Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Now, Listen, You Rich People," part two

So, the first issue James seems to have with the rich people he condemns is that they're sitting on their money, not using it productively. Their gold and silver are corroding with disuse.

Now, I'm going to tread in some dangerous territory here, because I am SO not a financial or economic expert. But I'm also not a dummy, and there are a few things about money that are hard to deny. One is that people with a lot of it don't hide it in their mattresses, or use it to "line their pockets with". They invest it. And money that is invested is being used to grow someone else's business, supporting someone else's family.

Another thing I know: when rich folks spend their money on some luxury like, say, an in-ground heated pool, somebody out there is selling them that pool. Somebody is getting paid to install that pool and probably to maintain it. I know "trickle-down economics" is the worst of curse words in some circles -- and as I said, I'm not even going to pretend to be any economics expert -- but let's at least admit that the vast majority of wealthy people are NOT corrupt and their money is not sitting dormant. Somebody, somewhere, is using that money to live.

But getting beyond the national scope of the question (which really is above my pay-grade), I'm more concerned with my own money. Our savings. Are we "hoarding money in the last days"? Hoarding is an ugly word. What constitutes the difference between wise saving and sinful hoarding? Maybe I should think about that more, but off the top of my head, hoarding has connotations of obscene excess and selfish motive.

How much money is too much money to have? Yeesh, that's an impossible question to answer. Personally, I've always been of a mindset that you can't ever have too much money in savings because you have no idea what financial needs are in your future. (My father's twenty-one year battle with Alzheimer's solidified that conviction in my mind.) Saving money is wise. Maybe one of you would like to weigh in on that question of how much is too much, but I'm going to move on to . . . what's happening to that money while it's in savings? Is our wealth "rotting", our "gold and silver corroding"? Is it sitting, wastefully unproductive, or is it being used to manifest good?

I'll be perfectly frank -- my husband is the financial expert in our family, and he knows better than I do how our money is invested. And maybe I should pay more attention to that.

But for six or seven years, our family sponsored (in my eldest's name) a girl in Indonesia through World Vision. A couple months ago, we got notice that our sponsorship was going to be terminated; I called World Vision asking them what-the-heck. They said that the community Jelita lived in had come to the point now of being fully self-sufficient and did not need financial support any longer.

Fully self-sufficient -- the whole community! Now, THAT was satisfying! That thirty dollars a month was well-spent. Makes me want to sponsor a few more kids this time around. Makes me want to put more of my money in local efforts, where I can personally see the good coming of it. Where I have concrete evidence, in front of my own eyes, that my "wealth" is not rotting, but is being multiplied like the loaves and fishes to be a blessing.


Ona Marae said...

First off, I think you need to revisit who "rich people" are in the world. Almost every American, unless you have no income at all, is in the top 5 percent of wealthiest people in the world. Therefore, I think God is talking with us all. Even I, who make less than a thousand dollars a month, fall into that category, I think. So the lesson falls to me also.

But I do feel we are called to make some tough decisions....think of the birds of the air or the lilies of the fields....I have a friend right now who is having mental illness issues in a big way. She hasn't worked for 10 years but took care of a dying mother who had cancer. Both of them lived off the mother's retirement. Now the mother is dead and my friend has been unable to get a job (Lives in a very depressed area of the country and like i said, has some serious mental illness issues, like paranoia) She has used up all her savings and sold what she could sell. What do we do for her now? What do we do WITH her now, is probably the better question.

My savings are about $500. I need a cavity repaired and new eyeglasses since my eye surgery. But what is a tooth compared to her loosing her home? She has applied for disability benefits (a whopping $650 a month to live on I might add) but it can take more than 6 months to get those IF you get approved the first time around, which most mental health folks don't, so then it's 12 months. Minimum.

She has gotten rid of cable, long distance, everything she can afford to cut and has her expenses down to where my $500 might buy her another month. The Gospel reading recently was "sell what you have and give alms to the poor." I feel I am being led to wait until she runs out of other resources and sources of help and then give her that money. The few people I've told think I'm crazy. "You have to take care of yourself first." Well, that's not what Jesus said. This is not being a martyr, this is being a follower.

I guess I am as open to input about this situation as you are on your blog in general. Thank you for writing about this and helping me think about it.

GJK said...

To begin with, thanks for your reminder about the relative wealth of everyone in the US. We are far more blessed than we realize.

And what we each do with the relative amount of "wealth" God has put in our hands is a very individual decision. But I am a big-picture person and I'm trying to draw up some general Biblical principles here. One would be that wealth should not sit stagnant when it can be multiplied and used for good. (Consider the parable of the talents -- even the guy with only one talent was expected to make it work, not bury it in a hole.)

The lilies of the field reference was a good reminder -- my personal experience has probably led me to find too much emotional security in a financial stash. But I won't go so far as to say that saving money for a rainy day is showing lack of trust in God (and I'm sure that's not what you're saying either).

You are a generous woman, and if God is leading you to that use of your money, you need to obey God. I'll pray about that decision (and for your friend.) Here's my dilemma upon hearing that story, though: there simply HAVE to be other people in your friend's life or living in her area who can better afford to assist her right now than you can. THEY should be helping her. How do we connect her with those people?

See, I'm at the other end of that problem. As I said, I would love to be able to "invest" my money in people here in Siouxland who have genuine immediate need like that -- where I KNOW the money is going to be used well and be fruitful. I've always felt that God has more to accomplish in his command to help the poor than merely the physical survival of the poor -- he intends to do work in the hearts of the giver and receiver alike. And that work is exponentially less likely to happen the more removed the giver is from the receiver. But how to connect giver and receiver? And to be blunt, from my end, how to ensure that receiver is not taking advantage of giver? Or should giver not care -- just do the giving and let the receiver be accountable to God for what they do with it?

Thanks for engaging me in this conversation, Spesh.