Sunday, March 1, 2015

Stuff "Taken" or Relinquished?

March 1, 2015 

Dear Friends,

This week it occurred to me that in thinking about the consequences of diminishment I have disregarded an essential question. How does self-direction affect the impact of diminishment?

An example from ordinary living will, I think, make the importance of this question clear.

Can you think of a situation in which a real estate agent recommended that a house for sale be made more attractive by adding more “stuff”? 

In the history of odd human affairs I am certain that situation has occurred, but in the overwhelming majority of cases the realtor says (usually more than once), “Clear out the clutter. Get rid of things. There’s way too much stuff. The prospective buyer needs space in which to move and to imagine.”  

The majority of people who have sold a house remember this clearing out process with less than pleasure.  What to “get rid of” and “what to do with this?” are not easy questions to answer.

But imagine with me for a moment. Suppose that while the owners were on vacation, a sophisticated thief managed to empty the house of most of its valuable contents.

Diminishment has occurred, certainly. But I suspect that the response of the owners to loss of “stuff” that they had agreed to relinquish as part of the house sale would be vastly different than their reaction to loss of “stuff” to a thief who certainly did not secure their permission to burglarize their house. 

And this difference leads to still another question.  Is the process of “hallowing our diminishments” a process involving losses over which we had no control? Or, in contrast, do “hallowed diminishments” involve by definition losses in which there has been conscious, deliberate “letting go”? 

Do we need to distinguish between diminishments resulting from  things taken in contrast to diminishment resulting from things willingly relinquished? Is that an essential category question?

Certainly not having, whether the result of coercion or choice is difficult to evaluate in a culture in which having, and having more is regarded as life’s ultimate good.

I am thinking this Lenten season of the eternal both/and in the death of Jesus—his life both taken by his enemies and relinquished by Himself. 

And wondering too: when Jesus told his followers to pick up their own crosses and follow Him, was that a command for self-directed diminishment?

What questions of having and of relinquishing preoccupy your life this Lent?

See you next week.


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