Sandy and I have watched the last few seasons of House Rules, a TV reality show in which couples renovate each other’s homes. What strikes me is that the attraction of the TV show is not the quality of the renovations produced – if it was we would not be watching amateurs do their thing – but the human drama. Will the couple whose home has been renovated like what they see? Will the couple falling behind in the competition have a good week and catch up? How will the different personalities of the contestants interact?
It strikes me that this is a powerful metaphor. We live in an era of renovation and upgrade. Sandy and I often talk about what we would like to do with our very 70s kitchen. Whenever I visit the Sydney boat show as I did a few weeks ago I fantasise about upgrading my boat. Every time I hear the annoyingly loud alarm that my car emits when the engine has been turned off but the headlights are still turned on, I fantasise about upgrading to a car that was built in the era in which lights are automatically switched off with the engine.
But when I ask what any of these upgrades would add to the quality of my life and relationships the answer is none to very little. We would have a new kitchen that may be more aesthetically pleasing to look at, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t cook any more meals, refrigerate more food, nor spend any more time in the kitchen. If I upgraded my boat, I would not buy anything larger, for the boat I have now is manageable for one person to launch and retrieve. I would not spend more time out of the water and there is not one thing I would do in my new boat that I can’t already do in my current boat. And as for operating my car, I would still only drive to the same places.
The depth, value and meaning of my life is not found in my kitchen, my boat or my car but it is found in the relationships that I transact in the kitchen, in the boat, in the car and beyond. This I think is at least part of what Jesus was getting when he said that “life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.”
He also counsels me “do not store treasures on earth, but store up treasures in heaven”. Given I live in a culture which defines success in terms of accumulating treasures on earth I find this very arresting. With the rest of my Western fellow believers I do everything I can to try and make Jesus mean something other than what he actually said. Surely he didn’t mean “do not store up treasures on earth”? Surely he really meant something like “accumulate as much as you desire, but be a loving person at the same time”? Well, no. I think he actually meant I should invest myself, my time, and my money in people rather than possessions.
And as I reflect back on House Rules I think Jesus got it right. We live with the fantasy that renovated homes, upgraded boats and better cars will “make all our dreams come true”, when in fact it is the relationships and the drama of relationships that provide true satisfaction. The producers of House Rules trade on that. So should we.