The Value of Stuff - FROM THE ARCHIVES

[originally posted on January 22, 2015]

Tonight, when I walked into my apartment, my roommate asked me what was wrong. When I said nothing, she gave me that "your pants are combusting" look. And she was right: I was upset. I hadn't gotten in a fight with anyone, I am within the normal range of the "behind on homework" bell curve that dominates college, and I have been having a wonderful week. However I was upset, and it took me a moment to place why I was stressed. I was getting stressed out about a book.  A very pretty, fancy book, that I am told is rather valuable, but at it's heart, just a book. More specifically, a book that belongs to me.

I was scared I was going to bend it, tear a page, something.

Let me repeat that: I was freaking out that I was going to inflict signs of reading when I read MY book. 


I love reading, I love books, and I've always been careful with my possessions (I cried in fourth grade because I made a small tear in my Bible). But somehow, this feels different. I am afraid of this book:


Franklin Library, 1976: The Confessions of Saint Augustine

I'm not afraid of the contents of the book. Intimidated, because reading Confessions by Saint Augustine is no joke. No, I'm afraid of damaging a book by reading it.

Stupid, right?

But how often do we do that? I know I elevate things way beyond where they belong in my estimation. I love reading, but somehow I don't want to read a copy of a book -- one I have no desire to ever sell, so it's not really a commodity -- because I love the book too much. That's just wrong.

It's the same thing as buying a new shirt and not wanting to wear it, in case it gets stained.
Being afraid someone is going to ding the door on your new car.
Crying when you first notice a pick-scratch on a guitar.
Being afraid to wear new shoes in case dirt gets on them.

Being careful with objects is one thing, and I'm not saying we shouldn't treat things as though they are valuable, but it's not like this is the most expensive book I own (it cost a little under a dollar at a moving sale) nor the most valuable (can anyone say "textbooks"? good).

I think it's time I examine my own life for the places that "Love of the Thing" is exceeding "Love of the Function."

Let me explain.

I need to love reading more than I love the book itself. Playing more than the guitar itself. Looking and feeling pretty more than the clothes themselves.

As a Christian, I am also pretty sure this is a form of idolatry. I figure it's idolatry because I am attaching value to an object beyond what it actually does. What does a book do? For me, it contains words and worlds I can explore. In the case of this very pretty book, it's a piece of art, but interactive art, that is meant to be handled and worn down, pages yellowed, passed down as the ancient book on Heidi's shelf, not some untouchable relic in a box or closet somewhere. I want my life to be full of light and joy, full of freedom, not of relics.

I'm not against treasure. But I am reminded of the Scripture: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." In the original passage, Jesus was talking about serving God and Money (or rather, how we serve God or Money). However, it also works as advice: do you treasure the guitar over the sound/feel, the car over the driving, the clothes over the look, the shoes over the walking, the book over the words? Because if that's the case, priorities need a serious check.

And in case you're wondering, I will be using this copy for my report. After all, it's a book. Why not read it?