I feel myself rather conflicted lately as I see a polarizing scale of what it means to follow Jesus. As I wrote in my previous blog entry for me faith is more about a way of life. It doesn't stop with theology even if that theology is ever changing. If we have theology and have all of what we believe worked out and we don't use it to do good in the world, to love one another then what is the point of it at all? That is what I am tied up in.
The church is polarized. The church is polarized over issues. The church is polarized over theology. The church is polarized over the bible. The church can't agree on mission. Some churches seem to me to be more focused on the bottom line than Jesus. Some churches seem to be more focused on politics than Jesus. I don't think the church is all bad. I just question the motives of the current churches out there.
I think though there is something else that is polarizing just for me. Money and the people of God. I belong to a denomination where many (not all) Pastors are paid well or have other sources of income. They lead very comfortable lives; as do many in their congregation. I grew up in the middle class for the most part. We were out right poor for awhile by American standards. World standards though that might look a little different. I have been wealthy my whole life by world standards.
The economy has been bad for me since I was about 22. I haven't been able to find work that pays well. The cost of everything has gone up. With the birth of our daughter we decided to stay as a one income family even though it would be really tight. The way I spend money has changed. I am not able to just go buy whatever on a whim. I have to carefully think out nearly every penny I spend. This at times frustrates me like you would not believe. I say things like I just don't want to have to think about buying a peanut butter cup. When I win the lottery is another favorite, although I don't even play the lottery. My list is probably a little different then most, my plans include college educations for all the kids I love, paying off the church mortgage anonymously for the purely selfish reason of I never want to debate finances again at a session meeting. Also funds for many projects I think are worthy causes, like Caleb and his kids. Then paying off my student debt and fixing the car I already have. It sounds like a nice dream right? Lately though something else has come on me. I think maybe, just maybe my having to think about every dollar I spend is actually a huge blessing in my life.
It has taught me in a very real way want versus need. Would be nice to have versus need it to survive. Want to eat this versus this option can sustain me. I should point out I don't have it all bad, I know I am lucky to have what I have. Lately though I find myself glad I don't have more. I am grateful that I have been forced to learn what I know believe has been a lesson in disguise. I found myself longing for a smaller house the other day. My rational being, less to clean, less to fill up more time for things that matter. This circumstance of finance has taught my heart to grow. I am not all the way there I still have days where I long for things and a nice big house on a huge piece of land. Sometimes it's nice kitchen cabinets or a nice vacation. Sometimes I want to be able to buy people really nice gifts. I long for more. Then something happens, I see greed somewhere in the world, I read a piece of scripture, there is some sort of disaster and I remember I have what I need and I am so blessed.
That all being said, lately as I have mention previously I have been reading a lot of Shane Claiborne's work. If you don't know his work I suggest you google away and learn about it just a little. The thing that stands out for me is the humility. He also chooses a very simple communal life. He has what he needs on a level that is much less than what I think I need. He has essentially chosen a life of poverty. He writes books, that he gives away at book parties, the funds he makes from those writings go into a community pot he shares with those around him. You know just looking at him that his life is different. His life though is his life, not mine. I don't know that I could live like that. What I can tell you is how his choices had an effect on our lives this weekend. We set out Friday night with $20 to pay for parking, dinner and to hopefully buy a book. We scored free parking, got to love Philly, it would never happen in NYC. Then dinner was shared with us at the book release. Then Paul won a copy of the book which we could have bought for $10 if he hadn't. For the first time I was at an event that was Christian in nature where what I was able to bring was good enough. I didn't leave with out an item that might help enrich my spiritual journey. (Reading for me is a huge part of that so I borrow and buy books regularly.) Our $20 ended up going to charitable causes represented there in a very grassroots sort of way. FOR ONCE WHAT WE HAD WAS ENOUGH. I don't know what it was about that moment but it stayed with me. It solidified what I had already been thinking about not having so much money.
Let's go back to the Pastor's and clergy people that are living comfortable lives. This is delicate because I know several really great people who fall into this category. I am not talking your mega church pastors who have private jets and multimillion dollar book deals. Or even those who just drive luxury cars. They are a blog in and of themselves. I am talking your typical comfortable pastor, maybe I should add writer as well. As I have mentioned before I read a lot of theology and I have gone to many events about the very books I read presented by the people that write them. Often times while I love the writing, I love being stretched by the theology I find a disconnect in how they live. The very fact that they go on book tours kind of irks me. I feel as if you are here telling me to live more simply and I already live simply more simply than you do in fact. Another favorite is we need to do this or that, yet they are always on speaking tour what is it exactly you are doing? I get it they have lives, most of them are doing more good in the world than your average Joe but still it irks me a little.
Last week I read a blog about preaching from an i pad instead of paper. Honestly I found myself wondering if maybe I needed one of these little gadgets. I am after all considering becoming a full time student again. It is much lighter than books and I wouldn't need to carry my laptop too. I could pretty much just carry a larger purse. Wait did I say need, could I ever possibly need something like that? More likely it falls into the it would be nice to have category. I also found myself lusting after a smart phone last week. I have long resisted getting one of those things because I refuse to pay for internet on my phone. We went so far as changing providers because they were going to charge us for it no matter what. I have preferred to just have a phone rather than a small hand held rocket launching computer. I got myself back there again. There is no real need for me personally to have a phone like that. Maybe if I was out on the road a lot? I want to make it really clear, THAT I STRUGGLE WITH THIS.
That is in fact why I am writing this blog. I am not ready to choose a life of self sustaining poverty. However I am also struggling not to buy into this more stuff is better mentality. Where is the line? I fear that Shane is right. Which would instantly make me well, wrong. Do our things separate us from Jesus? Especially when those things have become less about things and more about status? I am scared because I see a lot of folks, really good folks, who have deep and profound faith more concerned with gadgets and theology than getting their hands dirty. I think that I am guilty of being one of these people.
The problem is I see really great people on both sides of this. I see people with amazing hearts for God. I see people doing God's work in the world. I see polarizing sides though when it comes to wealth and status and I want a middle. I need a middle.
I hope as my reader, you see that this a a very real struggle for me.
God help us not to be blinded my the idols of stuff and status.