One of the newer non-reality shows on A&E is Hoarders. Based on the one episode I watched, the series covers the lives of individuals who have severe hoarding obsessions. The show begins by showing how this obsession is adversely affecting the life of the individual and their families. It graphically demonstrates their inability to literally throw anything away and then follows the individual and family from intervention to treatment. As one who abhors clutter and seems to live in a constant state of purging the “stuff” that accumulates at the Rectory, I am amazed at how dependent these individuals are on being surrounded by so much “stuff” in order to feel secure. During the one show I watched, the individual had accumulated so much stuff that in order to move around her home, one literally had to find pathways from one room to the next.
To one degree or another, we all tend to hoard things. For most of us it is mementos, or other little objects that remind us of times gone by. Many of us collect something whether it’s coins, or a certain make of figurines. Often we justify these collections by convincing ourselves that somehow all of our time and effort spent collecting these objects will pay off down the road as their value will increase with time.
In fact, this week I read an on-line article of how an actor from the eighties decided to make it his mission to collect every Beanie Baby during the nineties. His son reported that his obsession was so bad, the family ate at McDonalds three times a week until the father had a full collection of the Happy Meal Beanie Babies. As the man stood in front of a room filled with his prized collection, he was asked why he chose to collect Beanie Babies. “Because,” he answered, “at the time I thought the collection would become valuable and my investment would eventually fund my retirement. ”
Unfortunately, his “investment” proved to be more folly than anything else. Now, twenty years later, the Beanie Baby craze is long forgotten and those wonderful little bean bag toys are worthless along with Cabbage Patch Dolls and all the other toy crazes that swept the nation during the eighties and nineties.
After reading about this unfortunate Beanie Baby Collector, I happened across another article on ABCnews.com This second article reported how millionaires today no longer perceive themselves as wealthy. The problem they noted is that without tens of millions of dollars, they still had to be conscious of their spending and feared not having enough for the future.
Hoarders, collectors and millionaires may all have one thing in common, the fear of scarcity. They all share the feeling that no matter what they have, it is not enough.
What constitutes enough? That is a hard question for most of to answer. As Americans, I am not sure we have any sense of proportion as our consumer driven society continually tells us there is no such thing as enough as more is always better.
In today’s Gospel, the foolish rich man seems to be a victim of this same problem. Instead of selling off his excess grain at a reasonable price, he chooses to build a bigger storehouse as a hedge against whatever he feared in his old age. Unfortunately, the old age he planned on never came, and all the grain he had stored didn’t do him a bit of good. This is the problem when our lives are driven by the fear of scarcity. We spend a lot of energy preparing for a tomorrow that never comes, and for a sense of having enough that will never be. What makes matters worse, the more we collect, the more our lives are taken over by fear as we become overwhelmed managing all the “things” we feel we must have.
I have been told, St. Francis of Assisi taught his followers to shun almost all earthly possessions. Even owning a book would distract his follower from being able to focus fully on God. I am told, he taught, owning a book requires time and attention as now the owner must provide space for it to be stored and energy to take care of it. I would say owning a book during the 12th century was akin to owning a cell phone today. A simple cell phone provides a great amount of convenience in our lives as well as measure of safety when we are away from home. But this simple little device, especially a smart phone, also provides a great amount of distraction. Without taking the cost for data and cell service, the phone has many other hidden costs. The applications consume hours of time and attention, not to mention the stress of being eternally hooked into email, instant messages and Facebook. Not only do smart phones entail an initial price investment, they are delicate, so there is the need for insurance, protective cases and the list goes on and on. And now, as I ponder this cell phone that will soon be out of date, and for some reason, I am not sure how I could live without, I have to ask, how or if this phone has enhanced my life, helped strengthen my primary relationships. More importantly, i have to ask, how has this phone helped me better the world around me?
This is the question the foolish rich man was challenged with when faced by God. Basically it is the same question we all must face, what have we done to create treasure in Heaven. Treasure in Heaven is created when we use our gifts and resources to further advance the Reign of God on Earth. This goes hand in hand with what my former spiritual director would instruct, that the only question we will have to answer in Heaven is how we have chosen to love. Because when we choose to love God and our neighbor over everything else, we store up treasure in Heaven.
As I look back over the past four weeks, the overall theme to or Gospels which has emerged has been about prioritizing loving God above all else. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not only are we reminded as to who our neighbor is, we are also taught that caring for our neighbor trumps ritual purity or any of the other trappings of piety that allow us to lose sight of our neighbor’s needs. The story of Martha and Mary, reminds us that basking in the presence of Love, God/Christ, is as important a task as serving God. In teaching his disciples to pray, we are taught that actively seeking the Kingdom is more important than asking to receive our daily bread. For when we seek the Kingdom first, there is no need to fear a scarcity of resources because with God there is always an abundance.
So again this week I invite each of you to seek first the Kingdom of God, by loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and by loving your neighbor as yourself. When we do these things, we become generous to God and store up treasure in Heaven. Which unlike earthly wealth, heavenly treasure will transfer with us. . .from this life to the next.