New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
Bonnie McClish Dlott
This was one of those big messages. The message was, “You have too many
clothes.” The stupendous weight of my clothes pulled the bracket holding the
closet rod right off the shelf it was attached to, and my beautiful wardrobe hit
the floor. I was stunned. Hadn’t I just gone through this closet and taken out a
few dozen things to give away? How could this happen?
My recent wardrobe purge was the result of a class I took in Seminary last
semester about stewardship. Some of the early sessions focused on American
consumerism and how it hurts our pocketbooks, the environment, and even our
souls. We did an exercise which included a visualization of our living space,
and we tried to imagine what we would take out if we had ten minutes to grab
things before our house burned down. I had trouble thinking of anything that I
would take except my photographs and the videotapes of my children. The thought
of carrying out clothing hadn’t even crossed my mind. I started to ask myself
questions. If my clothes don’t mean that much to me, why do I own so many?
I suspect that this is a good question for all of us to think about. We make
more money than we ever have as a nation, and we buy more things, and yet we
save much less than our parents and grandparents did. We carry staggering
amounts of credit card debt, and more and more of us go bankrupt each year. Why
do we buy so much stuff?
I thought about this as my husband fretted about the closet repair. Why do I
have so many outfits? Hey, I know the answer to this question: because I want
them! I see something on the rack and I fall in love. My heart pounds as I
search for the right size. I start to breathe heavily as I try it on. Look at
me, I look so... whatever: professional, sexy, smart, cool, tough, hip! It’s
like magic: I’m transformed into a new person in this outfit, and I like what I
see! If I just had this outfit, I would feel good about myself. Each piece of
clothing is a transformational opportunity.My spouse announced that it was time for a pilgrimage to Home Depot. I
felt so guilty about my clothes that I agreed to go with him. We drove there and
navigated through the jammed parking lot, desperately vying for a space with
several hundred other people, all just as anxious as we were to buy things. We
walked down aisles towering with merchandise, and as usual, I began to feel
overwhelmed by the transformational opportunities I saw. Here is an opportunity
to be transformed into a person with perfect kitchen countertops. Here is an
opportunity to be transformed into a person with hardwood floors. How about an
opportunity to be transformed into a person with a beautiful yard! I could be so
Luckily, my husband was on a mission, and just wanted to be transformed into
a person who could hang his few shirts up in a closet that was supposedly half
his. He picked out some braces that looked like they could hold up an entire
circus tent, and we headed to the cashier. We managed to get out of the store
and back home without incident, and by the end of the day my clothes were
hanging up again.
This wasn’t the end of the story for me. I was starting to feel that I
understood my own wanting; it had to do with becoming someone improved, someone
I liked better than who I was without the item. And yet, I had to ask myself in
the case of my wardrobe: had I actually become someone better once that new
outfit was in my possession? Had that happy feeling persisted past one or two
washings? Even more importantly, what was it about myself that needed
transforming, and how is real transformation accomplished? Can it be
accomplished by getting things?
I tried to think back to remember significant transformations in my life.
Most of them happened as a result of a lifelong commitment: to my partner, to my
children, to my work in ministry. Each of these commitments involved wanting and
getting, but as I thought, I began to understand that I hadn’t been transformed
from wanting and getting. I had been transformed by the giving that had happened
after the wanting and getting. For example, I wanted the love and security of a
life partner, and I got it; but what transformed me wasn’t in the getting; it
happened later, in the giving, in the learning that I was capable of making
sacrifices and working with my spouse to make a life together.
The wanting and the getting of children was not particularly transformational
for me, well, at least not permanently. It was later, in the giving, and giving,
and giving, and giving, and giving, that the transformation happened. When my
children were young, I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was, more
patient than I thought I was, and capable of feeling more love than I had ever
dreamed of. I learned that I could put someone else’s interest ahead of my own,
and that I could be counted on. Most importantly, I learned that even though I
was not perfect and never would be, I was loved and needed. All this I learned
not from wanting or getting, but by giving.
My path into the ministry is yet another example. When my second child
was born, I realized that I had everything I had ever wanted, and yet, I wasn’t
really happy. In the years that followed, I searched for the missing “thing”
that would do the trick. It won’t surprise you to hear that the “thing” that I
needed was the opportunity to use my gifts to express my love for life within a
community. After the wanting and the getting, I needed to give myself back; to
my partner, to my family, and now to my Unitarian Universalist community and
So now you know about some of my struggles with wanting, getting, and giving,
mostly as it applies to my energy and time; but I’d like to get back to my
wardrobe. It cost a lot of money, and yet it has very little actual worth to me.
My Old Testament teacher would tell me that it was “idolatrous”; that the money
I spent on it was spent for my own glorification and thrill. I’d have a hard
time arguing with him. Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had spent that money on
something that was more meaningful, something that reflected my values as a
I think it’s hard to talk about money, and maybe to some, a discussion of
money seems out of place in church. I don’t agree. Money is something that means
a lot to us, and so does our faith; and somewhere, I believe that the way we use
money should have something to do with our faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we
are no different than folks in other denominations; we need money to pay for our
food, our shelter, our clothes. We need to save for our children’s education,
and for our retirement. We give some of it away to our church, and some to other
We are different, however, in two important ways: Unitarian Universalists
make more money than people in other denominations, and we give less of it away.
I worry about this; all religions stress the importance of generosity. After all
my reflections about wanting, and getting, and giving, I start to wonder; are we
hurting ourselves by not giving? Are we missing a real transformational
I know that sitting in this room now are some exceptional people that do give
to our churches and to other charities very generously, perhaps so generously
that they have to make sacrifices in other areas in their lives. Maybe they want
things, but they don’t buy them because it is more important to them to be
generous to this church or to others. Here is what I want to know: what is it
that they are getting by giving that is so important to them? What am I missing
out on with my comfortable pledge? Could I risk giving up something to find
My first impulse is to say, “No! I already give to the church, and I don’t
want to deprive myself of something I want. It will feel uncomfortable to want
something and not to get it.” Then I think of a conversation that we had in my
stewardship class. We talked about how it might feel to invite people from our
struggling partner church in Transylvania into our homes. I imagine showing them
my closet bursting with clothes and my refrigerator stuffed with food and fine
wine, and then I imagine saying to them, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford to
help you to feed and house your minister, or help you to buy a cow so your
children can have fresh milk. I can’t afford to help you, because I need to buy
myself more clothes so I can feel happy for a few days.”
When I imagine that scenario, I feel far worse than I would just passing on a
great outfit. I understand that wanting and getting things doesn’t really
transform me at all; in fact, I suspect that wanting and getting might be
preventing me from becoming the person I long to be.
Who is that person? One way to find out is to ask myself, “How do I want to
be remembered?” I can just see the obituary now: “Loving daughter, wife and
mother; she was a snappy dresser.” I would much rather read that my life-long
commitment to giving reflected the love that I felt for life and for Unitarian
Universalism. I hope that others will be inspired when they read that I tithed
to the church I served, and left part of my estate to the Unitarian Universalist
Association. I don’t want to leave as a legacy for my children the ideal of
wanting and having. It wasn’t enough for me, and I know that it won’t be enough
for them either.
I would like to ask you to think about some questions this week. What things
do you own, and what do they mean to you? Do you have so many things that you
can’t fit them all into your home? How much more do you think you need to buy to
be happy? Is wanting and getting “enough” for you? What would you give up to
feed someone who is hungry? Does your checkbook register accurately reflect your
faith and principles? Who is the person that you want to be, and how does that
person spend their time and money? Are you ready to be transformed into that
Let me end by saying that the message I received from the universe turned out
to be a message of hope. The message was, “You have enough to make a
difference.” If I can make a difference, together, we Unitarian Universalists
can make a big difference. I believe that if we are willing to look carefully at
our lives and give as generously as we can, we can be transformed into the
people and the movement that we dream of being. We can bring our life-affirming
vision of love and justice into a world that so desperately needs it. That is my
hope, and my dream, and it is worth more to me than anything I could buy.
May you go in peace, and give your very best this week. Blessed Be.
© Bonnie McClish DlottStudent at Starr King School for the
Ministry;Member of Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist ChurchWalnut Creek,
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association
member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship.
Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.
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Last updated on Tuesday, February 19, 2013.
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