Monday, July 22, 2013

The Stuff People Spend Money On

I was recently driving home from helping my brother move some furniture and flipping through the radio stations when a bit of DJ banter caught my attention. They were going on about the usual Hollywood gossip that doesn't interest me at all but what stayed my finger above the seek button was a mention of the projected income for Britain from the “Royal Baby” of Kate Middleton and Prince William. The number they spoke seemed astronomical to me, $121 million was the number one DJ threw out while the other went on to list some of the trinkets and experiences that were being sold to interested parties. Being a moderately skeptical person I did a little research and found that this number is one of the more conservative estimates with some experts quoting figures as high as $400 million. My initial reaction was that of disgust at the fact that out there were millions of people spending money on such frivolities that surround that child of someone they will never see in person let alone know. I began to crunch numbers about how much good this money could do if applied properly, as I often do when I hear about outrageous uses of large sums of money (which if you are weird like I am; the low estimate, 121 million, could feed over 1.5 million children for a year according to Feed My Starving Children’s donation page).

 I was a few equations in when I realize that I had to stop myself. I was unjustly judging these nameless, faceless people whom I know nothing about. I was ashamed at their frivolity when I had no knowledge of their true natures or motives. I heard that number and in a way told myself I was better than them because of what they were spending their money on.  I do the same thing whenever I see someone extremely wealthy, even before I hear or see an action of theirs my mind wants to wander to the ways in which I would use the money more wisely. It is all too easy for me to see the wealthy people in the world and call them out for not sharing their riches without knowing the truth of their finances.I play the "what if" game in my head and believe it or not I come out looking like a pretty stand up guy compared to whoever they are interviewing on MTV cribs that day. It is especially difficult for me to see someone sitting in a church pew making a six figure income and knowing that the pastor and his family are living paycheck to paycheck. Instead of ever knowing how they may have helped others I take my limited knowledge and form a quick judgement about them.

I quickly took the opportunity to reflect on myself and my own lust for money. Let me tell you, it was uncomfortable. 

I spend plenty of money on non-necessities every day. I enjoy video games and movies, neither of which is essential to my existence. I go out to restaurants that would be considered beyond lavish in many countries without a second thought. Who am I to declare that these people should be spending their money in any other way than what they have already done? Just because the perfect self I have in my own head would do something different the real me isn't so sure I would. Is it important to want to take care of the needy? Yes but blaming others for not “doing their part” is not the way to go about it. It is hard for me to want to give up on my luxuries just as it is hard for everyone to. I live in a pretty low income part of town and there are plenty of days where I pass a homeless person on my way to buy groceries. I would love to help everyone I pass but sometimes it's just not in the budget. On the other side of it, if my bank account suddenly grew a few extra zeros would I still be in such a generous mood? Would my desire to give money away disappear with extravagant wealth? It is incredibly easy to say that we would act a certain way in a given scenario. It’s easy to give away something that isn't ours; it becomes that much more difficult to actually put my money where my mouth’s at (a perfect use for that phrase if there ever was one).

Those faceless people I judged earlier may already have donated their money and time to charity; why not let them find some joy in a goofy trinket about some famous baby? The wealthy woman in the pew next to me might have tithed plenty of her income and the church is struggling for some completely unrelated reason. That CEO might not believe what I believe about the world, so how can I justly look down on him for not living to my same credo? Besides if I were in his shoes could I say for certain I would spend any differently? Sure, in a perfect world the money spent on non-essentials would go to help those that don't have enough for necessities, but the world we live in is far from perfect and God gave us the ability to chose what we do in our lives. Who I am to judge others based on what they do with what they have been given, I am only responsible for what I do with what I have been given. God won’t look at me on judgment day and tally up percentages of giving; He will look at me alone and pass judgment on my actions without comparing them to the actions of another. Nor will He grant me any greater reward for passing judgement on those around me, and He surely will hold me accountable for the times when my anger was unjustified. I will face Him alone and when the time comes I would certainly be deemed unworthy. Thankfully I will have someone there who made sure that my selfishness and unrighteous judgement will not be held against me. 

P.S. The radio DJ’s got me thinking about this but some of the ideas were inspired by a great blog written by the guys in the great band Emery, check out their thoughts on a similar topic here . 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Walking Around Your Abyss

So I've been reading a book for the past few weeks. It is by far one of the hardest books I've ever read. It is called "The Inner Voice of Love" by Henri Nouwen and it is an edited version of his journal during a particularly difficult time in his life. Each "chapter" is something Nouwen refers to as a spiritual imperative, something that must be clung to to overcome. Some have been easier than others and some have not applied to me. However most are powerful and terrifying. I decided to keep a journal of my own thoughts whilst reading his. These are my thoughts concerning the first imperative, Walking Around Your Own Abyss. In summation Nouwen details that we must be willing to face our own abyss and realize that filling it will take time. It won't be filled all at once but we should nonetheless take small steps to slowly see it filled. 

Also sorry for the long post, emotions sometimes can't be word-capped. 

My abyss… My abyss is deep. Sometimes I want to cry out because I think it is deeper than anyone else’s. Too deep to fill. I want to give up, to run away, to hide from it and never speak of it again. Hiding behind platitudes and masks is easy. Looking into the darkness stretching beneath me is hard. It scares me like nothing has ever scared me before. How do I fix this? Is there even a way to overcome such a wide chasm? Thankfully it lies underground; the only way to truly see it is from the edge. I can usher people around and away from it most of the time. Directing their attention elsewhere is simple enough that most never know it exists. They can never know it exists. They would run too quickly if they ever how deep and dark it is. Their smiles would too quickly turn to disgust and their eyes would frantically search for something easier to look at. Their legs would respond with such vigor, leaving no time to explain but only empty space where they once stood. I would be alone again, both glad they didn't stay long enough to become enveloped in my shame but secretly wishing they had stayed only a second longer. Just a moment longer of their warmth would have helped in breaking the chill in my soul.

 I occasionally take handfuls of dirt here and there and toss them hopefully into the abyss. I dig into the earth around me and feel accomplished with every grain as it scrapes along my skin and finds its way beneath my nails. Carrying it to the edge, the weight of the soil feels wonderful on my arms. My head lifts just a little bit higher against the gravity around me. The journey is long enough to tire me; my shoulders ache and shiver to hold the dirt up. My legs weaken enough to remind me that it won’t be easy and each step gets harder. As I stand on the edge and release the handfuls or bucketfuls into the hole for a second I want to smile knowing each speck of dust brings the bottom closer and closer to the surface. In moments the smile fades and my head falls towards my chest. Before a breath is finished the dirt has left view and disappeared into the dark, leaving me to realize how pointless handfuls can be. My mind races with calculations and the numbers of handfuls needed grows exponentially. With every zero added to the end a nail is placed in the box around my heart, sealing it away. Trying to protect it against the hurt and pain that inevitably would come in attempting to fill the crevice.

I walk away from my abyss.

The path is hard to follow but it eventually leads me to someone else. They are haphazardly throwing load after load into their own abyss. With a feigned smile I offer to help. The work is hard and dirty. Sweat dripping from our brows we bend and strain our backs against the weight of each shovel full. When we can work no more the hole seems just a little smaller. It is enough to feel accomplished. They smile at me; I smile back knowing something has been done. They offer to help me fill my whole the next day. With an aloof persona I assure them I don’t need help. I’m doing just fine with my own darkness. I come up with some excuse to remind myself that I don’t want their help, or that their strength is better saved for their own struggle and need not be spent on mine.

Trudging back my crater starts out as a speck in the distance, something I could easily overcome. Hope fills my lungs and I think for just a moment that I can do this, I can fill it. As I approach closer and closer the crater grows and grows.  Bending down I fill my hands, my pockets, my shirt; anything I can fill carries dirt with me to the hole. Reaching the edge, the heaviness unbearable, I toss all of it in. Again before fresh oxygen can fill my lungs the darkness consumes my effort. I hit my knees and weep, the darkness oozes up out of the abyss and creeps in around me. Just before it closes in I see someone in the distance dumping a load of soil into their own abyss. I struggle to my feet and begin trudging in their direction. Maybe, just maybe this time I can help them and let them help me. Maybe I can set my heart free and allow them close to my shame. Maybe…

God, remind me that each grain of sand is useful and worthwhile. Remind me that darkness will become light and that the abyss can be filled. Remind me that it does not go on forever and that hope is not foolish. Help me to know that handfuls can be meaningful and that grains of sand do add up. Show me that progress can be made no matter how small it may seem. Teach me to allow you to aid me in my abyss, teach me to confront it head on and allow others to see it as well. Remind me that not everyone will run at the sight of it, that it is not too big for you or those that love me. Help me God. Amen.