Well, this is interesting. Over in Science, we have the headline “Wealth may have driven the rise of todayâ€™s religions.” Meanwhile, the Huffington Post’s science blog says religious believers will become a world minority, and ultimately perhaps disappear entirely, thanks to economic prosperity. Seems like there’s a need to get the story straight. [Read more…] about Science Corner: Good Grief! Even My Dogma Has Gone Commercial!
First, before reading any further, make a list of the top three things you struggle with as a Christian. *** I used to have a great view of the back lot of our block. Â In the center is a little island of wild grass where a few abandoned cars sit tiredly, waiting to rust into the ground or be stripped for parts. Â Around it is a ring of gravel with enough divots and potholes in it to make me swerve my car along it as if driving through a minefield. Â This circular pathway is itself surrounded by small lawns that boast a variety of cultivation. Â Some are nicely kept with little gardens set in neat patches of greenery. Â Some are strung with clotheslines or inhabited by barbeque grills and patio furniture. Â Others are fenced off to keep the big dogs inside, even though their loud barking at night stretches beyond the chain links to echo with the yowling of stray alleycats. Â Our lawn seems to be a magnet for the litter and trash and dead kittens of the alleycats, the ones that the SPCA did not get to spay. Last year, when I first moved in, I kept the window open at night with a large box fan. Â It was a great fan, blowing in some of the tepid and humid summer air as well as all the noises of the lot. Â I spent a lot of those nights struggling to fall asleep, sweating fitfully in bed while listening to the barking dogs, the bass of passing cars, the creaking of neighbors’ doors, and more barking and yowling and occasional gunshots from the nearby park and then more barking and yowling. Â I desperately wanted to get an air conditioning unit but was told by my housemates that the electrical wiring near my room was old and that an AC unit might blow a few fuses. [Read more…] about Money Makes Good Insulation
Listening to the Day Ahead speakers, it occurred to me that we were focusing mostly on sacrificing time, energy, even the privacy of homes as professors who seek to serve students, but I heard little about issues of wealth. Jesus of course spoke over and over about issues of money but these concerns did not find a place at FC08 alongside stewardship and sacrificial usage of the other resources with which God has blessed us.
Are we then only mostly following Christ, or is this a call that is outside the sphere of university ministry? Am I adding a burden that is outside the full gospel, or is wealth simply not on the â€œradarâ€ of most American Christians?
I ask these questions as I have wrestled with the transition from graduate student in the social sciences (not as rich as engineering or natural science students who actually earn money in the form of stipends for their schooling, yet not as poor as the language and literature students who have fewer scholarships available to them) to new professor making more than three times more money. I neither want to let money concerns be the guiding force in my life (such that I fail to cultivate campus friendships because many faculty socialize by eating out) nor do I want thoughtlessly settle into a middle class trajectory that does not question my use of money any more than it questions how I value time or energy.
What worried me at the conference was that we are very comfortable discussing issues of the correct philosophy or theology or intellectual approach to problems (after all we are intellectuals!) but I find myself much less comfortable delving into issues of money. That discomfort leads me to ask whether there is a stronghold of power and status that I am unwilling to relinquish.
Such questions have been strengthened in reading Day Ahead speaker Mary Poplinâ€™s Finding Calcutta. Mother Teresa emphasized that full obedience to Christ, including living at the poverty level of poor Indians, leads to full freedom to follow Him wherever He leads. As American Christians, I would guess that we consume at the same level as our non-Christian friends, buying as much stuff, traveling as frequently to far-off vacations, and eating out at restaurants as often as others do. As American Christian academics, we do not seem to wrestle with the easy position of status and wealth accorded us.
What am I suggesting then?
Mother Teresa herself was not against enjoyment of all the fine things God has made available. A friend told me a story of Mother Teresaâ€™s reaction to a young couple that planned to spend $500 on an evening of dinner and music. â€œShouldnâ€™t they give that money to the poor?â€ was the question put to Mother Teresa. No, but they should remember the poor, replied Mother Teresa, and give money (an equal sum?) as well to the poor as part of the nightâ€™s celebration. (How much richer the eveningâ€™s enjoyment might be, knowing that others are also being blessed at the same time!)
Mother Teresa was not advocating punishment or self-denial for its own sake. But I am suggesting that we raise questions about (and consider thoughtful alternatives to) how we use the money weâ€™ve been given to steward. As another friend said, denying ourselves should occur because we want to experience more of Jesus, not because we want to fashion crosses for ourselves that the Lord has not asked us to carry.
If we are to deny ourselves materially (by living below far below our means or by giving away much of our income), the promise of Christian community is that we can share in the excitement and support each other in the struggle to live out a counter-cultural call to simplicity and sacrifice. Such denial is difficult, maybe impossible, to do alone but it is certainly less fun than if we share in the journey together.
Are these irrelevant objections, or are we only mostly following Christ?