Friday, March 24, 2017

"Chasing an Empty Litter Bag"

Joshua 7.20-21 NASU

“So Achan answered Joshua and said, ‘Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.’”

From the fifth floor balcony of my hotel room overlooking the Oregon beach at Seaside, I watched a comical scene unfold. Well-intended troops of concerned citizens braved the wind, cold, and rain to participate in a spring break beach clean up. One boy’s lightweight plastic litter bag flew out of his hand and the wind kept it just out of his reach. He chased the litter bag for what must have been a ¼ mile before admitting defeat. The bag had a mind of its own. Fueled by the power of the wind, the bag refused to be apprehended and appeared to be playing a game. In desperation the boy finally stopped chasing the bag and sadly returned to his group empty handed. Throughout the day, I saw several unsupervised litter bags rolling down the beach. Ironically, a few members of the litter patrol left the beach with more litter than they retrieved!

Achan meant well. The “beautiful mantle from Shinar” took his breath away and he conveniently forgot all about the “ban”

“...only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that
you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban”.
Joshua 6.18 NASU 

Achan may have wondered “What harm could it do?” Where was the logic in his self-serving question?  What would he do with the beautiful garment from Shinar? Where would he wear it? When friends and family inquired, “Where did you get that beautiful coat?,” what would he say? Why did Achan need “two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold?”  
Where would he spend it?

Like the boy chasing a litter bag, the goal of Achan’s desires remained just out of reach. His newly acquired possessions were of no benefit to him as they lay buried in the dirt under his tent. What he thought would improve the quality of his life simply added the demands of acquisition management. Achan could no longer travel light. His recent possessions created new stress and pressures. Achan now had more stuff to haul and hide. His chase for riches ended badly. He never got what he was looking for. Ironically, Achan’s pursuit of possessions left the landscape of his soul cluttered with more, not less, litter

I often chase an empty litter bag. I am swept up in the futile dream of equating possessions with happiness. Do I believe a closet-full of “mantle[s] from Shinar” or a bank account with “shekels of silver and a bar of gold” will bring me lasting joy? I sometimes act as though I do.

Sadly, like Achan, some people actually catch the litter bag and fill it with more garbage than they can possibly manage.  They learn material wealth can actually diminish, rather than enhance, the quality of life.

The next time I feel the desire for another possession well up within me, I will try to remember to ask Jesus the all-important question... “Is it under the ban for me?”


maffy said...

"Achan’s pursuit of possessions left the landscape of his soul cluttered with more, not less, litter."

Once again, Dave, you're the poet. What a perfect interpretation of this scripture.

It resonates for me because it so fits in with my Buddhist readings. Last night I was reading about "attachments" and the harm they create in our lives. It's when we understand that everything is ultimately dust, including us, that possessions are put into perspective.

I don't even allow myself to get attached to my own creations, like my paintings, and this approach has been so creatively liberating. When "things" I create are put into perspective, I'm actually freed up to experiment more, because I know it won't last and it really doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Years ago, I read a book about the Japanese Wabi-Sabi Tea Ceremony, which is the celebration of this, in a sense. It says, "Everything is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete." So true, and so freeing.

Dave Scriven said...

My wife speaks of "traveling light". When it comes to possessions, she's a minimalist. If we don't use it or wear it in a season, to Good Will it goes.

Thanks for sharing some of your Buddhist thoughts with me, Mary Ann.

maffy said...

I'm a lot like your wife. Getting rid of stuff is a good way of shedding skin. In fact, the whole feng-shui thing is about this very topic. If you don't keep your current surroundings a reflection of your current self, you're dragged down by who you used to be.

So simple, so true.

Dave Scriven said...

How true, Mary Ann.