Steve Dresselhaus is a missionary with TEAM, and has done much to help that organization turn its attention to creation care as part of its world-wide gospel mission. This is a lovely short piece exploring a tension we all face when dealing with the stuff in our lives. Enjoy!
The ancient Greeks believed in four natural elements from which everything else was made: earth, water, fire and air. I’m thinking they may have been on to something. Last week my family had the opportunity to spend three nights camping on Grand Island, an undeveloped island in Lake Superior and a part of the Hiawatha National Forest. We camped with my sister and her family. While we did take along a few man-made items such as tents, kayaks and headlamps, we only took in what we could carry on our backs or propel with our paddles. The packing list was not predicated on seeing what else can I carry in but rather, what else can I leave at home? Less was more. Doing without was freeing. Having less made it possible to do more. For three days we were not controlled or manipulated by a cruel slave master named Stuff.
On the island we experienced the four Grecian elements. We had earth, the island itself. We had water, the massive Lake Superior. We had clean air. We had fires, both morning and evening. We had no computers, TV, or smart phones. Entertainment was provided by the creativity of our minds. Jokes and stories filled our times around the campfire. On the long hikes on the island or on the long kayaking trips around the island, deep conversations about life, science, faith, and health occupied our time while our minds were filled with the natural beauty around us.
The five cousins, now in their late teens and early twenties, did not spend their time with blankly staring glazed-over eyes and spittle dripping out the corners of their half opened mouths listening to music or watching mindless videos on their phones. They talked. They laughed. They exercised. Brother and sister explored the island on their own by kayak, building experiences and relationships that can never happen with a phone in hand or by commercial entertainment marketed by others. Without realizing it they were experiencing God’s first declaration in the Bible about people that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Electricity will never replace the spark of presence.
In the evenings the two families sat around a campfire. Many a marshmallow was roasted and squished between chocolate and graham crackers. Around the crackling fire, family history was kept alive by telling stories of grandparents and of experiences which would have been forgotten during this generation had they not been retold around the fire. As teasing and joking filled the evenings with laughter, family unity was built and relationships strengthened. Talks about college, career and job changes sprinkled the times around the fire. Conversations ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the raucous to the holy, from the dorky to the divine, but they were all good; and they will impact our lives far more than a thousand hours of mindless media entertainment created by others for our purchase.
As I write this on my computer, sitting in my recliner, with central air conditioning creating comfort, I am in the process of packing up my household. My wife and I are moving back to Mexico to resume our missionary career overseas (www.steveandlois.com). By far, the biggest stress we face is what to do with our stuff. Furniture, house, dishes, appliances, clothes, toys (kayaks, SCUBA, cameras), memorabilia: what should we do with all this stuff? How do we know what to take with us or what to give away? At what point does our stuff cease aiding our life and ministry and become a burden that hinders? When does our stuff serve us and when do we cross over and become the possession of our stuff?