Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Wow. Yeah, what Derek just said. Worth posting in its entirety:

Here are some things I said at church on Sunday in a talk about money:

The typical North American journey through adult life with money goes as such:
1) Graduate from High School
2) Take a loan and go to college or university
3) Work off this loan and get married.
4) Take a loan to buy a house and start a family
5) Work off this loan and start thinking about retirement – ie. Invest, Invest, Invest
6) Retire and live the life you’ve been postponing for 35 – 40 years.

This journey is not a moral journey. It’s just the typical path that our culture has chosen. It’s been different in the past, and it’s different now in other cultures. But many of us follow this pattern because maybe we’re unaware of other options. The problem is, as we’re moving along in this journey, we’re realizing that the things that we value most, our top priorities, are at the bottom of our ‘To-Do’ Lists… if they even make it on. If Kingdom living is supposed to be attainable on Earth, I’m thinking that maybe there is a flaw in our system somewhere. I don’t know the answers, but I would like to offer a few alternatives to this journey that have seemed to help Joy and I. They’re changes that seem to challenge the “givens” of our current culture.

It seems like having a full-time job, as a producer of some good or service, is a given in our society. For the past two years, I worked in Norway House as a High School teacher – Full Time. As with most jobs, the 8-hour workday doesn’t exist for teachers, it ends up typically being 10-12. When I took stock of my priorities – Kingdom living, family and community – the time I allocated to these, my most valued things, was miniscule compared to the time I gave to my job. Now I’m working part-time and my values and my schedule are much more lined up. ---- Here’s a little exercise I did that helped me analyze my actions vs. my values.
Urgent Non-Urgent
Important- Physical emergencies God, the poor, family, community
Unimportant- Work Watching TV or reading the paper

The things that fill most of our time are the Urgent, Unimportant things, whereas the things that we value most are probably the Non-Urgent, Important things. We need to give greater urgency to these important things.

The second given that I’d like to challenge is full-time life as a consumer. This goes hand-in-hand with full-time work, because full-time wage labour was not a consistent thing in North America, until it became socially acceptable for average people to go into debt by purchasing houses, cars, etc. In North America we really like to spend money that we don’t have, and this really fuels our economy the way it runs now. The alternative to this consumerism is something called Simple Living. As a Christian interested in simple living, the key verse is Matthew 6:33, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” The first must actually be made first and maintained as first, and then all the rest can come along and find its place. If all the rest comes first, we’re not living in all that God has for us. It may seem like we’re living responsibly, but we’re missing out. A quick parable told by Soren Kierkegaard helps. A wealthy man was traveling by carriage and when it started to get dark he lit some lanterns to create a pool of light around him and his carriage. He felt secure, because thanks to these lanterns he could see and felt safe. A poor man was traveling the same night and as it go dark he had no lanterns to light his way, but one by one the stars came out, and each of his steps was safe and secure. The rich man had security, but it was security he had created, and of a lesser kind than what God had created or the poor man. In his poverty, the poor man was secure in a different way, as he did not have any possessions to hide the glory and faithfulness of God and his starry night. You might ask, “How could we live like this poor man?” Some practical suggestions to live simply are: bartering, car-pooling, living in community, sharing tools and major appliances, growing your own food – all of which is happening in our community. If you want to hear more practical examples, talk to me later. It seems that if you’re living with less and working less, you have more time to experience the kingdom of God through community. You can experience generosity, both giving and receiving, when possessions are shared, and you have the blessing of experiencing God’s provision, in a way that you wouldn’t by constantly meeting your own needs. Complete independence is not kingdom living.

The third given I’d like to challenge is our perspectives on attaining security. And this is linked to the first two. Traditionally, our concept of security is purely financial. We invest into RRSPs, pension plans, etc, to make sure our future is secure. The alternative I’d like to suggest is a much more holistic security. It’s not just financial, but it’s also spiritual, emotional, physical and mental security. This security comes from investing in people – investing in community. Financially, this means what II Corinthians 8: 14 says, and this was read last week, “At this present time, your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality.” Holistically, this means investing your time, service, love, encouragement, and even money, when you have plenty, and receiving the same when you have need. Emotionally, Joy and I have had immense need recently, since River died. Our community came around us and supported us, and we felt very secure. Our son didn’t have life insurance, but we were totally provided for, with a house, with food, and everything else we needed in this tough time. This was a direct fruit of relationships built over time, and the cycle of generosity will continue from us, to others, when they are in need. Another example is, a friend of ours comes from a culture where the elderly do not rely on pensions to survive. They put their financial investments into their children. The money that might have gone into RRSPs went to their children’s education, with the understanding that their children would provide for them in their old age.

It’s amazing that somehow we trust God with things of such vast importance in the world, like maintaining Creation, the poor and the suffering Church, global catastrophes, and more, yet, after we give our 10%, we give Him little control over the other 90% because we feel we know better. It’s the same with community. We have faith that our community will support us spiritually and emotionally, but do we have faith to believe that they are capable of meeting our physical needs? Can we find the humility to place our security in the hands of our community? Again, independence is not kingdom living.

To recap, make sure that your highest values match up with how you spend your time. You’ve probably never heard of someone, on their deathbed, with their dying breath say, “Ohhh! I wish I had spent more time… at the office.” So make sure you become conscious of what you value most, deliberately become aware of what you actually do, and then give urgency to the things that are most important. Make sure that you “Strive, first for the kingdom of God” and maybe question where your security is placed.

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