We live in a culture that values money more than most other things. Many young people aspire “to be rich” over other life goals. Many of our executive business leaders are earning 351 times more than the average workers in their firms. And if our culture values wealth above all else, we not only have a spiritual problem, we have quite a few existential problems.
What would you do for money?
- Sell your keepsakes?
- Sell your eggs or sperm?
- Sell other parts of your body?
- Sell illegal drugs?
- Cheat clients?
- Cheat friends?
- Steal from strangers?
- Steal from family?
- Underpay your taxes?
- Underpay your employees?
- Ignore work-related damage to the earth?
- Sacrifice your family’s well-being?
- Sacrifice your own health?
Money is a lovely tool for improving our lives. It can be a source of security. It can be used as a weapon. It can change for the world for good and it can be used to hurt people.
Within the whole swirl of world issues in January 2022, it feels like a culture of valuing money more than anything else is at the foundation of our brokenness. It takes very little effort to find evidence each day that people will cheat, write legislation, invade other countries, destroy the earth, and crush vulnerable populations if it means we will become (or stay) wealthy. In the early history of our nation, people who looked like me were willing to enslave and dehumanize people who didn’t look like me for profit.
This is a sickness.
What I’m not saying: all capitalism is wrong. What I am saying: Jesus must be very disappointed.
The holy scriptures of all the major faiths lift up a way of living that values so much more than money. But we – especially in the United States – clearly value money more than we value human beings.
Yesterday a friend working with a refugee family in Virginia sent me an email (also sent to hundreds of others in and outside of the Church) about helping this family with some basic needs. The mother in the family simply wanted a pan for cooking. I received the email in the early afternoon. By the late afternoon, the wish list had been fulfilled.
People want to be generous. We want to make a positive difference to serve others. But we are also torn. We also want things for ourselves. We want to impress the neighbors. We want to feel secure. We want to appear to be successful and that means displaying lives of wealth – or at least comfort.
There is more to life than accumulating wealth.
I met with a new Church member decades ago to talk about what it meant to “join the church” and when I got to the money part (i.e. sharing our wealth as a spiritual practice) this very successful and lovely person said, “Why in the world would I do that? It would be irresponsible for me to give away 5% of my income much less 10%.“
I was speechless – at least for a moment. She missed the connection between “joining the Church” and “being the Church.” Now I’d say that the best reasons to share money with others are:
- Jesus. (He talked about money and his point was not about percentages but about what the Reign of God looks like.)
- Grace. Because we are the beneficiaries of grace, we are called to offer grace to others. Sometimes that’s about financial support.
- Partnerships. The only reason to be part of a connected denomination is to pool our resources to have greater impact for good. Most congregations cannot build a medical office in Haiti. Ten churches can build a medical office in Haiti. Among the impact my own Presbytery (93 congregations in NC) has offered historically: three colleges, countless scholarships, a hospital, affordable housing, refugee programs, summer freedom schools camping and retreats for children and youth. At this writing our Presbytery is building a disaster relief warehouse which will store provisions to be donated to victims of future tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and fires. We also build shower trailers for disaster relief groups to use while cleaning up after disasters, and those shower trailers will be built at the warehouse and transported where needed.
- Gratitude. We share because we have been blessed.
I once dated someone who taught me not to marry him when we got into a discussion about money. He commented that “of course” he would accept a job if it offered a hefty raise in salary even if it also meant that our (non-existent) family would be uprooted.
Me: But you would talk about with me first before accepting that new job, right?
Person I Didn’t Marry: Not necessarily.
Me: But you’d consider our kids and if the move would be good for them, right?
PIDM: Probably not.
Me: But you’d look at all the X-factors like quality of life and schools and if we have family/friends there and whether or not it’s a scary place in the middle of a nuclear waste site, right?
PIDM: But what if the money was really good?
What would we do for money? The answer is personal but (I hope) not individual. I hope we would consider the consequences for others – friends, family, strangers, vulnerable people, the world God made. And my deepest hope is – as many other people smarter than I am are also hoping – that one day we would value human beings more than money.