Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Faith Works 11-10-07
Jeff Gill

What We Don’t Own (Mostly Everything)

Working on important family projects with a vital household tool in hand, I suddenly realized that I didn’t own it.

Waiting for a small printer to spit out a receipt, I read on the back of my debit card from the bank: “This card remains the property of Major Financial Institution . . .”

This slab of plastic I use everyday isn’t mine, but the bank’s. Kind of like my house, which I own in some senses, but don’t in others. As divorcing folks realize quickly, there’s the spousal interest; even for those of us happily married, we own a home as a couple, in full partnership with the mortgage holder.

Which leaves me owning the eaves and gutters, it would seem, but I share those with the trees as a handy place to store their fallen leaves.

The bank never offers to help mow or trim shrubbery, but the neighborhood association has a claim on a broad swath where bushes suddenly appear, and then disappear in the maws of ravening deer, who have a family claim on my whole neighborhood going back to the last Ice Age.

Then there’s the municipal folk, who offer a courtesy call just before a truckload of workmen show up to dig holes in “their” easement and imperfectly replant the desirable, deer proof shrubs they shoveled aside.

The Lovely Wife and I do, in fact, own our cars, but many in our neighborhood lease, a relationship I’ve never quite understood. But you don’t own it, so you’d better not cut a moon roof in the top – can you put college stickers in the windows of a leaser?

Some of these leased vehicles get parked in front of my house, blocking the postal worker’s access to the mailbox, which I’m told we don’t own, mostly. Even if we bought it at BigBox ourselves and dug the hole and poured the concrete, the box itself is somehow the property of the Postmaster General (when is his turn to paint?), so the right to store or swap items around the block in that space is limited.

The upside being that this is why folks dropping fliers around the neighborhood are breaking the law if they put stuff “for free” in the PG’s mailbox.

Back in my wallet, there’s the driver’s license which allows me to drive the car I do, sort of, own; property of the state. Try to ask for the picture half back when you get a new one and see what I mean. It’s like you asked them to give you a $5 from their wallet.

Oh, that Lincoln engraving? The money you carry, that you earned, this “legal tender for all debts, public and private”? Not yours. It remains the property of the Federal Government while you make use of the symbolic value in everyday transactions.

And the change in your other pocket? That board almost filled with 50 state quarters? Well, the board may be yours, but not the quarters, not technically.

Just like the license plate on that car you “own,” the trash roller bin from the service company, the downloads on your computer, “your” library card, and your Tivo box. But unlike a few years back, we own our phones now, which may or may not be a good thing.

Your body, though, that you “own,” right? Well, science tells us that every seven years is the “turnover period” for your cellular material, with the stuff that makes up your corpus delicti swapped out for new matter on the old design. Which gives a whole new understanding to “you are what you eat,” doesn’t it?

The upshot of all of this being: we don’t really own much, even in an age of consumerism and materialism. We really are stewards in this life, the only question being whether we are conscious, intentional stewards, or fumblingly wasteful caretakers who deserve to be fired.

That’s the upshot of most stewardship campaigns that many churches conduct in November, reminding their members of what giving is really about, which is just putting our treasures in the right places. Giving as a primary part of our personal stewardship is a key step to remembering that we own nothing, really, but have a great gift in our care for a season, life itself, and what that life can shape and effect.

For the more hardened materialists, good news! Under Ohio law, your estate owns your corpse, and has a pretty much unassailable right of disposal as you choose. So there’s one thing you can own without variation or dispute, but only after you die.

Me, I’m thinking organ donation.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s a blood donor now and an organ donor on his driver’s license (property of ODMV). Tell him what you value at

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