I read a story today shared by one of my Facebook friends whom I’ll simply refer to as Joe. It is a powerful, illustrative story shared by the Lutheran Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton about money and our weird relationship to it.
Here’s her story in her own words:
“A church in the Northeastern Ohio Synod describes itself as a ’50/50′ congregation. It gives away half of offerings received. A significant portion goes to mission support, but the congregation also supports local projects and ministries. I visited this congregation on the day it was bringing in offerings for a special appeal. One by one, somber parishioners came forward and placed their offerings in a basket before the altar.
Farther back in the congregation I noticed a girl, maybe 5 years old, sitting on her father’s lap. She squirmed and wriggled until he gave her his offering and set her loose. She came tearing down the aisle, check held high, looking for all the world as if she had won the lottery. As she returned to her seat, I pointed out the joy of giving this little girl embodied. Someone from the congregation quipped, ‘It’s not her money.’ I waited for a minute and then said, ‘No, it’s her Father’s money.'”
Nothing has changed.
It’s all a gift.
No matter how much or how little you have.
It’s all…all of it…it’s all “the Father’s money.”
Most people never learn this, however. Which explains their weird relationship to money throughout most of life.
Sometimes, I know my readers on Your Best Life Now or the Huffington Post – Steve McSwain or who follow me on Facebook – Dr Steve McSwain wonder what I do. Sometimes, a few will muster the courage to ask me, and usually they do in a private message, “What do you do?”
I respond with one word “Money!” and just leave it at that.
Most do, too.
The one subject about which most people will not talk is money, unless of course they mistakenly think you might know how to get more of it.
Which many seem to think I might just know. At least at first, they do.
If you’ve ever flown on commercial airlines as much as I have, you know how irritating it is to sit beside some stranger who believes the two of you are best friends who haven’t seen each other in years. You exchange a polite hello but it does not end there. In fact, from the first hello, he has you. From then on, and almost the duration of the flight, his mouth runs faster than a Boston Marathoner.
It’s all about who he is, too, what he’s done, what he’s doing, where he’s been, where he’s going, and on and on he goes. Nauseatingly.
Just before the flight comes to an end, however, and he’s finally slowing down on how fortunate the world should feel that God has brought him into it, he turns and asks…
“And, what is it that you do?”
“Money,” I respond.
“That’s right, money.”
By which he, and almost everyone else, assumes I mean, “I am a stockbroker or a banker or a financial advisor,” none of which would be true. Not exactly anyway. So, I take this brief interruption in his recitation of just how wonderful he is, to explain…
Money, Money, Money!
“In our society, there are those financial advisors, abundant in number I might add, who tell others how to make all they can, save all they can, and die rich. But that would not be the kind of advisor I am.”
“Oh?” he typically responds. “There is another kind?” he asks and genuinely surprised.
“Yes” I answer. “I’m the kind of financial advisor who encourages people to make all they can, then GIVE AWAY all they can, in order that they might die broke.”
That ends the conversation.
It did for Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler, too.
You most likely remember the story of the young rich guy who approaches Jesus one day and asks, “Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”
He asks the second of two questions that concern most religious people today.
Go into almost any church in America today, watch almost any preacher on television today, and you’ll hear two primary sermons being preached. The first is along the theme of “How to be happy, healthy and wealthy in this life…”
It comes in many packages but that’s the basic message.
The other sermon you’ll hear is “How to stake your claim on eternity…how to get ready to meet God…how to know you’re going to heaven…how to be sure you’re saved!”
It, too, comes in many shades, but it’s basically the same pattern.
What more could anybody want from religion?
Prosperity on earth now?
Security in heaven then?
The substance of most religious rhetoric today.
So, the rich dude, presuming he had made already a shit-load of money here, which he probably had, and was now concerned to secure his place in eternity, asks Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?”
They rehearsed a few things after which the rich dude responded, “But Teacher, I have done all these things. Isn’t there something else?”
To which Jesus responded, “Well, yes there is. Go…sell everything you have…give it to the poor, and then come follow me” (Mark 10:17-22).
That ended the conversation.
It ends most conversations today, too.
And, that’s because the hardest lesson to learn in life is the lesson of detachment. It’s the core issue of faith, however, precisely because what most of us want is content…something to which to hitch our soul because security is our greatest concern, whether in this life or the next.
It’s all about security. Just think about that today. Think about how much your life is driven by the want of security.
It is the explanation for why people are attracted to a preacher, or religion, who promises wealth and prosperity today and eternal security tomorrow.
But that’s the irony. The rub. The crux of the matter.
To have, you must learn turn loose. “To gain,” said Jesus, “you must lose” (Matt. 16:25).
Hardly the American way. I mean, we are so drunk on “winning.” Talk about “winning,” and you’ll have followers. Talk about losing, however, and…well…it’s a lonely world.
This is what I call the “great TRUTH reversal.” It’s just the opposite of everything you’ve been taught. Everything our western culture is built upon – independence, ruggedness, having, getting, attaining, achieving, becoming, acquiring, possessing…
Madness. It’s all madness. And, it’s the greatest single delusion of life. Because we are scared, we seek. We want. We crave. We claim. We acquire. We save. We sue. We will do almost anything, believe almost anything, lay claim to almost anything…and all to feel secure.
And, the irony?
We never do. Feel secure, that is.
Which explains why the rich have to be richer. And, the poor can think of nothing else.
I don’t know much about poverty because, like the Rich Young Rule, I have had it pretty good in this life. It’s the next I get preoccupied with…worry over.
But the rich? The really rich? Well, now, they might just be the most frightened of all. Or, insecure. Same thing. Why? Because they have more. Plain and simple. If you have more, there’s more to worry about. A bigger security blanket is needed to make them feel more secure.
And, most don’t.
Faith, however, real faith has little to do with content. And, everything to do with conduct.
It’s all about letting go, not latching onto.
The eastern religionists knew this, too. Indeed, they have known this for a long time. Which is why the Buddha talked almost incessantly about “detachment.”
Jesus came along after the Buddha and his message, though shared in a different context, was virtually the same. He told the Rich Dude, “Sell everything,”…his way of saying, “Detach…let go…be done with…and then, Come Follow Me.”
But instead, it ended the conversation.
It ends most conversations today.
I mean…come on, now…
Who wants a religion that’s all about…
Getting all you can…
Giving away all you can…
And then, dying broke?