Friday, September 27, 2013

The Touchstones of Our Lives

I was reading a southern lifestyle magazine at the bookstore today and came across a thought-provoking article titled “Stuff, Sweet Stuff” by Julia Reed. And she shared a term I had all but forgotten: touchstone. According to the dictionary, a touchstone is “something that is used to make judgments about the quality of other things.” In other words, it is a sort of measuring stick by which you value your stuff relative to other stuff.

For example, when my wife and I radically downscaled our stuff in order to live more lightly, we very intentionally waded through our things, weighing whether or not each item deserved a valued place in our final collection of treasures. Things like my college diploma and picture of my grandmother made the cut while my golf clubs and tennis rackets did not. I quit playing both sports but the other items were touchstones in my life, mementos that I valued enough to keep toting on my journey.

As Reed writes: “For me, home is where you find the touchstones of your life…But I’m actually a bit of a vagabond—I just need to know I can take my nest with me when I go. And that’s the thing about touchstones: Unlike a house, you can take them with you. After all, generations of Southerners have made a semi-profession out of toting around and lavishly tending to family heirlooms and prized possessions—though that’s not exactly what I have in mind.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dispossess to Possess

At church yesterday the pastor suggested that we “dispossess to possess” our respective promised lands. According to the dictionary, dispossess means to “oust (a person, even oneself) from a dwelling or position.” And that describes exactly what my wife and I did a couple of years ago when we liquidated our house and furnishings to explore a more mobile lifestyle.

This conjures for me the image of a hand that cannot grasp something new until it lets go of the old. And it captures what I think is holding a lot of people back from realizing their dreams and possessing their promised lands. Many people talk about doing something special with their lives but hesitate to walk the talk because it means they’ll need to let go of what’s holding them back.

If there is one faulty belief that limits people from experiencing more of what they want it is the fallacy of “having it all.” If you are among the disillusioned, settle it once and for all: It is not attainable, or at least it is not sustainable. People may achieve some measure of it short-term, but it will eventually unravel over the long-term. The “goods” life does not necessarily equate with the good life.

It’s not that stuff is bad; it simply won’t satisfy your soul. Here is an example from my own life. I own several “i” products from Apple, including an iMac, an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. As much as I enjoy using them to create and consume cool stuff they are not the “apple of my eye.” Naturally, that place is reserved for my wife, and supernaturally speaking, Jesus Christ has my heart.

Only when we keep things in their proper place can we prevent them from possessing us; and it is only then that we can enter our personal promised lands. Whatever it is that you aspire to attain in your life will likely require you to let go of the good in order to achieve the great. Remember: the adequate is archenemy of the excellent, and you will never regret letting go of the former to lay hold of the latter.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going Paperless (More or Less)

I am a writer. Consequently, I deal with words. But for the last couple of years, the words coming in and out of my life have been increasingly of the digital variety. For me at least, the paperless future is largely here. And it hasn’t arrived by accident. I have been very intentional about getting to this point.

I read the other day that the average four-drawer file cabinet contains about 18,000 pieces of paper. Based on that estimate, my wife and I had upwards of 50,000 pieces of paper before endeavoring to limit it in our lives. It didn’t happen overnight but today I’d guess that we have less than 1,000 pieces of paper.

How did we get to this point? For starters, we cut off the flow at the spout. We started banking online, getting paperless statements, paying bills online, getting off mailing lists and canceling magazine subscriptions. We scanned photos, ripped music and got e-books. We created PDFs of important documents.

My wife and I processed reams and reams of paper, from receipts to cards to newspapers to copies to printouts. Ultimately, we got rid of our printer, scanner, rolodex and every other contraption that was paper-centric. Before going paperless two of the biggest business expenses I had were for paper and ink, but no more.

Like many people, I used to print stuff because I thought I needed a physical copy. But when you go mobile like my wife and I have done you quickly realize the weight of all that paper. We literally could not travel as lightly as we do if we had not limited our paper to the essentials of tax, insurance and other necessary documents. Try it, you’ll like it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

No Rules, Just Righteousness

I was not exactly the class clown in school but I must admit I was one to flout the rules periodically and it was usually during the fire drills. I suppose I get why there should be NO TALKING during them but I had trouble obeying that rule. Yes, I was the one who got to write “I will not talk during fire drills” umpteen times when I returned to class.

Fast forward to today. The longer I live by faith the more I realize that Christianity is about Christ making me righteous, or in right standing with God, instead of me following the rules, or dos and don’ts, of religion. I don’t even consider Christianity a religion in the sense that religion is “man’s attempt to reach God on his terms” while Christianity is “God’s attempt to reach man on His terms.”

It is religion that stresses rules over relationships and rules without relationships breed rebellion. In my case, I had trouble being quiet during fire drills because I couldn’t relate how chatting with my neighbor jeopardized the success of the fire drill. And making me write that I’d do otherwise did nothing but make me try harder to not get caught again.

I happen to be reading a good book called Packing Light about a couple of friends’ journey across America. One of its messages to me is how their rule making, which usually led to rule breaking, threatened to ruin their trip. And I love this line from author Ally Vesterfelt: “Perhaps if we lay our rule book down, we could hear God whisper back: 'I’m right here, and there’s a whole big, refreshing, frustrating, and satisfying world in front of us. Will you put down your stuff and come enjoy it with Me?'”

As Eugene Peterson so eloquently paraphrased Paul’s words in The Message: “Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.” To paraphrase the words of an Outback commercial: “No rules, just righteousness.”