Archive for April 2013 – Page 2

The Love Of Money

In our modern society, it is almost impossible to survive without money. The use of money has become an inescapable aspect of our daily lives. To secure food, shelter, utilities, clothing, transport or recreation – for just about anywhere we want to go and anything we want to do – a monetary exchange is involved. Whether by cash, check, credit card or online payment, most aspects of our lives are now regulated by transactional currency exchange. It’s important to stay on top of your credit as it can ruin your financial life, here is a list of credit repair companies if you find yourself in trouble.

What is the problem? Well, according to many public thinkers, there isn’t one. Common wisdom is that money is merely a placeholder for economic value; it simply serves as a technical fix that allows our modern economy to function. With the help of a regulated currency, goods and services can be exchanged in an orderly, efficient manner. Money is a fantastic invention that allows individuals to store and exchange the value of their labor.

But money has become so much more than that. In the thousands of years since the invention of standardized currency, money has consistently shown its ability to twist human behavior. Instead of serving as a means of exchange, we turn it into an end goal. Instead of seeing life as it really is – a pure gift from God – our monetary systems ensnare us in a worldview that reduces the majesty of creation and the details of human life to numbers on a balance sheet.

Money has become a sort of language. It has emerged as the communication system of an entirely new way of seeing the world: The entirety of God’s creation becomes capital to be exploited and property to be owned by individuals and corporate entities. As a natural outgrowth of this worldview, today every square inch of the earth is theoretically owned by someone. Every living thing, every natural feature – every rock, bird, mountain and forest – can be quantified in terms of economic value. Even people are measured in dollars and cents.

What effect does this all-pervasive economic worldview have on our lives? How are we affected by living in a society where virtually all of our activities are assigned monetary values? What are the long-term effects of a system that aims to operate entirely on the free market principles of calculated self-interest, where even human love is reduced to a transactional exchange?

For those of us who are seeking to live as disciples of Jesus, God invites us into another way altogether. As an alternative to the transactional economy of the world, Christ is teaching us how to lead lives of selfless giving. In the midst of a society that organizes itself around money, we are invited to receive the Holy Spirit as our living, breathing center. In a world that bows to the false powers of a human economic system, we can embrace obedience to the risen Jesus as our organizing principle.

The act of placing God at our center as a community has the power to radically alter our relationship with money. Rather than clinging to money as the only way to stay safe and in control, we find the freedom to use money to bless and empower others. Rather than being dominated by the dead hand of money, we are liberated to focus on real human needs and priorities.

What would happen if we redirected our focus onto showing love others, regardless of the cost or potential to get paid back? Would we still worry about those things that torment us now? Would we work the same jobs and spend our energy in the same ways? How might our lives change if we had the courage to renounce the false safety of money?

Our relationship to money is a choice. The culture of transaction is powerful, and it is backed up by almost all of the supposedly wise people of our generation. But God offers us an alternative that is based in selfless giving, fearless love and joy. Do we have the courage to risk it? What would it look like for us to develop and strengthen communities that embody the upside-down economy of Jesus?

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

– 1 Timothy 6:6-10

My Inner 23-Year-Old – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #52

Dear friends,

God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.

In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.

Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.

Faith and I frequently explain that buying our home in Northeast DC was an act of submission to God. This is strange. To one as ascetically-minded as me, it seems counter-intuitive that acquiring a substantial material asset could be a step forward in spiritual growth. But for us, our house represents a profound commitment to the work that Christ has called us to in our city. It is our pledge that we are here for the long haul, and that we will not leave this city unless and until Christ directs us to do so. It is my submission to particularity, to being bonded to a specific place and accepting that living things are also dying things.

As a result of this commitment, I am doing things I never thought I would do. I am juggling multiple paid jobs, in addition to serving as an organizer for a new Quaker church. I do not bother with the title, but I am essentially doing the job of a pastor – a role that, back when I was in seminary, I was sure I had no interest in. I am learning that just because something makes me uncomfortable does not mean that God is not calling me to it.

These last years have involved a lot of pruning! Yet, at the same time, I am feeling strangely inspired by my younger, less-pruned self. I recently came across a set of photos that I took back during my first weeks at Earlham School of Religion. I took pictures of the rented room where I would spend my first semester studying in the MDiv program. Regarding these photographs takes me way back. I had almost forgotten how materially austere my life had been back then. And I was so bold and passionate! Sure, there were all sorts of rough edges that needed to be sanded down – but such intensity!

As God continues to soften me, I do not want to lose that fire and intensity. I do not want to lose that commitment to truth and holiness. I want to stay true to that inner 23-year-old who hews to radical simplicity, ready to sacrifice anything for the mission that Christ has for him. And I want to infuse this radical, brave heart with a gentle love and humility, an innocence that embraces strength as a way to protect and heal those around me.

I am not sure what this will look like, but I suspect that it will be a lot less grandiose than I have often imagined. We all read stories about heroes, and so I suppose it is natural to imagine oneself in the hero’s role. But I am not called to be a hero in the epic sense. Instead, I am called to the work of a gardener, teacher, street sweeper, community organizer and friend. Here in the city where God has planted us, I am seeking to live into what it means to be a good neighbor, faithful husband, diligent worker and steadfast minister of the gospel.

Faith and I are very blessed by your continuing prayers, support and words of encouragement. Please continue to lift us up before the Lord, and ask that the Holy Spirit would strengthen, deepen and multiply our community here in Washington. Let us be a blessing to our city, a light that pushes back the darkness.

In Christ’s love,

Micah Bales