Sunday, November 20, 2005

Christianity and Stuff

An on-going debate within Christianity has to do with what rich folk ought to do with the wealth they have. If you find yourself winning the lottery, would it be appropriate to buy a four thousand square foot house, or a BMW 700 series, or half of your town?

Usually, at some point in this discussion, someone will say "it isn't a sin to be wealthy or to have stuff." OK, not by definition perhaps, but don't we have some Scriptural instruction along these lines?

What was the point of Micah's and Amos's condemnation of the Jews? Buried in denunciations of perjurous activities, of coniving methods of gaining advantage over each other, of using items of clothing unjustly taken from others in church, there is the denunciation of the Cows of Bashan.

These cows are wealthy Jewish women who apparently loll around the house doing not much more than indulging their drink and food urges "...get me another drink!" While we can understand the other behaviors being condemned, why this one? What's wrong with taking an afternoon off and having a couple bruskies?

If we were to stay with our normal response, there'd be nothing wrong with what these women are doing. But the text makes it clear there is something wrong with what they're doing. I suspect it is spending their wealth and their time on themselves with little to no regard for those who are less fortunate than they. They may be ignorant snobs or they may be malignant oppressors; we aren't told. What we do know is that they don't seem to be helping anyone.

So how does that affect us? First we must come to grips with the fact that we generally want nice stuff. Never mind that we don't need the stuff in the first place, but we want it to be nice if we're going to have it. Do we ever stop to ask whether we need this thing or that? Do we need the top of the line, or would a generic item do just as well? Do we consider what we could do with the money we don't spend on ourselves if we would learn to get along without the "stuff."

Is it sinful to be wealthy? No, God doesn't say that. The question is, what does God expect us to do with that wealth? Do we buy that 700 series, or do we buy something about half that price and donate the remainder? If my reading of the Prophets is correct, God would be more pleased with us if we would choose the latter.

I am not suggesting that I am perfect in making these decisions, but I do think that the usual refrain of "it isn't a sin to be wealthy" makes our decisions a bit too comfortable.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fall

Fall is great, isn't it?

Just came in from the front yard after spending about 30 minutes cleaning up a plant bed. Had to re-dig the borders and put on some mulch to keep the roots from freezing this winter.

One of the enjoyable things at this time of year is to gather seeds off the Purple Cone Flowers, Red Yucca, penstimens, and hollyhocks. Then I get to spread them around in other beds or to help fill in their current ones come next Spring.

Am reading this fall "The Practice of Spiritual Direction" by Barry and Connolly. Not a bad read, but it seems to bog down from time to time. Learning more about spiritual direction, and spiritual formation has been one of my goals this year. It really is interesting -- and enlightening to read and then to experience some of what so many people before have experienced. This has been a while coming; read Foster's books on prayer and disciplines a few years ago.

Fall and reading seem to go hand in hand. The reading sprinkles seeds from various places and eventually they will sprout and fourish.

Can't wait till Spring!

Marriage and Community

Marriage is often used as metaphor in Scripture. From Hosea and Gomer, to the Ephesian letter, God uses marriage as a description of His relationship with us. Spouses are intended to so act as One that we are told a "man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." God considered Adam incomplete and so made him a helpmeet - from his own rib. Marriage is a melding of two people into one entity.
Are we suggesting that the two people lose their identities and become the other? No. And yes. A marriage is not designed so one partner is totally subsumed by the other, but rather both partners maintain their own identities and form a third. They build on one another's strengths and support each other's weaknesses.
They are to create a safe place. A place where each can reveal their dreams, their fears, their failings, and expect their partner to accept, challenge, and love them. During the dating game, each partner wears a mask that makes them seem the perfect catch. They always smell good, dress well, pay attention to each other, make each other laugh, and spend as much time as possible with one another. All this is an act of sorts - one that can be kept up only for so long and usually stops within a few months of the wedding. Only now do they allow each other to see parts of their real selves, and they begin to ask "was this the right thing to do?" The problem is that both partners behave this way - some more than others, but all to some degree. In a few months we have two people, married, but wondering what in the world possessed them to do this.
But the game playing doesn't stop there. All people want to be valued and accepted by the important people in their lives. Humans throughout history have gained those emotional reinforcements by being successful, being the "best," being confident. None of us though, are always successful, or the best, and many times we aren't all that confident. And so we create new masks, beautiful masks, to make us appear all those things to the people we are with, including our partners.
How great it would be if we could find a place where, even though we may have failed, or come in second - or fifteenth, or somehow weren't completely sure of who we are, we would be loved and accepted just as we are, without pretense. Marriage is intended to be that place. A safe, welcoming, and warm place where people banged up by the world can be loved for who we are rather than for who we portray. In maintaining this safe space, couples recognize each other's faults but support each other as one entity. Be proud of your partner because of who they are...with all the warts, and protect them from barbs and attacks from outside. Face the world as one!
That safe place is probably why God uses marriage as metaphor for His people, for church. Communities of Christians are intended to be places where we can accept, nurture, and heal people who face the world day in and day out. The community of faith is intended by God to be such a place where we can fail and still be encouraged, where we can stumble and be picked up, where partners can take off their masks, admit they aren't as strong, capable, and sinless as they pretend to be and still be accepted, loved, and nurtured.
There is a saying that "God has made someone special just for you." That's not quite right. It is actually that God has made you special for someone else. You are intended to bless your partner. If you are blessed in return, so much the better!
Marriage is an intimate microcosm of the Kingdom of God where God accepts us and we have need of nothing. Treat your partner like you would want a church member to treat you, and vice versa - accepting, loving, and supportive. Doing so creates real community, strengthens marriages, and builds churches.

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