Recently I read something that caused me to think about money. Not in the same ways I was there for a while, not with worry and fear, just wondering about poverty and wealth and whether one is more noble than the other. As much as I understand that money is a means to an end and of itself is neutral, I can’t help wondering why then is money such a hot topic for most people. Money is more emotionally charged than sex. It can sometimes break up a marriage faster than issues about sex, for sure.
I learn best by applying the rules of the universe to my situations. It’s also how I learned to think in law school. Apply the rules to the facts to figure out what is going on and what to do about it. The thing I like best about the rules of the universe is they are not arbitrary. Unlike man-made law, which often makes no sense at all, the laws of the universe are…well, universal. Cause and effect.
The book that started me thinking about all of this was addressing ambition and the ego, equating worth with material possessions. There seems to be a lot of this going on in America right now, so maybe that’s why it struck me.
“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” –Matthew 19:24
What did Jesus mean when he made that statement?
There is another passage in Matthew that comes to mind:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” –Matthew 6:24
Both of these passages suggest that wealth, the accumulation of material possessions, is at best a slippery spiritual slope and at worst, the path to hell.
Just for the record, I do not believe in hell in the classical Christian sense as a place where souls are sent to spend eternity in torment as punishment for mistakes made while in the body. I recognize hell as more of a metaphor for the torment we inflict on ourselves by living ego-driven lives.
Since wealth is a relative concept, I wonder how I would respond if Jesus (in whatever form he would take) asked me to give everything I have to the truly poor and join him in spreading the gospel, the message of unconditional love. Would I do it? Would any of the people I admire do it? Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson, Oprah, Wayne Dyer. What do you think? These people have a lot more money than I do and I’m not even sure what my answer would be. And it’s not because I am financially comfortable. I’m still way too close to the edge for my liking.
Even the concept of being on the edge financially is relative. I know there are millions of people on this earth worse off than I am. And when one considers all the various levels of materialism, poverty itself is more of a concept or a state of mind than a reality for anyone. Who hasn’t known someone who complains about being poor when they have much more than most people? We all do it to some degree.
There is one more passage from the Bible that comes to mind:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 5:3
The notation for this passage interpreted poor in spirit as: Those who are not spiritually arrogant.
I have had to think hard to understand the passage about being poor in spirit. I don’t think it’s talking about people of weak faith. I think–and I could be wrong–that the passage suggests that we should have the heart of a poor person. Poverty is humbling. Poor people have to depend on others for even their most basic needs sometimes. It is equivalent to being an infant or having a crippling disability. In those cases there is total dependence. I think to be poor in spirit is to rely totally on God as the Source of everything good and to accept humbly and graciously the blessings we are given. Think of how it feels to be truly grateful for what you have. For me, those moments are as close to the kingdom of heaven as I have ever experienced.
At the end of the day it’s not money that is evil, it is what people are willing to do to accumulate and keep it that defines a person. There are a lot of rich people whose goodness is not diminished by what they have. I would like to believe that, like me, they wouldn’t necessarily be eager to give up everything and live a life of material poverty, but if they were called to do so, would do it with as much grace as possible.
Maybe it’s because I have so few possessions now, but there is a part of me that understands the reason monks and nuns take vows of poverty. Not having things is very liberating on many levels. The energy we expend caring for our stuff can be used for the good of the world.
Here’s what I’m thinking about for myself–getting rid of all my debt as quickly as possible and maybe working at a simple job that doesn’t require much from me and earning just enough to comfortably meet my expenses with a little left over to put in a savings account. If more than that comes I will deal with it as it happens, but I am not interested in chasing a lifestyle to the point where that is all I’m doing, trying to earn the money to acquire and maintain things.
Money lessons come the hard way for many people. That has certainly been true for me. The way I have simplified it is to recognize that money is nothing more than a representation of the energy from which it comes. It’s great to welcome it coming from the light, but not to go to the dark side in pursuit of it.
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” ~Rumi
“To know you have enough is to be rich.” ~Tao te ching