I remember coming back from the Philippines at 22 years of age absolutely convinced that we had way too much stuff over here and that we all needed to live lives of poverty and simplicity.
When I saw how people struggled to live on so little while we wallowed in such wealth I was appalled. When I read the Bible after that trip I saw it in a whole new light. I had some genuine revelation.
The problem came in that I began to decide what was an appropriate standard of living for others – I became the Holy Spirit to them and my standards (while I would never have admitted it) became law. I was for selling unnecessary luxuries and living with as little as possible. I wanted to be ‘radical’ in this stance, but I kept on tripping over myself.
If I sell my car and give the money away, is that better stewardship? Is it smarter to catch the bus and waste time rather than money? Should I have a bike? Isn’t a bike a luxury too if some people can’t afford bikes? What is really essential? And should a follower of Jesus be permitted any luxuries at all?… Or is that just selfish indulgence?…
Over the years I have softened in this radical stance towards possessions and I cringe every time I am confronted by someone who is decreeing that wealth is evil or that we ought to sell all of our stuff and give the money away. Truth rarely lives in extreme places – especially places that we choose to create. Its why I find extreme views on war so difficult to come to grips with. Can we really conceive of Jesus as either a complete pacifist or a militant agressor? Either view is a simplistic response to a complex question and leaves me cold.
At various times in the last few years I found myself wondering if we ought to sell up, give our money away and rent a house instead – which would mean paying nearly twice as much for accomodation as we currently do… Seems kinda false logic, but some of my more radical friends would argue that my home ownership ties me to ‘materialism’. Maybe it does, but does not owning a home make a person less covetous?
All the evidence I have come across would seem to say ‘no…’ Should I be racked with guilt if I buy something others will never be able to afford – if I drink bottled wine rather than cask wine?
Ideals are wonderful things, wihtout them we lose hope, but when they are translated into false laws that others must abide by then they become nasty tyrants.
I have many friends who have chosen paths of self sacrifice and voluntary poverty. Some of them do this with grace and an appreciation that their way is not ‘God’s way’, while others do it with an aggression, self righteousness and judgementalism that infuriates me. If the bane of evangelicalism is mediocrity and banality then the achilles heel of the social justice crew must be the self righteous attitudes that condemn others with more possessions or different political views.
I have been blessed to know some people who work for justice who exude that gracious spirit, who make me want to be like them because they have Jesus likeness about them, but I have also been assaulted by those who would call me a ‘wealthy middle class prick’ because I own (part of) a house, two cars and a boat even though the total value of cars and boat would be less that $10K! 🙂
Anyway just don’t give me simplistic answers to complex questions. I might turn a bit nasty…