Acceptable materials to start a fire: wood, old newspaper, twigs, gasoline and matches. Untraditional, but equally good, materials to start a fire: love notes from past relationships, written evidence of personal secrets, old journals and money.
The last one should grab your attention. Can you imagine a fire started by a pile of 100 dollar bills? Hardly. How would you react if I asked you to give me all of the money you had to start a fire? I’m guessing a punch in the face. Even if you let me, I would say you were a couple of crazies short of Tom Cruise.
But here is the frightening thing about all of this. Money is just paper. That’s it. It burns like anything else. So how did we get so attached to something as simple as paper? If I were to actually burn a pile of 100’s, I think everyone would scream at a decibel level short of a 100 babies loud. The entrepreneur would scream because it is money that could be used for an investment. The social worker would be outraged because it is money that could have been used to help someone in need. The Christian would be crushed because that money could have gone toward the general offering. But it’s still just paper (along with some cotton). It still burns.
What is it then that makes money so appealing? The appeal is in what it stands for. Money isolated means absolutely nothing. Money in the context of society means everything. It is a way to measure social status, a way to place value and a way to measure how “blessed” someone is. Above all else, it is a symbol of superiority. It is what money stands for that makes us love what it is. There is where the problem lies. We need it to survive. There is no way anyone could take a job and say, “I appreciate the fact that you are going to pay me, but I’m fine without it thanks.” We all need money to pay for our bills, to buy food and to put gas into our cars. Without money, we cannot survive.
But then I think about those that are commonly without. There are plenty of people that have less money than I do and still manage to survive. They learn how to get by on less, how to live life without. To be honest, I still do not think that it is a concept I can even begin to grasp. Growing up in the suburbs, there was always a way to attain something, even if it required “sacrifice” to save money over a long period of time. To choose to live without instead of more is a strange and foreign concept.
Humanity is such an interesting creature. My senior pastor once told me that when the income of an average American goes up, so does their spending. He told me that it was simple economics. When there is a surplus, there is more to spend. If I had a larger income, what would I be doing? My instincts jumped to the idea of upgrading my computer, buying half decent groceries and getting a not-so-crappy cell phone. The sad thing is, these were ideas that popped into my head in a manner of seconds. But in reality, I get by fine now. Life may not always be luxurious, but each day God has provided me with enough to survive. Not only that, but He has also helped me live day to day with the joy that I can have in Him.
So what is it inside of myself that despite being perfectly content now, would buy more things if I had an increased income? It is because I can? Because of what money stands for? If I had a larger income and could buy better things, then not only would my life be more comfortable, but it would place me above those around me. But what would happen if my income increased and I continued to live the way I do now? What if all of this excess, which I did not have before anyways, went to helping those that truly needed help? What if instead of buying into a culture that tells me to better myself, I truly bought into helping those around me?
I like to think that my mind is geared toward social justice. I like to think that I have an idea of the problems going on in the world. I also like to think that I am doing something to help contribute to the solution. But despite these things, I see that inside of myself I still have a deep desire to keep this material wealth. The frightening thing is no one would ever realize that these desires are a bad thing because of the values of the society we live in.
We all need to do a better job realizing we have more greed inside of ourselves than we like to believe. One of the hardest, but most effective solutions to poverty is to realize how greedy we actually are. It is not a message anybody likes to be told. All of us can do a better job of truly letting go of our need to be wealthy. If we truly let go, we would be like the apostles, moving from town to town, spreading the word of God, and knowing that God would provide. In this age, I see apostles about once every never. The freedom from material wealth the apostles lived in is something we can all glean insight from.
I think about the purchases I make on a weekly basis, and I have to ask myself, Is this something I truly need? A lot of times, I don’t, but I buy it anyways. I always fall into this trap. The trap of more.
The reason I endlessly fall for this trap is because poverty is not real to me. Poverty is not something I need to experience. Even though I see poverty every day in downtown Minneapolis, it is not a concept I choose to make a reality in my life. I have to come to this realization: Whenever I make a purchase in my life that raises my standard of living, at the same time, I am making a conscience decision to do nothing about poverty in the world. Every time I make a decision to buy into the better myself mentality, I get more addicted, and I take away from someone that could have gained.
If we all maintained this communal mentality of spending, it would change how our money is spent. It all starts with realizing the greed that we have built inside of ourselves. It takes having a humble enough attitude to look inside and realize that we are greedier than we like to think. When we break our addiction to the better myself mentality, then we break our addiction to the ways of this world. Nobody wants to be pushed outside of their comfort zone. When we break our addiction to money, we lose that comfort in a very physical and tangible way. When we lose a piece of the comfort we have, we are bringing up those around us who are less comfortable.
This is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. Learning what it means to be on an equal footing with those around us. When we cast aside our economical pride, we truly allow ourselves to bring more of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. Do not continue to contribute to the problem, be a part of the solution. Live fiscally with the knowledge that the fates of many are constantly at the mercy of your pocketbook. The eradication of poverty starts by breaking our addiction to money one person at a time.
Let it start with you.