Posted by: Dan | December 12, 2006

Hard Words from John Wesley: Confronting <i>my</i> Materialism

I remember Wesley's old saying, “If I should die with more than ten pounds, may every man call me a liar and a thief,” for he would have betrayed the gospel.
~ quoted by Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution.

I've been thinking about materialism a bit these days. No, no, not just the general materialism of our society (who is not thinking about that? Being anti-materialism is hot these days!), but I've been thinking about my materialism — about the number of books I own, about the CDs I just bought, and so on and so forth. I find that this line of thinking is less popular than general critiques of “the materialistic West,” and it's easy to understand why. Because it requires me to start living differently and less “comfortably” (although, perhaps, more freely).

As I have been thinking about my possessions, I have also been thinking about how the Christian life is a life that should be lived along the lines of a certain trajectory. I call this trajectory the road of cruciform love — the road of the cross. Now, this road should impact all areas of our life. Following the road of cruciform love has just as much to do with how I spend my money, as it has to do with how I make my money. However, like any journey, it takes a number of steps along the way to get to the cross. Jesus didn't start on the cross, but he did take concrete steps along the way that anticipated that goal, and ensured that he ended up there. Similarly, we don't have to force ourselves to try and live as we will at the end of the road — but we do need to take steps right now that anticipate that goal, and ensure that we get there.

And so, as I think of these things in light of my materialism, this is what I hope to do. I hope, in conjunction with an intentional Christian community, to map out a road that would see all of the members arrive at a place where they no longer have personal possessions (except, perhaps, the clothes that they wear). Of course, within a community house it is easy to simply give one's possessions to the community house (and thereby not really lose anything). So I would also like to, with that community, map out the ways in which the community can live together simply. Of course, because I am not yet in that type of community, there are still steps I can take to make that transition easier. I can begin to scale back what I already own, and I can read more books from the library, instead of buying them all.

I suppose that that's about where my thinking is at on this subject these days. Suffice to say that I feel a great amount of dis-ease in relation to the amount of things that I own, and I would like to pursue another way of living. I would be curious to hear about steps that any of my readers take to confront their materialism (and not just the materialism of our general culture).

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