John 8: 12ff: Uncluttered

Man, clutter is a sneaky thug.

Ever since Hurricane Ian missed us, I’ve been antsy to take on the clutter in my life. I’m not sure what the causality is between a hurricane and a Marie Kondo instinct, but timing-wise, the antsiness came after the storm. Maybe the recognition of how close we came to losing everything made me eager to pre-evaluate how much of that “everything” I could go ahead and lose now. Or maybe, 50 weeks into the yearlong reading of “Live Like Francis,” the Franciscan simplicity was finally finding a toehold. Anyway, I’ve been noticing all the clutter I have gathered. All this stuff snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking and took over my closet, bookshelf, life.

My first stab at tidying up ran through the filter of “Is this useful or valuable?” And that lens didn’t prompt me to throw much away. But that taught me that I was asking the wrong question. “Do I really absolutely need to keep this?” will guide my next try. (Before you suggest “Does this spark joy?”, I’m too easily entertained for that to be helpful.)

The second part of John 8 (after the story of the woman caught in adultery) has a lot of clutter, too. It is mostly bickering between Jesus and his opponents the Pharisees – technical discussions about how many witnesses he has and needs, about whether he is a judge, about where they came from and where he came from. I’m sure at the time it was written, this stuff was really important; right now, it seems like a lot of word clutter.

Just like the stuff I want to get rid of, this word clutter isn’t bad, per se; in the right setting, it could be helpful and valuable. But clutter is not-bad stuff that piles up until you can’t see what you really *need*, what’s really important.

Like, you can get so caught up in the bickering that you gloss over when Jesus says this: “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)  Or you can get so lulled to sleep by all the words that you miss him saying: “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (8:31-32)

I feel like we’re all spending a lot of our time walking around in darkness, bumping into stuff. And I definitely see how unfree we all are. The Pharisees argued with Jesus that they were already free, and I live in a place that prides itself on being “the free state of Florida,” but I don’t see many people who are really free of unhealthy attachments, of hatred, of self-righteousness, of pride, of anxiety. Maybe your list is different from that one, but the truth that would set us free from all that stuff? That I don’t see very often, because of all the clutter.

I had a great text conversation with a friend today, talking about anger. This friend has been through a lot, stared death in the face, if you will, and while at first there was a lot of anger to work out, at this point, she’s realized that she really doesn’t get worked up about a lot of the stuff that other people get outraged over. 

I can’t relate to the circumstances that got her there, but I told her that, at its best, religion facilitates an encounter with the Ultimately Meaningful, which puts everything else in its lesser place. (At its worst, I said, religion elevates a lot of relatively petty stuff to a level of ultimate importance that stokes still more outrage.) Whether you stare death in the face, or you stare Life in the face, it can recalibrate what you get outraged over. Not that you don’t care; you just care differently, hopefully with more compassion and curiosity and less judgment and self-justification.

One of the bigger decluttering tasks I want to take on is going through my books and donating most of them. If I don’t see myself re-reading them or referencing them, I need to let them go. One I will keep, though, is Kerry and Chris Shook’s One Month to Live, which is a 30-day reflection on what would be important to you if you knew you only had that many days left. It’s one more reminder that so much of what we fill our days with and give our energy to is of limited meaning. As such, it’s one more prompt to unclutter.

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