Tag Archives: wealth

Ends, not a Means

“Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends!”

I love that line. This morning’s TFT is by one of my favorite poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I geeked out about the romantic poets in high school–Wordsworth and Longfellow and all those guys. I’m… probably one of four people in the world who geeked out about romantic poets, but I’m pretty much okay with that.

What particularly strikes me about this poem is the initial person’s ideas that it isn’t very often that “good, great” men get honor and wealth, and when it does happen it’s like some otherworldly tale. Still seems like this sometimes, doesn’t it? The good, wonderful people in life struggle to get by, never seeming to catch a break. The horrible, awful people never seem to get their comeuppance. We see it every day, all around us. Beloved friends who work hard to make ends meet have to borrow gas money to make it home while someone else shouts  in outrage at fast food workers because there was mayonnaise on their burger. These are the kinds of things that make me shake my head.

But Coleridge admonishes this friend, saying that goodness and greatness are not means to an end– wealth and success are not what good/great people strive for. (Although maybe a little wealth would be kinda nice…) No, goodness and greatness are what these men strive for. Truly good and great people already have love, light, and peace of mind. They also know that there are three things they can count on: themselves, God, and Death. Not a super comforting thought but no less true. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much wealth or power or status we have. I have yet to walk by an epitaph in a cemetery that has “Dr. So-and-So” stamped on it, or the sum of their bank account at the end of their life. (Although size and type of headstone might be an indicator…) No, what you see is “Beloved Father and Friend” or “Loved and Respected By All Who Knew Her”

Wouldn’t you rather be remembered like that? Are we not called to live humble, generous lives? When I read this poem I think about all those verses about being humble, giving away wealth, honoring each other before God. It’s easy to get caught up in the friend’s point of view–despairing over the unfairness of life. But that is not what we are called as Christians to do. No, we are called to be good, great men (and women!); to strive for love and light and peace of mind.

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Success

success

 

Success is hardly the neutral definition provided in the dictionary, especially in these United States. Success is loaded with all kinds of connotations of material gain or notoriety, impact or well roundedness, but the most invisible and perhaps most powerful connotation of success is failure. If we do not succeed we fail. Check out this amazing interview by Alain de Botton about how the American desire to crown a winner has created an equally powerful need to punish a loser.

Our faith of course calls us to turn all of this on its head, to crown the loser and send the winner to the back of the line. Or does it? In Jesus’ time were we really talking about winners and losers or were we talking about the fortunate and the unfortunate, those who had (through no fault of their own) and those who did not. This is a very different thing. Perhaps Jesus wasn’t talking about redistribution or even equal distribution, but about lack of ownership altogether of wealth and power and relationships and hope. Only then do you really see the end of the vicious cycle of winners and losers.

As the year begins to wind down and you are tempted to give thanks for your successes and lament your failures, I hope you’ll take some time to reframe, to reconsider, and to redefine the ideas you have about what success means and whether you can ever really have or want it. What else does God call us to value to give meaning to our lives? What does God value?

Getting Used to Usury

Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest.

Deuteronomy 23:20 (19)

Check out this story today from NPR on a new book called “The Bankers’ New Clothes.”

While I’m not a fan of enforcing all the rules in the Pentateuch to the letter, we might do well to pay more attention to the spirit of the law.

What does it mean for our values when such a huge portion of our economy is based on an industry that actually does not create anything of “real” value but rather is focused on amplifying the wealth of a minority and devaluing the wealth of the majority?

There is value in creating capital but I’m a skeptic of homeopathic banking.