I like stuff. I feel comfortable with stuff... as if I am scared of being bored? Last Sunday Olly and I had a discussion about my bag (above) and its appropriateness (or not) of it being worn with a Salvation Army uniform.
I am a Soldier in the Salvation Army and I have the pleasure of wearing the uniform: tunic... trousers... white shirt... tie... black hard leather shoes... etc. I know a lot of member of the ol' Nanolog community are Salvos... and the rest of you will kind of know what I mean.
Its not the coolest look on the planet. In fact, I'm not big of fitting in... looking the part... in my life and, if I am honest, the uniform is a problem for me at times. These times usually coincide with my weight gain... tunics aren't the comfiest things to wear... but when they are too tight... they are murder.
Back to the bag... a super-hip blue with black skulls (yes SKULLS) messenger bag... what's wrong with that? Technically nothing... because the Army is a "COME AS YOU ARE" kind of place... well at least it should be! The roots of the Army are based on Church exclusion because of outward appearance and behaviour > William Booth created a place where the lost and the least could belong to Jesus and each other. The idea grew... as all great ideas do... and a mission became a movement.
Now I might not have this entirely right... but the origins of the uniform are twofold:
- It is an outward symbol of being a follower of Jesus in the Salvation Army movement > we are easily recognisable and, as such, approachable by those who need our help. In a sense it is our "baptism" because we show our belonging when/where ever we put our uniform on. Its not a one-time event but a regular occurrence... kind of like salvation in that its not a one-off but a continual renewing.
- It makes everyone the same > everyone dresses the same... regardless of their status in society or the money they have or don't have in their bank accounts... everyone looks the same. You don't get Prada versions of the uniform... Stussy don't do them either... and Nike don't do Tier Zero hard shoes.
But it wasn't over for me... something kept niggling at me... there was more to this than appearance.
It wasn't just the bag but the contents of the bag that concerned me. As I said above I like my stuff. I carry a lot of stuff about... valuable stuff with little regard > books... iPods... games consoles... magazines... notebooks... etc etc.
Why did (do) I need to go to church with all this stuff? Its not like I use any of it... I don't pull out my DS when the sermon gets dull... I don't plug in my iPod if I don't like the song we're singing... All I need is my bible... a notebook... and my wallet, in case we need petrol. I don't need the rest of this stuff... Its not like I have to commute far... and we normally have tunes on anyway.
I have been thinking about my dependence on stuff... what it means. As this has been going on in my head... I watched Rick Warren on a TED.com [I would recommend you watch this video] ironically on my iPod... while on the train to work. He shares a ton of inspiring insights but the one that stuck with me and struck a chord was this:
Rick quotes from Exodus... when Moses sees the burning bush and the following conversation happens between God and Moses:
Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?"Exodus 4: 1-3 (NIV)
Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"
"A staff," he replied.
The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground."
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you."
What was in Moses' hand? His shepherd's crook... which is meaningful, according to Warren, for 3 reasons:
- It was a sign of Moses' identity -- he was a shepherd.
- It was a sign of Moses' income -- his "stocks and shares"... his wealth... were his sheep.
- It was a sign of Moses' influence
Yes... Yes... and Yes.
I was at this point that I got it. I shouldn't take the bag solely because of appearances... and not wanting to make myself appear more important because of what I have. I shouldn't take the bag... with all the stuff inside... because I should be seeking to sacrifice my self... my ego... to God's will.
I don't need this stuff at church. I don't need these distractions... these things that get in the way. All I need is my bible... a notebook... and my wallet, in case we need petrol. God isn't impressed by my super-hip blue with black skulls (yes SKULLS) messenger bag or the contents of the bag... all He cares about is what's in my heart.
I need to get back to the simplicity of just going to church... without any of the stuff that would otherwise distract. This is where the challenge is... To strip church down to a one-to-one experience with God... without all the trappings and baggage. Simple. Building relationships... with God and with one another. Without the labels... without the hierarchy of social standing and placement... without status anxiety.
Just a broken person hanging out with other broken people... worshiping a God who can and does fix us... and continues to fix us. Pretty simple, if you as me.
Thing is... in closing... stuff, in and of itself, isn't problematic. Its the significance we place on our stuff that causes all the grief. What we have isn't really ours... we are just stewards of it for a while. We need to use it for God as well as for ourselves...
What is in your hand?
If its an iPod... what do you listen to? Does it build you up... or wear you down?
If its a phone... do the contacts in your address book know of your faith? or... more simply... do they know you to be someone who is there for them and contactable pretty much 24-7?
If its a book... is it something that will strengthen you with ideas and inspiration... or something else that will wear you down?
If its a console... or a controller... are the games you play beneficial? do they eat into time better spent with others... or with God?
Think about it... what's in YOUR hand today?