Sunday, June 28, 2009

To what degree do we let go?

I was reading a New York Times article a while back about Suze Orman, and while I enjoyed a lot of her advice, her thoughts on the importance of money above all else seemed quite at odds with my Christianity. Orman tells the story often about how their house was burning down and after getting them all out, he ran back in to grab their money. He came back out with a metal chest and the skin on his arms had grafted onto the sides of the chest. Orman said the lesson she learned was that money, making it, having it, taking care of yourself financially, was as important as life itself.

Then I think of the Sermon on the Mount (a paraphrase):
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you
shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you
shall put on...
Consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you that Solomon in all of his glory was never clothed as richly as one of these. Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"

In our economic crisis, Jesus' promises seem a bit hollow. Maybe if our society had followed a more Christian economic model rather than giving massive sub-prime mortgages, we wouldn't need to worry and could trust in God to keep us stable.

But we live in a capitalist economy, run by many who misheard Jesus as saying, "Seek ye first the kingdom of Gold." As for the rest of us, society demands we work, but often neglects many who do their share, ending up without healthcare, shelter, food, security, in spite of hard labor. And to add to that, sometimes even the work we have is not guaranteed.

So can I or any of us really surrender completely and expect God to clothe us, shelter us and feed us? When we know homeless shelters have to turn people away, and food banks often shut down? The current climate seems more to call for vigilance, the same vigilance towards money that Jesus called for towards the day of judgment. We must be on watch, ready for our job to end, our bank to close, or our savings to disappear like a thief in the night.

I personally don't trust Jesus to calm all the storms alone: I believe it's up to me too. I have to work and watch how I spend my money, and maybe take a second job that would end up giving me less time to be with family and friends or pray.

Yet at the same time, part of my struggle is based on a vision of my life, set by this same worldly society : I want to be a successful well-reputed journalist, living in a place of my own, with savings, the ability to travel, the occasional luxury, and a way to support myself, along with maybe a partner and kids someday. If I was willing to surrender those ambitions for the kingdom of God, perhaps I could trust the Gospel's words.

I would never surrender the call to be a journalist or to explore and travel. Those are passions that I believe God has given me. Many of the others though have been given me by society as definitions of success: maybe shedding that is what Jesus was calling for when he talked about not worrying about our lives.

I don't think God is calling for me to be miserable either. Jesus lived amongst the people and enjoyed their company: he drank the fine wine, healed on the Sabbath. He lived life richly. Perhaps it's holy to seek that, while rejecting the notions that the only way to that richness is through money.

I wish one of the Beatitudes said, "Blessed are those who seek a rich life rather than a life of wealth, for theirs is the kingdom of God."
Or that there was a commandment like "Boast of no financial success, and seek only to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and those in need."

I guess it comes down to how much I'm willing to let go of to bring Christ in, if I truly believe that he can work in my life when I let him.

1 comment:

  1. Dan. The URL is a good mildly related article in the latest Notre Dame Magazine. It is written by an alumnus who is a Wall Street insider. I'm not theologically deep, and "Rerum Novarum" brings a faint recollection from one of the lessons professed by one of the good SJs or lay religious instructors at my high school alma matter 20+ years ago. However, I thought that encyclical and the reference to John Paul II's Centesimus Annus in the context of the current economic crisis was quite enlightening.