Christ and the Stoics, Part 4. (Materialism)

Last year, my family and I packed up our little house in Carytown and moved a few miles north to the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond. As a growing family, with our oldest child soon to start Kindergarten, it made sense to move into a bigger space near a better school. And so far, we love it. We have a bigger back yard, a huge renovated attic for our children's bedroom and playroom, the neighborhood is awesome. I've converted the garage into a home gym and it is a great fortress of solitude.

It also has a basement. One thing I've noticed is that the basement is where our things go to die. We are constantly donating or trashing items, but it seems like a bottomless pit of stuff. I LOVE Jerry Seinfeld's bit on how much stuff we have.

It's a little like seeing Jesus' statement about the constant decay of things in real time. He said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." Marcus Aurelius said something similar: "Look then at the material objects of life, and consider how trivial and short-lived they are and how often they are owned by scoundrels and thieves." Though they spoke these words centuries ago, they seem a little prophetic in our age of consumerism. It's such a hard culture to break. It is the air that we breathe. Buy this thing to fulfill a deep need that you didn't know you had until now.

Neither Jesus nor the Stoics had a problem with having wealth. They seemed to be more concerned with the wealth having you. A few sentences later, Jesus would say, "The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being." What do you treasure?

Jesus goes on to say, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." What are these treasures of heaven that aren't subject to rust and decay? I would argue that Jesus is pointing us to the treasures of the kingdom of heaven, the place we were originally designed to be in (Eden) and a place we can still live in today. We were created to be in relationship with God, with others, and with creation.

The real treasure of life is not found in accumulating stuff, but in cultivating relationships and enjoying creation. Building deep friendships and creating great memories. Being creative like the Creator. Jesus alluded to this in one of his stranger teachings- "Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home." (Luke 16:9)

I want to state something that might be rather obvious. "Stuff" is a part of creation. I think the secret is finding the hobbies and interests that really bring you life, and making sure your purchase of things taps into those God-given joys. I found a lot of use and joy in purchasing a garage gym. Even though I'm not good at it, I enjoy building furniture at times. All of us have things that bring us a great amount of joy, and fuel great friendships and great memories. That's the sweet stuff of life. The trick is to not get dragged in and dragged down by attaching your worth and identity in the stuff.

My dream car has always been a Jeep Wrangler. I can chase it down to the early 90s when I saw my favorite movie, Jurassic Park, for the first dozen times. I can picture myself with my wife and kids, top down, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Sounds awesome. I finally am in a place where I can probably afford to get one, and as I research some used options online, one thing I'm finding time and time again-  these are high maintenance vehicles.  Anyone that knows me knows this- I am not a high-maintenance-vehicle-kind-of-guy.  So while the Wrangler may indeed provide some of those fun memories I'm imagining, the headache of keeping up with it would certainly outweigh the pros for me. (I have friends that LOVE tinkering with vehicles and the maintenance of the Jeep would actually add enjoyment to their experience of owning it.)

While materialism is the air that we breathe, we are definitely seeing an uprising against it in American culture. The concept of minimalism is gaining popularity, books like Stuffocation are expounding on this, and many are opting for simpler lifestyles. This is a beautiful thing, and something that ancient wisdom has been telling us forever. I didn't even get to the tip of the iceberg on the many things that the Bible and Stoics and other religions say about materialism and wealth. I'll close with a great Epictetus quote on this. "Wealth consists not in having many possessions but in having few wants."