I have way more things than I need! I have the antique pink Fostoria china from my Dad’s mother and the gold-rimmed china from my Nannie, Mother’s mother. When my Mom died, my brothers actually wondered if I wanted our Mom’s multiple sets of china. If we had a close knit family that all gathered for celebrations at one table, I might have considered it, but since I was in the moving business at the time, it was just one more thing to pack in addition to my setting for twenty from the prior generation.
Besides, I had the old table Mom had refinished that was her parents’ first purchase for their home. We used to eat many a Sunday dinner around that old oak table. It was always fried chicken, rice, green beans with pork, pan gravy, and Jell-O salad with fruit inside and mayo on top. I also have the mementos that are part of the family’s heritage. I chose to keep them because they weren’t important to my brothers at the time and I believed that this history would be important to our children at some point in their lives.
However, I was in the moving business at the time, for I was under appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. This meant that I would “go where I was sent to serve God’s people.” Keeping my family’s treasures and history meant that I had to take a new look at possessions. All my stuff had to fit into the largest U-Haul truck and my vehicle, with a possible overflow into a truck of a parishioner who would be traveling to help move me to the new parsonage. I began to rid myself of bought gifts, cards without personal messages, and clothes I couldn’t wear. If something came in the front door, something had to go out the back door! I was ruthless! This didn’t mean that I didn’t value the giver or the gift, but holding onto the object was something I no longer could do.
Push came to shove when I went on medical leave in 2009 from the parish ministry setting, for I moved into my condo at the lake, all 768 square feet of it! This is half the size of the smallest parsonage in which I ever lived. I rented a storage unit near my home that has about 1600 cubic feet of storage space (12 x 14 x 10). I have built a new storage shelf annually and worked on giving away items that I no longer need or use. I am finding the books I want to keep for now, and making my art & tool shelves more accessible for the various projects I like to work on from time to time.
When I found the box of family photos and history, I got sidetracked and decided to do a scrapbook for the nieces and nephews. In typical fashion, I got that project half done, and added a book of memories to it. Since the memories are fuller than the scrapbook, I think I should finish the first project, and send the memory book at a later date.
I think of my Dad’s workroom at their old home on River Road in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had a jumble of lawn tools, fishing items, and household tools stuck in the shed. Neatly nailed in rows above his workbench, however, was a collection of bent boat propellers from his days of fishing on the lake. He would take the most recent causality into the marine store, ask the counter man how much it would cost to beat it back into shape, and learn that it still cost less to buy a new one. He would then nail this propeller next to the last one, “against the day when it’ll be cheaper to fix it than buy a new one.”
There was a rich man in the parable whose land produced so much that his barns couldn’t store it all. He had no way to store his crops for the future or to provide ease for his soul. When God called him home that night, his preparations for a future of ease were all for nothing, and all his preparations benefited someone else. The point is, Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
In both our art and our spiritual lives, the questions we need to ask ourselves are “For what purpose is our treasure being stored and for what purpose is our treasure being spent?” If the answer is like the rich man’s—“ for me”—then we have wasted our time and our energy. God may as well ask for an accounting of our soul tonight. If we have no higher purpose than ourselves, then we have no god beyond ourselves. The one true God needs to make himself known and visible to us, so we can discover our true self, which can only be known in relation to the living God and lived out in service in his name.
As an art and spiritual project, knowing your family line is important. When I was 20, I wanted to be known for who I was and what I did. I thought my family didn’t matter, but the book, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin H. Friedman, has taught me differently. I discovered the true stories of my earlier generations, and know now that these have shaped me, for better or worse. As the artist selects the parts of the image he or she wants to emphasize, so we too select the parts of our lives and history we want to portray to the world. God knows all that we are, so offering to God a true self-portrait would be our gift to God this week.
Joy and peace, Cornelia