Friday, January 6, 2012

(Re-) Taking aim . . .

     Today was trash pick-up day in my neighborhood.  As I left the house, standing like guardians before each house on the street (including my own) was a garbage bin, flanked by recycling bins.  In most cases, in addition to those usual containers, there were large flattened boxes, cardboard boxes filled with crumpled wrapping paper, and an occasional evergreen tree.  Larger collections of trash than usual, a material reminder that we have just concluded the most active consumer-focused time of the year.
     Driving down the street, I recalled a line from an interview I heard recently with biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman.  The interviewer, Krista Tippett, quoted from Brueggeman's 1978 book The Prophetic Imagination "Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now."*  Those bins, boxes and wrapping paper seemed to suggest that "ridicule of hope".  We want stuff!  As kids, we knew that that remote-control car, or doll, or bike would change our lives!  And we couldn't wait.  And, as most of us have experienced, within several days or a few weeks of receiving a gift, it is either broken, lost, or forgotten.  It may have even ended up in the trash bin!
     And that musing reminded me of a little parable by Jesuit spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello:


     The Master welcomed the advances of technology, but was keenly aware of its limitations.
     When an industrialist asked him what his occupation was, he replied, "I'm in the people industry."
     "And what, pray, would that be?" said the industrialist.
     "Take yourself," said the Master.  "Your efforts produce better things; mine, better people."
      To his disciples he later said, "The aim of life is the flowering of persons.  Nowadays people seem concerned mostly with the perfectioning of things."**

     I like "stuff" as well as the next person.  I maintain a constantly changing gift list (people DO ask me what I want, after all!).  And I have high expectations for the things on that list.  But my drive to to the Light Rail station this morning certainly reminded me of the transitory, and illusory, nature of many of even the most perfect of things on that list.
     I would probably do well to reset my sights and aim higher.



*  The interview can be heard here:

** from One Minute Wisdom (Garden City:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985),  163.

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