Tuesday, April 07, 2020

What's in your way? (Archives post)

First posted August 2017
"Consider the trend toward numbers in light of our relationship to God. Metrics are quantitative and not qualitative, so they measure performance, but not relationships. They tell us about the externals of religion and say nothing about the heart...metrics can record the frequency of our church attendance, the regularity of our Bible reading and the exact amount of our tithing, but they can never gauge the genuineness of any of them..." ~~ Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" ~~ Isaiah 55:2a, English Standard Version 
I spent yesterday travelling to, around, and from Toronto. The official reason was that I had a ticket to Courtney Carver's Tiny Wardrobe Tour. I also wanted to spend time with relatives I hadn't seen for a long time, hear a lunchtime concert at a church, and maybe do a little sightseeing slash shopping. The logistics of the day all came together well (Google Maps gets you from place to place very succinctly), and the Greyhound bus got me back here before midnight.

But something was bothering me later, and it wasn't the falafel plate I had for dinner. I had been looking forward to the Tiny Wardrobe event for a long time, and of course it was nice to hear Courtney in person, with her rack of clothes behind her; so why wasn't the event quite the highlight I had expected? Earlier in the day I heard Beethoven and Mozart played in a church with wonderful acoustics. Maybe it was the "acoustics" of the evening event that made the message feel somewhat unclear. Was it the argument over seating arrangements that broke out in the front row, that seemed to sour the evening a bit? In the afternoon I spent time with family, and maybe I expected to find a similar connection with those who had bought Tiny Wardrobe tickets.Was it that I was tired from the day's travels, so of course it all felt a bit disjointed? Was I just "not feeling it," as my teenager would say?

Yes, people make too much stuff, buy too much stuff, dump too much stuff. This is something we really do need to talk about. In a world plagued with over-consumption, waste, garbage, labour injustice, consumer debt, and false promises of advertising, any message that helps us step away from the system even a little can only be a good thing. But in a month like this past one, when masses of people have lost their homes and possessions to natural disasters, any discussion of choosing to minimize can seem ludicrous. It is true that going through flood, fire or political upheaval may change your relationship with "stuff" (such as being all too aware of its impermanence), but in the short term, survival means getting enough of what you need or can pass on to others equally in need, and not worrying about the global implications of too many towels. (For those of us whose lives seem safe and "normal" for now, we might want to consider the ways that the money we plan to spend on "stuff" could be used to help others in need.)

Courtney Carver, Ann Voskamp, and others continually make the point that the goal isn't to have a simple life, or even a beautiful lifeit's to have a life. A meaningful life. A good life. A life centered outside ourselves. Simplifying possessions can be a discipline that encourages more focus, less materialism. Or it can be just a numbers game, even if you pick your own number. It can be the pride of money spent for "that which is not bread," or it can equally be the boasting of money not spent. In either of those cases, the focus is on the wrong thing.

"The difference does not seem to be great; but two streams that rise within a foot of one another may water different countries and fall into different seas, and a broad divergence in practice often arises from what appears to be a small difference in conception..." ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education 
And what is it that was keeping me from falling back to sleep? Guilt over a few small things I did buy while I was in the city? Worry about not fitting in with somebody else's minimalist program? No...I think I've come to terms with the "problem" that I like having fun with clothes, and scouting thrift shops is one way I do that without hurting our bank account and producing more waste. That's why I keep posting my own Project 333 stories. I have never done a capsule wardrobe exactly "right." But I am learning to use my own talents (such as scrounging) in ways that, maybe, can encourage others.

Maybe it was just an impossible wish that we could spend more time getting to listen to each other's stories. Not judging, or arguing about details, but seeing each other as people who have lives and stuff and needs and questions and ideas. That means relationships. That means time. We need to make more room for both. And to come back to exactly what Courtney says: if any aspect of your stuff (including clothes) is standing in the way of the important things, it's time to make a change.

So maybe the acoustics weren't so bad after all.

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