I do not mean to advocate for divestiture as the only option, but it certainly is an option. What can we do to remain good stewards of the things that we have so our material possessions do not come to steward us?