The main characters (in a pretty rotten and forgettable movie) are having the classic “If the house was on fire and you had 60 seconds, what would you save?” conversation. The movie is so boring, i don’t pay any attention to their responses. My mind is already wandering here: in my experience, when that question comes up in an icebreaker situation, there is one overwhelmingly unanimous answer: “Pictures!” people reply, without hesitation. It seems to me, though, that our ready-made answer no longer applies.
Facebook. Flickr. Snapfish. Email. Recordable discs. Most of our pictures these days are swirling around in cyberspace and mass media, rather than getting tattered in drawers. Even if you’ve printed and framed some favorites, you could leave them to the impending calamity, knowing that grandma still has them on her hard drive, or that you can access them by logging onto (Facebook/flickr/Snapfish) at some later time. All will be restored.
So what now? THe world has changed. First of all, it was probably not a fire that drove you out of your home. It was more likely a nuclear event, a dramatic depletion of natural resources (this coming from a person who lives in the desert with 5 million of her closest friends), an alien invasion, or, you know, the Tea Party finally got organized and came for us. Set the reason for our exodous aside for another blog. You must leave your home; your family and pets are safely outside, waiting for you; your pictures are saved in 8 different ways and places that will be available to you later. What do you take?
This is not rhetorical. I really want to know. Because the more i look around my house, the more i don’t see a single thing i couldn’t live without. I’d grab the box of stuff that my grandma wrote…however, if i was more organized, those would have been converted to some electronic form by now, as well. I can buy new china. I can borrow new clothes. My children are as happy with a cardboard box as they are with any toy that might come in it. CD collection? Oh wait–i can download all those songs again with a single click. If i had a valuable musical instrument, i’d grab that, but i don’t… Books? i do have some first edition EBB that would be worth taking with…but these days, even most of our books can be accessed online. (Albeit, without the great comfort of the “book smell”–which we will save for another blog, as well).
Truth is, I would not wish the heartbreak of displacement on anyone. And yet, i’ve got a really scary closet in my house that, if everything in it just disappeared, Room of Requirement style, it would not be the worst thing. Truth is, the more we have, the less we find we need.
The realization that most of the “things” that surround us could be replaced or restored, or simply forgotten, should offer some comfort in this climate of mass foreclosure and negative equity. I can look down any street in my end of town (the pic is about a block away from my church) and see at least 2 or 3 for sale signs, just in the immediate line of sight. About half are probably bank-owned, and most of the others being sold at a fraction of the purchase price (one of the latter listings is my house. Again–a blog for another day). Everywhere you look, people are heartbroken to be losing their homes and walking into an uncertain future.
But the good news is, in this particular sort of exodus, you’ve got way more than 60 seconds to grab what is needful. You know your family and pets are safe, you know you can pack up everything you need–and a great deal of what you don’t–and proceed in an orderly fashion.
Please don’t read this wrong: i am not trying to be cheery about folks who are going to be homeless, or unable to feed their children. I am not trying to make it ok that the gap between the very rich and the very poor around here is starting to resemble that of a developing country. But there is a word of hope for those who must pack up and move on, whether because of the job market, the housing market, or just a life that has changed at the eye-blinking pace of technology.
I’m invoking the spirit of the west, here. There is joy in the unknown, excitement in the uncharted, and a world of opportunity in loss of “what we had always planned.” My faith tells me that God’s plan for me, and for the world, does not rise and fall with the dow. My experience tells me that your house is not the same thing as your home. And the preacher/writer in me still does not know what i will grab when the aliens (or the Tea Party) land… but i do know that what matters most comes with us, and all will be restored. When it is time to move on and reinvent, we have a moment to grab what is needful, what is beautiful, what is life-giving, and use it as the foundation for new life. It is time for the people of a struggling country, and people of faith, to get excited about that again. We’ve got 60 seconds, America… what are we taking with us?