Archive for the ‘Materialism’ Tag

Reflections on the Possessions of the Deceased   2 comments

I have helped to clean out two apartments of deceased people since the middle of August.

Last August, in Americus, Georgia, I did much of the cleaning out of the apartment of my maternal grandmother, Barbara Futch, who died at the age of 89 years.  My grandmother was aware that she was leaving much–especially clothing, as well as tubes and bottles of various creams and pills–for others to go through.  However, she lacked the energy level to dispose of more of it than she did.

I knew Bonny Thomas for over a decade.  I also understood that she had mental illnesses.  Bonny, under the influence of those illnesses, became the fifth victim of a police-involved shooting in Athens-Clarke County, since March 2019.  I also knew a compassionate, vivacious woman who had a whimsical side and enjoyed watching films noir with me as we ate pizza and drank coke, and who liked to watch Columbo episodes with me as we ate Hamburger Helper.  When she died, on October 14, one pillar of my world collapsed.

Yesterday, a few members (just enough to be about right–not too few, not too many) of my parish and I emptied Bonny’s apartment.  (Her family had taken the last of what they wanted a few days prior.)  Bonny had died, never to enter her apartment or mine again, but her possessions remained.  Most of them have gone to benefit a local charity that helps battered women.

Life is short and precious.  Much of it consists of that which is intangible, which is more important that the majority of that which is tangible.  Nevertheless, packing up and deciding what to do with the possessions of the deceased is an uncomfortable task.  It is also a tangible reminder of that person’s departure.  Completing that task can simultaneously be comforting and sad.  On one hand, the task is done; one can move on from no-longer unfinished business now.  Yet the emotions of loss can come to the fore.

I understand the Roman Catholic fixation on relics of saints.  After all, I keep relics of friends and relatives.  I have two chests and one tall bookcase full of photographs, school annuals, documents, books, et cetera.  That which is tangible, despite being less important than that which is intangible, has power.  The deceased have moved on, but an object one can hold has sentimental value.   Now my archives include relics of Bonny Thomas.  But if I could have her back, I would, of course.

One day (not any time soon, I hope; I love life) my turn to be the deceased will come.  Others will have the responsibility of disposing of my worldly possessions.  I am preparing for that day, with the intention that their task will require just a few hours–the more the helping hands, the fewer the hours.  I live comfortably in about 600 square feet.  My abode has relatively large empty areas in it.  Yet I review my possessions periodically and ask if I should donate to a thrift store or give to a person.  After all, they should be possessions; they should not possess me.  I do not want them to become a burden to anyone, including me.





Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4)   11 comments

Above:  St. Francis Beneath a Tree, Praying, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-102921



Founder of the Order of Friars Minor

Beatified in 1228

I have done my part.  May Christ teach you to do yours.

–St. Francis of Assisi, as he lay dying

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most popular saints.  Statues of him populate many gardens and other public places.  St. Francis seems harmless, friendly, and inoffensive in the imaginations of many people.  Yet the testimony of his life is revolutionary.

I have decided not to write a biography of St. Francis.  I have reasoned that (1) those are easy to find, and (2) most of them are superior to any biography I might compose.  (Here is one.)  I have decided, however, to reflect on some lessons from his life for modern people and societies.

St. Francis renounced the idol of materialism.  In so doing, he found liberation to follow God, whom he found liberation to follow, and whom he recognized in the poor and in nature.

Economies depend on materialism.  They do so because (1) some people created economies this way, and (2) other people have retained these systems.  The industry of advertising tells people that they cannot live without that which they can live–and have lived.  Advertising often convinces people that material goods will solve their spiritual problems.  It also converts the Seven Deadly Sins into virtues.  Materialism is one of the most popular idols.

I think about this matter perhaps most often at the end of each year.  The commercialization of Christmas is the real “War on Christmas.”  Ironically, it is a campaign many U.S. Protestants favored in the 1800s, rather than celebrate a Roman Catholic feast day.  I seek few Christmas gifts, just as I give few.  I do most of my Christmas shopping at thrift stores, too.  I know that many jobs depend directly and indirectly on the orgy of materialism at the end of the year, and I manage to avoid most of that madness, but I also know that, if most people were to behave as I do, the consequences for many working people would be dire.  This is an example of what economists call the paradox of thrift.

Poverty, which St. Francis chose for himself, comes with a stigma in much of the world.  Many of the hardest working people are poor, contrary to much rhetoric.  In much of the world many of the poor are impoverished because the economic-political system is one rigged against them.  This is a truth as old as antiquity, as well as one against which certain Biblical prophets railed.  Whenever policy is to keep much of the population in poverty, government retards the progress and well-being of a society, to the common detriment.

We are part of nature, of which we have a divine mandate to be good stewards.  Science tells us that species have evolved in nature, and that they continue to do so.  Yet many of us seem not to have evolved spiritually in relation to nature, for evidence of disrespect for the created order is ubiquitous.  From littering to pollution to global warming to the driving of species to extinction, humanity’s record of damaging the planet and ecosystems is long and shameful.  It also harms us, for we are part of nature, too.

The legacy of St. Francis of Assisi should stand in the minds of more people as a call to moral, social, economic, and political revolution, for the glory of God and the common good.








Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world;

that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you,

delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit;

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 22:13-16

Psalm 148:7-14

Galatians 6:14-18

Matthew 11:25-30

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 623


O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself to the childlike and lowly of heart;

grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis,

we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness and know only Jesus Christ and him crucified,

who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Common Worship:  Daily Prayer (2005), 505


Gracious and merciful God, you kindled in the heart of Francis such a flame of love that he became wholly yours;

increase in us a whole-hearted trust in you and a humble love of all your creatures,

that we may know the joy the gospel brings; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.  Amen.


Holy Jesus, give us something of Francis’ simplicity,

something of his recklessness,

something of his obedience;

give us the courage to understand what you say and do it.  Amen.

Song of the Three Young Men 52-65

Psalm 119:145-152 or Psalm 148

Galatians 6:14-18

Matthew 11:25-30

–The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia


God of creation, we thank you for all that you have made and called good:

Grant that we may rightly serve and conserve the earth, and live at peace with all your creatures;

through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation,

in whom you are reconciling the whole world to yourself.  Amen.

Job 14:7-9

Psalm 104:24-31

Romans 1:20-23

Mark 16:14-15

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 732


Bountiful Creator, you open your hand to satisfy the needs of every living creature:

Make us always thankful for your loving providence,

and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day give,

may be faithful stewards of your abundance, for the benefit of the whole creation;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom all things were made,

and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Kings 4:29-30, 33-34

Psalm 145:1-7, 22

Acts 17:24-31

John 1:1-5, 9-14

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 731


The Joys of Reducing the Quantity of Possessions   Leave a comment

An Account of Deliberate and Purposeful Activity, as Well as Serendipity

I used to have a pattern:  I reduced the quantity of my possessions, accumulated too much again, and repeated the cycle.  One summer, years ago, for example, I sold about 1000 books to a family.  Then, over time, I build up my library again.  Then I needed to purge it again.  The trigger for it was helping a local hoarder who, quite frankly, offended and scared the hell out of me.  She was endangering her health and the health of her son; that offended me, for both of them deserved better, and her son did not ask for his circumstances.  Her excess inspired me to commence a material purge of staggering proportions, not that I was ever close to being as possessed by my possessions as she was.

During the subsequent years I have undertaken occasional, less dramatic acts of reducing my possessions.  Instituting the policy of reconsidering possessions throughout each year has been a wise decision.  This week, while searching for my digital camera (which I had forgotten I had left in my car), I spent much of a night emptying bookshelves and spraying and wiping them.  Along the way I filled two boxes with books to donate.  It was an unplanned act of weeding out my library, which remains relatively large, compared to the collections of many people.  Now I have reduced my library to about 700 volumes–about right for me.  My library used to be about 2,400 books.

I have begun to donate the weeded books.  I have given the Lutheran denominational histories to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Athens, Georgia.  I have made plans to add the other volumes to the library at my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, where I serve as the librarian, tomorrow.

I have also reduced my wardrobe so that it fits into one medium-sized closet easily.

I have more than one reason for doing all this.  One is consideration for other people, especially those who will have to pack up and dispose of my possessions after my death, whenever that will happen.  Ideally they will be able to complete that task between breakfast and supper, with a break for lunch, in one day.  Other reasons are purely aesthetic and selfish.  I like seeing walls and floors.  I adore having empty surfaces.  I like being able to see almost all of my kitchen counter tops, for example.  If I own an object, it must occupy space.  Too much occupied space causes me stress.  As scripture says,

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

–Luke 12:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Indeed, too much abundance detracts from the quality of life.  Furthermore, excessive abundance proves burdensome.  Is freedom from such a burden not a virtue?

For now I am content with the volume of my possessions.  A year from now, assuming I will be alive (as I hope to be) then, I will probably have less in that category.  Maybe owning fewer books and movies will be a good idea.  The occasional reviews will continue.  Along the way I intend to keep what I use, what enriches me, and what I need, as well as to add that which I should add.  I also mean to continue to strive to follow the rule that, except in a month in which I move from one abode to another, the combined volume of that which I remove from my home and decide not to bring into should exceed the volume of what I bring into it.