As we have, in the United States, just passed through this Thanksgiving holiday and enter fully, albeit a bit hurriedly, into the Christmas season, I have been thinking a great deal about the idea of heavenly home, earthly home, treasures on earth, and treasures in heaven. Maybe too much? Maybe too little?
The kingdom of heaven is like …
In the New Testament, Jesus starts off a few stories with these words, which makes me want to pay a little more attention. After all, if we follow the scriptures as they pertain to living a Christian life, they indicate that we become citizens of God’s kingdom, strangers in this strange land. We are told to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” and, instead, to “be transformed.”
One of these stories is about a man who finds a treasure in a field, buries the treasure again, then sells everything he owns to buy the field. Christ mentioned cutting off a hand if it would be the limiting agent in our entrance into the kingdom. The New Testament, especially, it seems, is replete with examples of being called to sacrifice, being called to live differently.
In the church I’ve been attending on this leg of my journey, we’ve been talking about Abraham, who earns prominent mention in the so-called “Hall of Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11. Even there, Abraham and his wife Sarah are described as foreigners in the land, on a journey of faith. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” In James, it’s written that “faith without works is dead.”
I think, even without the benefit of scripture, we as people can understand that beliefs drive actions, drive words, drive thoughts. A great many influences affect our system of beliefs, but when you see a person doing one thing or another, even the most random or seemingly disconnected action, there is, at least in some part, an active belief behind it. As one who suffers from persistent, treatment-resistant, major depression, my thought patterns and beliefs, especially as they relate to my sense of self-worth, dictate a great many actions or lack of actions. Self-worth is daily called into question and, as a result, there are daily doses of self-sabotage, and other self-inflicted mental abuses.
Beliefs dictate thoughts, words, actions. It’s interesting to think of how everything ties together. An action begins in words, and words begin in thoughts. The tongue is compared to the rudder of a ship, directing our course. In another reference, there is the text that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” But, then, there is the reference that, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Treasures. Beliefs. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where your heart is, your words will be. Where your words are, your actions will be.
What are your treasures? What are mine? What are the pillars of our beliefs?
For those of us who are Christian, we are told repeatedly to live by faith, not by sight. We are told to not sit in a seat of judgment. We are told to be compassionate, loving. We are told to cut out everything that might stand between us and right treasures, right words, and right actions. I certainly can’t tell you what all the right actions are and are not, but I know some stuff that’s pretty black and white.
Did you go Black Friday shopping this year? I’m not trying to judge or condemn you, if you did; rather, I would just like to introduce the idea that while you may have been standing in line, coveting a 60″ flatscreen television, there are people all around us who are homeless, who are hungry, who are broken-hearted. Again, I’m not judging you if you chose to go after that great deal, just wanting to pose the question of where your heart is. As I write this, I’m sitting in Starbucks because I can’t concentrate when I’m working wherever I’m staying. I don’t know why, but it’s the way it goes. I have to change environments. All you freelancers out there probably know where I’m coming from – too many distractions, too much of the “normal,” such as home life can have anyway, etc. But, rather than spending my few bucks on giving food to people, I bought a latte this afternoon. Some would consider my spending frivolous, I consider it a cost of doing business, a cost of creating, of thinking. Maybe a 60″ flatscreen TV is good for you in some way. Maybe it isn’t?
As we edge closer and closer to Christmas, I get asked what I want by a couple of people. I don’t really have much of an answer. All the little stuff is, more or less, taken care of, save my expenditures for such things as coffee and cigarettes. Big stuff, no one I know has the means to go in on (you’d be surprised how much full-on, top-end photo gear goes for, how much it costs to live in Paris for a year, etc.). So, I think, instead, about where my treasures are, and I realize more and more that I don’t really want much. I want to live in Paris because that’s where I feel at home. I want photo gear, because that’s part of my life mission, my passions. Beyond that, I don’t care if I have a car or if I don’t. I don’t care how big my wardrobe is. I don’t care about a lot of that stuff anymore. Except Moleskines. Moleskines and fountain pens provide a much better tactile writing experience for someone like me who digs analog more than digital platforms. But, what’s the cost of it all?
The kingdom of heaven is like …
What are we willing to give up to gain the kingdom?
Could I give up my coffee? My cigarettes? My Moleskines? My camera gear? I’d like to think I could. I’d like to think my heart isn’t invested in what will fade away. I would like to think my heart is into so much more than what I can’t take with me when I die. I would like to think that my heart is into more than what could be stolen from me, what can break, what can corrode …
So, Christmas … It’s more blessed to give than it is to receive. No matter where you are in the world, there are probably people who need some help. Maybe it’s a good season to think about giving to them. Do your kids have enough toys? Do you have enough gadgets? But, do all your neighbors have enough food?
Also, as a practical suggestion, if you live in a college town or a community replete with displaced persons, such as it is in Paris and other large, international cities, there are always people who will be all alone for the holiday. Could be a good thing to seek some of them out and build some new relationships. Community is one of the core spiritual disciplines, you know, and community is reciprocal. Sometimes you give, sometimes you receive, sometimes there is no distinction.
What would Christmas look like if it actually resembled the kingdom of heaven?