That's all true, but I am setting you up just a bit, because I want you to think about the story I just told. I really think the stories we tell about our lives might be more important than the factual evidence.
For example, here’s another story I could tell: I grew up in a really poor family. We lived in one house most of my life, a trailer house that was falling apart. There were holes in the floor. There were leaks in the roof, there were windows broken out. My family often got by with the help of commodities that the Bureau of Indian Affairs distributed at the Sac & Fox Nation in the next county. We went without electricity or propane on many occasions. My grandparents had to help us a lot. My father was mostly absent, he was a truck driver and he was under the control of an addiction that lead to a dangerous lifestyle for all of us. My mom worked constantly to make ends meet. He was angry, and she was stressed, and I internalized a lot of that as my fault. My childhood was rough. I didn’t feel loved.
So, that’s all factual, but I don’t feel like it’s my story. How fascinating is it that I can change my perceived reality with the decision I make about the story I claim as my own?
Please pray with me. Creator, we place our trust in you. May the words we hear today take root in our lives. May they strengthen us to live more boldly in faith, that we may trust you in disaster and prosperity, in good times and bad, in death and life. Amen.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with money. When I went to college, Edmond Oklahoma was kind of a ‘snooty’ town. Lots of new, huge houses, boutique shopping, nice cars and huge new shiny trucks with fancy chrome, which in Oklahoma is a higher status symbol than a Cadillac. My parents couldn’t support me through college, so I depended on loans and grants and part-time jobs to pay my way. I was starting off on my own. I had some unusual challenges, but essentially, I was setting out to prove the American dream: that a Straight-A student could start with nothing, get a college education and be financially successful.
That was not to be my story, or at least, it wasn’t that straightforward. I struggled, hard, and it was especially rough because of my choice in roommates. She had been my best friend almost my whole life. I spent a lot of time with her family, who were the wealthiest people I had ever known. We always said we’d be college roommates, but looking back it was not the best match. She always had the newest name-brand clothes and shoes, ate whatever she wanted, and she didn’t have to work, never had. This was too much for my 18-year-old self to process gracefully. I became really bitter. I was always struggling and she was always flourishing and it just didn’t seem fair at all. I remember I’d dig through my car seats to find .69 in change to buy a cheeseburger or a taco. She fed her dog lunch meat from the grocery store.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong, she was generous. She’d buy pizza to share and she always had on hand the ingredients for chocolate rice crispy treats that we’d make together. But I always felt this little tinge of unspoken tension, like we both knew that I must be careful not to take advantage of her generosity, or be ungrateful.
So anyway, I entered adulthood with these two opposing negative thoughts about money – first, that I was somehow inherently unworthy of the luxury and ease that I saw people around me enjoy, and second that money was dirty and I should stay away from it.
Well, with those ideas, is it really any wonder that I’ve always had a problem with money? Almost 20 years after going out on my own, I have finally within the last year come up with a system that keeps track of my bills and when they’re due that is a little more evolved than waiting for a cut-off notice. I am making slow progress, and learning, and one day I am confident I’ll be a fully-functioning adult and really get my life together. I’ll let you know when I start a retirement account. See, I’m getting better, but the ideas I learned about money in my younger life has been a lot to overcome. I had a poverty mindset. There would never be enough money to go around anyway, so when the wolf knocks at the door, tell them they can’t get blood from a turnip. Rob Peter to pay Paul and the next paycheck is already spent. These are the words that I used. These are the stories I told.
When something would come up like a forgotten bill, or an overdrawn bank notice, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame. It was a feeling of basic defectiveness. Something was wrong with me. It was a feeling that I didn’t have the right to exist here because I couldn’t pay for it.
But in recent years, I have begun to intentionally change my beliefs about money. I can stand here and tell you now truthfully that I’m so fortunate. I’m rich in all good things. Of course, I have a beautiful home. I have a car that runs perfectly and it’s comfortable, that was a gift, and beyond these luxuries that so many don’t enjoy, I have enough to eat. I have clean water to drink. I have everything I need. It’s a true story.
I have to consciously shift the story I tell myself when a financial emergency comes up. I used to feel the lack so personally, but now I just don’t give it the weight. I put it in a zero-gravity environment, if you will. It’s there, but it’s not too heavy. It can’t hurt me. It doesn’t define my worth.
That decision I make to live in a different story changes my whole reality.
---Now, I’d like to shift gears away from the personal, and look at the bigger picture.---
There is a tradition in the Potawatomi culture of the giveaway, or sometimes it’s called a potlach. Basically, when you have more than you can use, you throw a party, and you give it all away. Having too much and not being able to let it go to use would be dishonorable. See, the earth is always providing, so having too much stored up would be a sign of distrust of the Creator.
In the Torah, Deuteronomy describes the people of Israel and their tradition of Jubilee. Every seventh year, debts were forgiven. Debt slaves were freed. The economy hit a reset button and though everyone didn’t start over completely, the bottom of the barrel was raised to at least the lowest rung of the ladder, so no one got so far down they’d never make it out.
There’s something really awesome about these traditions because they acknowledge that human life is more important than wealth. These traditions acknowledge that acquiring wealth is a kind of game that we play here on earth, but it doesn’t mean that one life is worth more than another. We’re all deserving of life and dignity.
When it comes to money, Jesus had some pretty radical ideas. I think about the story of the disciples asking him for money to pay the taxes and he sends them to find coins in the mouth of a fish. What is that? He also tells that parable about the workers who came at different times during the day and but they were all paid the same amount. “Don’t worry about tomorrow” he says, and I find that really comforting because, as I mentioned, I still don’t have a retirement account! But Jesus treats money as a non-issue. It’s going to be there when you need it. Don’t give it too much weight. Take for grateful granted that God loves you more than the flowers in the field, more than the sparrow who does not worry about her next meal. You live in God’s reality. This is God’s story.
Economic thought can create a kind of alternate reality. I watched a video this week, maybe you saw it also, but it was geneticist David Suzuki talking about the disconnect between the Creation and economics. Money is something that only really exists in this world in the human mind. No other species has developed a dependence on currency. However, we give it existence, and importance to the point that it has a force that needs to keep growing and growing, getting bigger and bigger, and we have seen that it assumes the right to plow through rain forests and sacred sites to do that. The invisible entity of “the economy” holds a sacred position in our culture. If it would be bad for the economy, it’s bad. That’s just a given. This is the reality we create. It’s a reality informed by fear and lack. A path scorched in pursuit of the dollar. My elders would say, “using the good of the land for the getting of gain.”
But I am convinced that the Created order is reality. The Created reality is that there is always enough, there is a balance to everything when you take no more than you need. If you really think about it, life is free! It’s a gift from the Creator! Human is the only species that sees the need to earn its own existence, somehow disconnecting human self from the reality of Creation. We say, “You need money to live”, that’s what we think we know. But at the very basic level, it’s not true. Now, I would never suggest that no one should work for money, because I’ve gone full-blown anarchist and tried it, and I would not recommend it. But I am saying that even if you are turning your time into money, and even if you have some money put back for a rainy day or to leave to your kids for an easier life, it’s still probably good to remember that this currency is only good in a system that we made up. The paper, the silver, the ones and zeroes in the computer at the bank, they have no actual value to the Created Reality. An apple tree will give you an apple, whether or not you offer it a dollar. It will not choose to grow you an organic apple if you offer it two dollars instead of one. I’m getting a little silly, but there is truth in this that has comforted me in the most desperate financial times I’ve ever experienced.
See it’s not that God has a lot of money, or that God wants to give me a lot of money. It’s that God looks at our money and chuckles. It’s a tool that can do things for us, and God will certainly work with it, as should we, but we remember, if there were no dollars or cents or yen or pounds on God’s green earth, it would indeed keep turning. God would still be God. Our attention to money, our grasping, our giving it weight puts us in the man-made reality and removes us from the abundance of God’s Created reality. I really think God wants us to live in the reality where there is always enough, where we do not fear lack, where we acknowledge that our life comes from God alone.
Jesus prayed in the garden that we would be One. He was One with God. He was the example of God’s perfect idea about the world – that we are One with God, that God is in all things. All things are ours. As a part of the whole, we take part in the whole. And if God is in all things and through all things and we are in God and God is in us, what could be but ours? What could we possibly lack? And if we think we lack anything, is this not a story, or dare I say a lie that we tell ourselves in opposition to God’s reality?
I might be making a leap, but I have discovered a truth for my own life that is so precious I want to give it away. I have discovered that there is nothing I can lose when I always stand to gain. If I always look for the story that agrees with the truth about God – that God’s plans are for me to prosper – then I always live in the reality that every situation is just a movement of God toward my abundance. That feeling of shame is not what I feel any more when something comes up about money. Now the feeling could be described as excitement! And, with arms wide open, I see resources being shifted away from me, and benefitting another part of the whole – another part of me – and I still stand to gain.
See, I don’t want to be bitter about people who have more money than I do. I don’t want to feel guilty about having money in my pocket. I don’t want to think money is “dirty.” It really has no inherent goodness or badness. But as Paul wrote to Timothy, the love of money, giving it weight, will cause all kinds of problems. I want to rest in the providence and care of God. I want to rest in knowing that there will never come a day when I have any less than I need, and that I will many times in my life be given the opportunity to be providence incarnate for another person. And I will gain, every time.