Being, Having and Appearing

From my first semester ethics class, I learned from a scholar named Stanley Hauerwas, “We can only live in the world we’ve learned to see. We can only see the world we’ve learned to say.” I’ve always been a fan of those who can put words to experience, and thus enlighten us to live better or differently. That’s why I like this concept of being, having and appearing.

An author named Norman Wirzba coined these terms in his book, Living the Sabbath. Each speaks to an attitude toward consumption, and the terms provide a means for self-identification.

Being is a term which describes those who live as closely to their resources as possible. To live in this space, we must remember that we are part of the collective unit of God’s creation, and we do not live autonomously.

A step beyond being, having is about possessing, whether the possession is people, things or ourselves. Wirzba cites extreme makeovers and the commoditization of food, fuel and even relationships as examples of having. When we operate as possessors of these things, we have stepped outside of being.

When we move to appearing, we construct our identity from that which we consume. (Many of us would find ourselves here, I think.) In Wirzba’s words, “Here what matters about the products we buy is not their use value but their sign value. We do not buy a car simply for the purpose of getting us from one place to another. Rather, we buy a particular make or style of car so that in driving it we will project a desired image. What has happened here is the elevation of the sign, image, or style above reality or substance.”

The appearing mode results in loneliness, detachment and isolation. Rather than relating to the real world, consumers are living in an image of the world that they have created. Living so far removed from creation is certainly not what God intended! However, marketing and advertising (and lots of other things, too) can quickly lead us down the road of appearance over substance.

We need a Sabbath to bask in the reminder of being. We need a Sabbath to let go of having and appearing and reprogram our minds, simply to be.

Appearing is a graceless world; being requires the grace of God.

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