Tonight I went with some friends from theStory to watch Rob Bell’s latest talk tour series thing called Drops like Stars in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was a well done talk on the relationship between suffering and life, creativity and imagination. It was done in typical Rob Bell style. Smooth, great stories, funny at times and the truth is profound and needed.
One part of his message he talked about was the difference between possessing and owning. I can own a painting and have it on my wall, but my artist friend can come and truly possess the painting and experience it for all its worth. There is nothing new and profound about what he was saying here, but it’s been something I’ve been wrestling through for a number of weeks now. He kept saying that we can own something and not possess it and we can posses something and not own it. He referenced Paul’s hardships in 2 Corinthians 6 (incidentally one of my favourite verses growing up) where Paul says that he is in the state of “having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Constantly we are faced with stories, especially in the New Testament, about giving up our possessions, giving to the poor, not storing ourselves up treasures on earth and finding joy in Christ and not things that will perish. These stories move us and they make us feel a little bit funny. However, we are all completely convinced that these stories are in the Bible for no other reason than to help teach us that our happiness can’t come from material goods. The worst part is though, in almost every single conversation I’ve had over the last 5 years about these hard stories, the next words that come out of our mouths are something along the lines of: “well we are still allowed to have stuff, it just can’t be where we get our security” or “this doesn’t actually mean to give away all of your stuff, but it just can’t be number one in your life.” These stories are now equated in our minds with all the justifications that we convinced ourselves go along with these stories. Justifications like: Jesus only told the rich young ruler to sell it all because it was his things that got in the way of following Jesus. We can still have these things and follow Jesus, he’s not actually telling us to sell everything. We don’t actually have to be like Paul to experience Christ the same way. We don’t have to have literally nothing to possess everything, we just have to make sure that our stuff isn’t that important to us. We are allowed to won stuff, and heck we are allowed to own a lot of stuff as long as it doesn’t get in the way of our cognitive understanding that God is better.
With that, we are done. We have nullified the stories and made them useless. If Jesus or the gospel writers wanted to put in the disclaimer that this story was only for that person and he didn’t actually mean that for us, well then they would have said something like “this is what you need to do and only you need to do it because you have too much stuff, I’ll tell everyone else something different.” The longer I see how humanity deals with possessions, and I see where we receive our security and our self-worth, the more I’m convinced that we truly cannot possess anything until we own nothing. I don’t think it can be a both/and at all. I don’t think we are capable of it. Any person who tried to convince me that they can do both are usually the first people that should probably just give away their stuff and have nothing.
We just ran a conference called Amidst the Powers in Toronto. After a day of talking about the idea of the powers and how the church should be in the midst of them, I think I’ve come to at least one conclusion. The only way for the church to truly face into the powers is to deny and turn down that which is rightfully theirs. Intentional denial of power, material goods, money, size and popularity is the only way I know how to truly face into a corrupt system. It is impossible for the church to want to live in and amongst the corrupt system, having all the same things that this system has, and still fight it. In the same way I am starting to come to grips with the idea that the only way we can truly possess everything, is to intentionally give up everything. To me that is what we are called to, no matter how ridiculous and idealistic it is. I don’t need anything for the gospel to be good news. The only way for this gospel to translate to someone else is for them to see goodness while denying all the so-called privileges and so called-good things that are rightfully ours.
So after listening to Rob Bell’s talk, and hearing about the difference between possessing and owning, I’m convinced you can’t have both. Pick one, but we certainly can’t have both, and to try will unfortunately leave us with owning a hell of a lot of stuff.