October 11, 2015
At the annual Convention of the Diocese of Colorado, October first through the third in Colorado Springs, there were only a handful of books for sale. One book caught my eye: The Year without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015].
Scott Dannemiller, of Bellevue, Tennessee – a town about 15 miles from downtown Nashville – wrote the book after he and his wife Gabby spent 2013 without buying clothes, gadgets, electronics, toys, books, or home décor. In their vacation from consumerism, they bought groceries and consumables, and they spent money on travel and experiences.
In the book Dannemiller explains that he and Gabby felt they had strayed from a path of simplicity, faith and service that they had set for themselves early in their marriage when they quit their corporate jobs and went on a year-long mission trip to Guatemala in 2003 [Dannemiller, pp. 3-7, describes how they had bought into upward mobility and a typical American life].
A decade later, they now had two children, ages 5 and 7, and they had what Scott describes as a “gnawing unease about all the ‘stuff’ they had & about the busyness of their days.” Scott reports, “We noticed that we were getting caught up in the great American Hamster Wheel of ‘more is better.’” He and Gabby yearned to get back in sync with their mission and to create more purpose in their lives [Mary Hance, The Tennesean, 9-17-15, downloaded 10-10-15 from http://usat.ly/1Kka FMJ].
They decided they would keep the “no shopping” challenge a secret from their kids to see if the kids would even notice their radical change in consumption. At the end of 2013, they asked now 8-yr-old Jake what was different during the past year, Jake mentioned that they had taken more trips to see friends and family. But he didn’t even mention shopping.
Their rules were simple:
- Buy stuff that will be used up within a year – groceries, gas, hygiene products. No clothes.
- Fix the stuff that breaks – unless repair costs more than replacement.
- Gifts must be in the form of a charitable donation or experience gift, with the idea being to build connections and memories by doing things together – like going to dinner, the zoo, or traveling to visit friends and family [Ollie Gillman, Daily Mail.com, 9-19-15, downloaded 10-10-15, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3240832].
The Dannemillers also used the year to become more deliberate in creating quality family time by adding more volunteer work at Second Harvest, Operation Christmas Child, and the Society of St. Andrew – a Christian hunger ministry that salvages fresh produce and delivers it to food pantries and soup kitchens across the U.S. I think Scott Dannemiller hits the nail on the head when he says, “It’s not that stuff is inherently bad. What makes it bad is the value we place on it” [Gillman, Daily Mail.com].
The challenge in today’s gospel from the Book of Mark is what we do with our wealth.
The setting of today’s gospel, on the road to Jerusalem, occurs shortly after Jesus’ first two predictions of his death and just before his third prediction. The passage is after the mid-point of the gospel where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. The narrative shifts from one dominated by the calling and commissioning of the disciples, miracles, and geographical movement from specific place to specific place to one in which dialogue and preaching take center stage as Jesus teaches what it means to be a disciple.
An unidentified man kneels before Jesus on the road. Initially we are told nothing more about the man. In the comparable narrative in Matthew 19, we find the man called “the rich young man” and in Luke 18, he’s called “the rich ruler.” But Mark – whose descriptions are invariably minimal – tells us only in the final sentence: “he had many possessions.” With Mark’s simple description of the man, it’s as if this man could be “Everyman” – that is, the attitude of this man could easily be the attitude of us all.
Jesus doesn’t challenge the man’s claim to have kept the commandments from his youth – perhaps because this was something Jesus himself had done. In addition, Mark notes that Jesus loved him. Yet what Jesus says next challenges the man to do the single thing he seems to find impossible to do.
It’s as if Jesus turns from the second tablet of the Ten Commandments with its emphasis on how to treat others to the first tablet where the command is to love God with all your heart. In Mark’s gospel, the form the love of God takes is discipleship. So Jesus offers the man the way, but the man simply doesn’t know how to travel light – he wants to take his many possessions along with him.
This story – taken along with its counterparts in Matthew and Luke – is what commentators sometimes call the single recorded refusal of discipleship in all of the Gospels [Sondra Ely Wheeler, Wealth as Peril and Obligation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 45].
I urge you to join in the Bible study with Willie Krischke [from 10 to 10:45 a.m. every Sunday] to see if there is more to this story of the man walking away disheartened and in grief.
The question in this passage is not whether money is good or bad. The challenge is what we do with our wealth. It’s about our Christian responsibility to use the many blessings God has given us for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, all too often, the God-given prosperity that should enable our journey with Christ can become more important than the journey itself.
In their year off the shopping grid, the Dannemillers were able to give twice as much to their church and to charities as they had in previous years, and they were able to focus on others and not just on their own wants.
In this stewardship season, I’m asking you to become generous people – people who meet your own needs but who think twice before spending money on your “wants.”
Stewardship is not just the amount of money we give to the church, but it’s about how we spend all our money.
I challenge you to answer these questions about how to live your life in the coming year:
- 1. Can I lead a life that goes against the grain of the prevailing consumer culture and make larger gifts to the church or to other causes?
- 2. Am I living my life differently from my unchurched friends and neighbors?
- 3. And finally, should I increase my pledge this year and every year so that St. Mark’s can go outside its doors to reflect the love the Bible commands us to have for our neighbors?
Arlene and Willis Hatch lived simple lives on their farm near the little town of Alto, Michigan. Until they retired, Arlene taught seventh grade and Willis raised beef cattle.
They didn’t have children of their own, so their neighbors became their family. They invested in friendships – and in their church community. They quietly paid for local children to attend summer camp when their parents couldn’t afford it, and they made certain that no child went without warm winter clothing.
The town was devastated when, after a traffic accident, the couple died within days of each other. They were in their 90s and had been married 57 years.
A few weeks after the funeral at their Methodist Church, the letters started to arrive. More than 70 neighbors were informed that they had inherited money from the Hatches. The amounts ranged from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000 to pay medical bills and $80,000 to their church for its building fund.
The Hatches were children of the Great Depression and had always been frugal, but nobody expected this!
The money helped families make it thru job losses and paid college tuition. Many of the recipients who were able gave all or part of the money to several local charities – including food banks, services for seniors, and to an animal shelter.
That was the legacy Willis and Arlene Hatch wanted – a legacy of kindness, as much as one of dollars and cents. With kindness and caring, this elderly couple taught younger generations about investing in what matters most – each other.