Sometimes I watch television when I’m at the gym or waiting
in an airport and recently I saw part of an episode of the reality TV show Storage Wars
. For those of you who
haven’t seen it – it
follows professional buyers who purchase the contents of strangers’ storage
bins based only on a five-minute inspection of what they can see from the door.
if you don’t
pay your storage bin rent for three months, its contents can be sold at auction
as one single lot.
The goal of the buyers in Storage Wars
is to buy the contents of storage bins and
turn a profit on what they find. As you can imagine sometimes they are
thrilled, other times disgusted with the contents of the bins they have bought.
If all the storage units in
this country were put side to side they would take up 78 square miles - more
than three times the size of Manhattan Island.
That means that there is 7.3 sq.ft. of self
storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; so, it is
physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time –
under the total canopy of self storage roofing.
What in heavens’ name are
we doing with all that storage? Some of it is used by people whose lives are in
transition, but 30% of all storage units are rented for more than two years. So
an area bigger than Manhattan Island is currently used just for
storing stuff long-term, and that’s not to mention the things we have in our
garages and guest bedrooms.
I have talked a few times
about how holding grudges and failing to forgive ties up our energy so that
don’t have it for serving God and living life to the full today. I want to
suggest that the stuff we hold on to does the same thing. Stuff that we don’t
need becomes a place of blocked energy in our lives, because things are made to
be used and enjoyed. If they’re just stacked away somewhere they’re not being
used nor enjoyed.
Two weeks ago the following
appeared on the back of the Benediction
“Here’s how the story
Seven beings – three adult
humans, two small children, a cat and a dog – share a household.
One well-educated adult
enjoys a meaningful job, health insurance, hearty meals, the comfort of a
well-fed dog, and entertainment on a widescreen television.
Another adult cares for a
child on the unheated back porch, nourishing the child with occasional scraps.
A third adult does most of
the housework, makes clothing, tends the garden, and cares for a small child
who suffers from a preventable illness.
A cat, unneutered and
hungry, lives in the garden and roams the neighborhood for food.”
We were asked to imagine
the end of the story.
I would like to imagine
that the well-educated adult opens up the home to those who live on the back
porch, and everyone shares so that no-one is doing more than their fair share and
everyone gets what they need to flourish, including the cat.
I would like to imagine
But that’s not the reality.
The reality is that the well-fed adult who sits in the house enjoying TV is
like you and me. According to the Scientific
American, one American consumes 53 times more goods and services than one
Chinese person and as much as 35 people who live on the Indian continent. A
child born in the US will, in their lifetime,
cause 13 times more ecological damage than a child born in Brazil. With less than 5 percent of world
population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a
quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum,
and 19 percent of the copper. And those are not renewable resources. We also
create half of the world’s solid waste.
What does Jesus say about all this? He
says “But God said to the man
with many storage units, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded
of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with
those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
Before we get comfortable with the idea that
provided we are rich toward God it is ok for us to have excess “stuff” let’s also
remember the last line of the reading for St. Benedict’s Day, “none of you can become my disciple if you
do not give up all your possessions." (Luke 14:33).
Serving God means loving our neighbor and
loving our neighbor no longer means helping an old lady across the road or
giving money to a panhandler. Loving our neighbor means being willing to share.
Loving our neighbor means using less and hoarding less. Loving our neighbor
means living a life of radical simplicity – living simply so others may simply
That’s not easy to do. It fact it’s almost impossible.
If we were truly living simply we would give up our cars and walk or cycle
everywhere. But how many of us live close enough to a grocery store to walk
there? And how many of us live close enough to church to walk here? Our society
is just not set up for us to truly live simply. But there are many things we can
We can buy things which have a minimum of
packaging – packaging just goes straight into the trash or recycle bin, and
recycling while better than tossing still uses energy. We can share things we
own and borrow things we need. We can install solar water heating or panels for
electricity. We can carpool. We can eat seasonally and lower on the food chain
and buy food grown locally which has not been transported and stored. We can
get rid of our stuff and free up our lives to be lived today not pulled back
into the past.
There are many things we can do to live more
simply so that we can truly love our neighbor. The most important thing is to
stop acquiring stuff and to realize that our happiness, our fulfillment does
not come from what we buy, or what we own. It’s difficult to do that when all
the time we are barraged by advertizing assuring us that we’ll be happier if we
use this product, buy that gadget or take a dream vacation.
But it is our calling. Our calling is to
take care of all that God has given us. Our calling is to love our neighbor as
ourselves. Our calling is to focus our minds and our lives on quality not
quantity, on the expression of love, peace, kindness, goodness, mercy. Those
are the things that sustain. Those are the things that bring new life, not what
we own, not our investments, not the contents of all the storage units in the
country, but the things of God. And when we focus on them, when we become rich
in God then we will find that we have more to share.
True abundance is not in what we receive or
what we have, but in what we give. True abundance comes when we no longer need
to hold on to old habits and old stuff but can let go and open ourselves to the
new. True abundance comes when we unhook ourselves from the addiction to
acquire more and more. Then, as we create the space to be filled with the
unconditional love of God, so we can bless others, and our lives become a flow
of loving energy creating a little bit of heaven on earth wherever we go.