February 1, 2017: Belonging and Belongings

~by Louis Templeman

My grandson’s 5th birthday got me to thinking about one of the first words a child ever learns to speak – “Mine”. From early on we are concerned with what we own and how we may get more.

There is a black and white photo of me as a 5-year old with a toy gun in hand, a cowboy hat on my head and two candy cigarettes in my mouth. I was proud of my get-up. They belonged to me. They gave me an aura of power. I tried to show it by feigning a fierce expression hoping I could foster fear in enemies and respect from friends. I’d taken on a new identity. I’d been, in fantasy, born again.

Next to me in the photo stands my older brother. Same get-up. However, he cut a much more striking figure. His snarl was more convincing. And, he had only one candy cigarette hanging from his lips. I had two because I needed two to look as tough as he did. He was bigger and older, so I figured I needed the second cigarette to toughen up my softer image. I belonged to my brother. I was imitating him. My belongings brought me into the picture but my sense of belonging gave me confidence to draw my pistol, snarl and chew two candy cigarettes, it took both to make me feel like a truly bad hombre`.

Children show us that if belongings are important to our self-identity, belonging is just as important. If what belongs to us is critical then who we belong to is just as critical. Belongings and belonging are two essential issues in the development of the human personality. Our tendencies toward individualism causes us to enjoy the props, the pleasure and pride of ownership, but this always fits into the larger issue of who we belong to: family, gangs, teams, associations, schools, professions, nations, race, etc. Such attachments are important to our sense of self.

As Christians we are directed to weaken our attachments to the world and strengthen our attachment to the Kingdom of God, that is, the church, the issues of peace and justice, and the outworking of God’s love through our lives, Jesus was serious when he said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness: and all these things of the world that you really need will not be denied you. Paul also wrote regarding this issue of belonging and belongings in 1 Corinthians 3: 21-23: “For all things are yours … all belong to you and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”

The apostle placed both issues – belonging and belongings – before us. And, if these possessions and attachments appear nebulous and intangible it is only because our belongings are so precious to us that we have no appetite for spiritual matters. Kathleen Norris, in her book Acedia and Me, speaks of modern consumers whose sense of self is attached to their store of stuff. She writes that “instead of feeling carefree … (they feel) burdened with more and more necessities until they” are no longer “able to distinguish between needs and wants, between self-indulgence and self-respect” and so become “in short, perfect consumers.” It would appear that such people have lost their center and have no joy within themselves and so seek consolation outside. Yet, the more they seek exterior goods the less interior joy they find.

With the pen of a prophet Norris writes, “If there is a religion that compasses all the world, it is the pursuit of wealth.” Sadly, it is obvious, that many Christians are guilty of a religious syncretism, a dualism, carrying Bibles and attending church all the while practicing a fervent credit-driven consumer lifestyle. Our practice makes our faith an alloy and not the pure gold Christ requires. It is very easy to become very adept at a show of religion all the while denying Christ a place in our lives. Scripture offers a cure:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life … through the knowledge of (Jesus our Lord) … so that through them you may escape from the consumption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature. 2 Peter 1: 3.

This scripture verse certainly speaks to both issues. Belongings is covered in “everything needed for life . . ..” Belonging is covered in the phrase “participants in the divine nature.” But how to attain such a state? It comes down to want-to or motivation. The term “escape” should cover that. Only a convert to God’s love would see the need to escape. That little cowboy chewing two candy cigarettes was clueless to the need to escape. He had to grow up and convert. As I was writing my grandson’s birthday card, I considered how vulnerable he is to the pitfalls of materialism and secularization of this post-modern age. And, I was inspired to offer him this blessing:

In the undirected, unfocused noise of modern life, may you know silence.

In the cares of life where the urgent determines priorities, may you know stillness.

In the crazy confusion of busy, busy people with many, many plans may you know the peace of simplicity.

Be food to the hungry,

hope to the hurting,

and, in the dark clouds of the lost and hurried where people hunger for attention, yet give so little,

where the pride of life fuels their decisions,

may you elevate their eyes to God by the peace that feeds off humility.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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