Sunday, July 6, 2008

Getting the Camel Through the Eye of the Needle...

One of my most recent posts focused on perspectives of poverty and the challenge of understanding it. This very likely brings us around to look at the other side of the coin. What is it like to be rich…and if one IS rich, what is their role and responsibility in life based on their good fortune?

First to dispense with a couple “wives fables” about money and morality. Many people quote the Bible as saying “money is the root of all evil”. That is not correct. It says the “LOVE of money is A root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9). It also says in Eccleciastes 5:10 (for those who don’t believe in the New Testament:)) that “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” And Jesus himself said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kindom of God.” (Mark 10:25).

Now, is all this quoting to allude or suggest that being poor is better than being rich? I don’t think so. I think it is more about owning our money and not letting money own us. We probably all know people, and maybe have sometimes been guilty ourselves, of being primarily focused on material pursuits in life to the detriment of our family, friends, maybe even our own health. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having financial goals and setting ourselves up for future financial security. In fact, this is strongly recommended in various Biblical passages as well as common sense. People who are financially self sufficient tend to be healthier, happier, and freer to live life as they please than those who live with heavy debts and are continually stressed out about getting by.

I continually have to go through self examination on this issue in life. I have never been totally focused on financial security. Instead I have tended to be the extreme risk taker, entrepreneur, more comfortable than most with “living on the edge”. I have had years of significant financial gain, and I have had serious financial setbacks and failures. I have been a lifelong student of how money works and what it means to people as I sell one thing or another to them…but money has never had the significance to me that it has many in my family or circle of friends. It has been more important for me to do the things I want/like to do than to spend my life pursuing a steady paycheck. Though mine has not been a road commonly taken, I actually have few regrets…and somehow I have always had a deep down sense of future success and security that comes from one of my core beliefs from childhood…”"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26)Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)”. Even through all my doubts and issues with modern Christendom, I have always strongly sensed that life has direction and purpose and that while we can affect it in many ways based on how we think, in the end we each have a unique and directed destiny. If we do the right things, good things happen most the time. Sure, life rains on the righteous as well as the unrighteous, but I still think good people survive the rain better…and most years farmers see fruit from their labors.

But what about the “happiness quotient”? Who are happier, rich people or poor people? It has been my observation that some of the UN-happiest people I have known were among the wealthiest…and some of the HAPPIEST people I have known were some of the poorest. This is perplexing, don’t you think? We grow up with all the commercials and culture around us pushing us to have nice things, a successful image, and a model’s good looks. New cars, new houses, new clothes…it seems to be the focus of most peoples time and conversations. For me those discussions get boring in short order. I like nice things as most people do. I like fast cars and motorcycles, and yes, wish I could afford an airplane right now. But…my life and conversation doesn’t center on that stuff like a lot of people I listen to. I am more about feelings, experiences, philosophy, people and spirit.

Many wealthy people I have known have had substance abuse issues whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, what have you. For some of us, having money gives freedom to “escape reality”. Perhaps some of those people have a sense of guilt they are covering up with those activities? Did they make their money honestly? Did they earn their own at all? Or, do they have something to prove to some third party in their family or network that drives them in some unhealthy motivations and directions? Each of us is different I suppose. But I have noticed that a lot of people who have a lot or nice things are somewhat paranoid about losing or sharing them. On the other hand, I have known a lot of poor people who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it or demand that you take the best bed and room in their house when you visit them.

Living here in Latin America I notice a lot of poor families who seem to always be together, arm in arm, smiling, clean and well mannered. Then I return to the states, or see American families come here, who have lots of money but seem to be estranged from each other. The kids are more ornery and demanding. Every one is shouting at each other. It’s a very noticeable cultural difference. So, in my mind achieving the “American Dream” is no guarantor of happiness. It seems the more we get, the more we want…and our lives become focused around serving our money or our things. I don’t think it has to be that way to gain reasonable financial wellness and we can find balance between work, play, family, friends and alone time.

As for attitudes toward the poor, I think it is important to have humility in dealing with those less fortunate than ourselves. I have always realized that I can take no personal credit for having grown up an American, in a reasonably successful family, and had good schools and mentors as I grew up who shaped me to any level of success or education I have achieved. Sure, I can take credit for whatever I have done to build on those advantages I grew up with, but to take pride in having more than other people…well…I can always find plenty of people who have much more than me. Am I envious of those that have more? I would be lying to say I don’t envy some of the people I know who have had better fortune or made better choices than I have in life. That doesn’t mean I begrudge them having what they have…as long as they maintain their humanity and don’t become totally absorbed with their “wealth” or things. There’s nothing more obnoxious and even sad than to see someone so absorbed in their money and things that they cannot relate to anybody else that isn’t at a reasonably equal level. I respect people who wear their wealth and success with elegance and simplicity. In recent years I have met some of the wealthiest people I ever knew who you would never know they were “loaded”. I also have run into quite a number of people who flaunt their recent good fortunes and have become isolated by their wealth by putting up their own walls. I think these are the type of people that Bible passage was talking about…easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than for this type of rich person to enter the “kingdom of God”.

The “Kingdom of God” can mean many different things in my mind. One thought on this I have is that I believe the world we live in NOW is centered around a divine plan. I think we are meant to live as “rulers of this kingdom” the creator has given us. This alludes to having control and dominion over every aspect of this kingdom…including ourselves. We don’t have to wait for some future world or after life to begin living righteously and at peace with ourselves and our fellow man. If we can learn to control OURSELVES, we can then learn to control or affect the world around us more positively. If we have the gift of “growing wealth”, we should think of it positively and with a sharing attitude, both in helping others learn to do the same, and sharing a portion of our wealth with those less fortunate. If our wealth owns us, well…we will be missing the boat on a lot of other experiences and people who could enrich our lives in ways other than financial. We will be riding that camel to a very small point on the horizon of life with little hope for true success.


Timothy said...

Hey Ed,

Not that I don't agree with many of the points you make in this post, but I think you're not taking that camel verse seriously enough. Jesus said that the destitute were blessed, and that the kingdom of God was for them. From what I read in the Gospels he gave no exception to rich people who wore their wealth with elegance and simplicity. In fact, he found the idea of a rich person entering the kingdom of God so absurd and hilarious he used the "camel through the eye of a needle" metaphor.

It isn't a view anyone today would call 'moderate' or 'reasonable'. But we're stuck with what Jesus said sometimes hehe.

Bibiana said...

Yo opinare, basandome en mi percepcion.
Es cierto lo que dices, la gente con dinero, atesora sus cosas y vive en una burbuja, no quiere entender y conocer que otra gente vive muy mal.
Es bueno tener comodidades, dinero, cosas nuevas, disfrutar, pero, el problema es que el dinero fisico, te conviertes en su esclavo.
Ya no quieres conocer nada mas, solo servirle al dios dinero y el poder que el te da. Controla todos tus sentidos, te vuelve ciego y sordo a las verdades del mundo real.
Mucho menos conocer que hay seres humanos, ninos sin que comer, que esta noche van a dormir en la calle y sin un bocado en su boca.
Pero a que persona en el mundo, con lindas casas, carros, ropa, comida y todos lujos en abundancia le importa esto, o le quita el sueno? A nadie.
Asi es de que "Quien va a meter el camello en el ojo de la aguja"? Buena observacion.
Totalmente de acuerdo Ed.

edward said...

Tim...i hear where you are coming from. Yet, taking theology as a whole in space, time and history, many of God's historically "favorite" people were rich leaders of their day. Take David for example...he was the beloved of God but was King and rich ruler of the old testament world in those times. Of course he was tainted with failure after going after a married Bathesheeba and having her good soldier husband killed in battle purposely. He paid a terrible price according to that story of old.

Solomon, Davids son with Bathsheeba, was also very wealthy and very least until his points of failure.

The Bible is full of stories with people being blessed and cursed, up and down. Take Job for example...a very rich man...who God took everything from...then gave back to him "7 fold". God seems to have quite the sense of humor sometimes.

Jesus himself said "the poor you always have among you"...but he never said "everyone should be poor". So, I think it comes back to definition of "being rich"...and one's moral qualities based on what they do with what they have. Like the old verse..."to whom much is given, much is required". I think this lives out true. When you have a LOT, you have a LOT to worry about. Yet...when it comes to giving...I'd rather be a giver than a taker. To be a giver, I have to accumulate something. So...I just cant buy into theology based on everyone should be poor and give away everything that they have. This to me has historically been contrived by various religions or governments to manipulate "believers" and "citizens". We live in an age of "guilt manipulation of the believer". Most fundamentalists I think operate on as much a sense of guilt in their pursuit of God, versus a sense of joy or freedom in pursuing their God. Its fine to acknowledge our shortcomings as human beings, but I dont believe we were created to be sniveling failures and lower than the animals we are supposed to be "ruling" over in this domain.

Ah...theology...such a never ending discussion and circle. As one's faith is, so be it. Personally, I think being "rich" is a relative term. Some people in the world think people making $1000+ per month are rich. Others look down on those who are not well into the 6 figure income. And, depending on where you live, a 6 figure income can be a paupers wage. Sad but true realities of this strange world we live in...

Thanks for the dialogue...

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