You've got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme... – U2 “Walk On” (1)
We must leave everything to those who follow. Our greatest treasures are the following generation’s junk. Stuff they have to clear away. If they have attachment to something it is because it reminds them of someone who has passed. They have no attachment to the thing itself.
If you have ever gone through the stuff of someone who has passed away, you will probably have wondered why they kept some things, and then concluded that those things must have been valuable or useful in their time.
Similarly, if you have ever been in the market for a house, and started looking at potential properties you will have seen things that make you wonder what the previous owners were thinking. Home renovations are never in my experience undertaken lightly, so some thinking went into that floral wallpaper or wood paneling.
But we don’t take this truth about the temporary worth of goods to heart. We treasure our shiny, usually slimmer than yesteryear, treasures.
The recent launch of the new iPhone caused thousands to line up for days to be the first to have what in a few years will be obsolete and in thirty years – junk. But they were willing to spend so much time for this ephemeral object, that in years to come will be perhaps found as a curiosity in an attic, similar to four-track players I found in my parent’s attic when I was a kid.
It is exciting to have the latest first; to be an early adopter. Some now cite this as an achievement. And if you can keep getting the newest first, perhaps you can keep yourself satisfied. But if you reflect, you will realize that you are paying a premium to own tomorrow’s junk first.
Everything we collect, will likely someday be someone else’s problem. So it makes sense not to over value our material possessions. Collecting the latest electronic gadget or buying the newest model car will only provide a temporary, illusory sense of meaning. It will get old. And in today’s world of planned obsolescence that won’t take too long. Neither money nor credit is endless for most of us (as we have no doubt become increasingly aware over the past few years), so we can’t keep replacing the old when we tire of it.
If new stuff made us happy, we should buy as many things as possible. But there is no free lunch - we are teased by what we can’t have. Even if we could buy meaning through possessions, that is beyond the reach of most people. And isn’t the real appeal that we own something shinier and newer than our neighbor. If everyone could own whatever they wished would this urge be no more?
Therefore, our sense of meaning cannot come from material possessions. We need something more. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (2).
Life is short. We have a need to cherish something. Our stuff might outlast us, but there is no guarantee that whomever it comes to after us - descendant or complete stranger - will want anything to do with it. There is nothing we can do about it. We have to leave it behind.
It appears that Jesus was right to contend that earthly treasures will not satisfy. The question we then must consider is if he is also right about heaven.
(1) U2, “Walk On”, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Island Records, 2001.