“. . . and everyone else falls on top.” (Humberto Ak’Abal)

Indigenous Guatemalan poet, Humberto Ak’Abal

Indigenous Guatemalan poet, Humberto Ak’Abal

I detest ideas showing up in my mind that seem improbably judgmental either of myself or of others. Especially of others. I grew up in a household and a community where lip-service at the very least was given to John 8:8, ““Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This is a story from the Bible in which Jesus was hanging out in Jerusalem preaching and teaching when some people brought him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to stone her to death (did that practice in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other places Americans like to judge so harshly come directly from the Bible?). Jesus said it would be OK, provided that the first stone was thrown by someone who had never sinned. The would-be executioners sneaked away with their tails egos between their legs.

I most often reserve my judgmentalism for people who are doing bad things or thinking evil thoughts as the result of being stupid (at a given moment, not inherently). Like anyone who voted for Ted Cruz, or anyone who thinks the 2nd Amendment is license to kill. Or anyone who thinks school vouchers and charter schools are anything other than means to destroy equal-opportunity education.

I would never judge anyone for a simple little human foible like committing adultery. I’ve done it myself. I think Jesus had it about right when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NRSV). He probably would have said “looking at a man with lust,” too, if any of the gay men in his audience had been “out.” Obviously, from the story I began with, he would have meant it for women looking at men, too.

My stuff, waiting to go to the Goodwill.

My stuff, waiting to go to the Goodwill.

I’m having a terrible time getting my ass in gear (as we said in the 60s) to clean out the stuff in my apartment. Hardly anyone I know would be able to live in this mess. It’s not that I’m one of those troubled “hoarders” on TV. I don’t have litter on my floors. I have clean sheets on my bed, a clean kitchen, and a living room area that is neat and tidy. It’s just all these books and DVDs and CDs and pictures and clothes and . . . like most people’s I suppose.

The problem is, I don’t know how to sort. I don’t know how to put things away. I don’t know how to tidy up. There’s always something more important to do than fold the clean sheets and put them away (if I can remember where I decided at some point they should live).

My lawyer friend tells me that more files are always better than fewer files. Little does he know.

So I wonder how much time in a week the normal, middle-class, neat, organized American spends sorting and folding laundry, washing dishes and putting them away, emptying waste baskets, vacuuming, washing the bathroom mirror, shopping for groceries and putting them away. . .

It’s the putting way that is the problem, as I said. I wonder if anyone has ever kept track of the time they spend in a week putting stuff away. A place for everything and everything in its place.

There are other ways of thinking about stuff.

“The bread that is in your box belongs to the hungry; the coat in your closet belongs to the naked; the shoes you do not wear belong to the barefoot; the money in your vault belongs to the destitute” (St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, c. A.D. 370).

The coat in my closet belongs to the naked. I have three sport coats in a clothes hamper waiting to go to the dry cleaners. They’ve been there for about three months. Do I need them? Obviously not. I know, I know, normal people don’t live quite this way. You there, yes you, dear reader, you would take your sport coat to the cleaner the morning after you realized it needed it. You certainly would not have three of them that needed cleaning at once.

Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? . . . the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. (From St. Basil the Great, Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed, §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but it seems to me the Church Fathers—at least on this point—have it about right. If I’ve got so many clothes that I can leave three sport coats in the clothes hamper for three months, isn’t that too many clothes? I’m not rich and I see this dilemma. I don’t have much of anything compared to lots of people I know—and especially to a few people I don’t know.

But I’m looking for help to sort and divest myself of the stuff I don’t need. The question is, where is the line? How much stuff is enough? How much is too much? I am, by any measurement, pretty low on the totem pole as far as wealth and owning stuff is concerned.

But there are those three sport coats I don’t need.

Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.

“The Dance,” by Humberto Ak’Abal
All of us dance
on a cent’s edge.

The poor—because they are poor—
lose their step,
and fall

and everyone else
falls on top.

I think we’re a people of too much stuff. And we’re falling on top of the poor.

Titian, The Woman Taken in Adultery

Titian, The Woman Taken in Adultery

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