Friday, October 21, 2011

The Annoying Disciple....Me.

Bear with me.  I so wanted to name this post the Annoying Apostle since it had the irresistible charm of starting with double A's, but I thought the more traditional among us might get their panties in a wad if I put myself as an Apostle, which is typically reserved for men.  I won't go there.  I proceed.
   In my attempt to aid my husband in attaining his Master's degree in Philanthropy and Development, I decided to read a book titled "Richistan", which supposedly is a glimpse into the lives and thinking of today's wealthy.  And, of course, if you're in Philanthropy it would serve you well to understand the inner and outer lives of those you will probably be hunting down for money for the rest of your dear life. By wealthy I mean anywhere from, I think it was $10 million in assets to the billionaire "I have so much money I can't even count it all" group.  Let me tell you, this book blew me away.  Not because it discussed the elaborate butler school that some of the wealthy use, where the house boys (and girls) learn an elaborate dance to perform as they serve you your gold-encrusted meatloaf.  Ahh, no.  I was neither impressed with the "who-can-build-the-most-ginormous-yacht" race either.  

     What stood out to me the most was two-fold: Apparently, according to the aforementioned house servants, one of the biggest fears of a lot of super wealthy people is....can you guess?  Murder by a jealous family member? Nah. A recession?  Heck no.  Perhaps falling off their skyscraper-high decks aboard their fantastic yachts?  Wrong again.  It's GERMS.  Germs????  Really??  I was so tickled by this.  And yet, it so makes sense.  When you have so much money and are truly living the high life, I guess it would scare the Armani pants off of you that you might get sick and die and lose it all.  Second most intriguing point of the book would be the survey which asked the super-wealthy how much money it would take to give them a sense of financial security.  To which almost ALL of them replied with an answer that was twice as much as they currently had.  So, if they were worth ten million, they said it would take twenty million to feel at peace.  If they were worth fifty million, they said a hundred and so on.  Wow.  Okay.  Wow.

   So, as with most new tidbits of information, it got me thinking.  I read somewhere where Jesus talked more about greed and the danger of material possessions more than any other sin.  Would love to have the time to count that to see if it was true.  But just off the top of my head, I think that might be right.  I can think of numerous examples of Jesus warning about money.  One of my favorite is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Oh, golly gee, how I've thought about this story in my lifetime.  Too many times to count.  I won't copy and paste it from an online bible because I know everyone just tends to skip over bible passages, but I'll summarize.  It's that whole story where the rich dude lives the good life in his mansion and Lazarus is basically dying right outside his gate.  Then, as all good things must come to an end, the rich man dies and is sent to um.....hell.  Yeah, it always seems to get my attention when Jesus tells a story and it ends with someone's rump in eternal fire.  Holy Moses!  The dude went to hell?? Really? Like, the real hell?  Then I moan and groan and let out a primeval scream that says: "AAAGGGGHHHH!!!! I don't want to go to hell!!!"

       Seriously, I would have been one of the more obnoxious disciples.  Putting myself in that biblical setting makes me sweat.  I, no doubt, would have been sitting there, my loaves and fish in my pockets for my afternoon snack.  He begins the story of the Rich Man and I, enthralled with every word, marvel at his superior story-telling skills.  Then, He gets to the end and he just figuratively condemns someone to never-ending-flames.  I gasp! I fiddle with my loaves and fish and probably let out an unintended scream.  I then start to hyperventilate as I raise my hand, hoping to be called on by the Master.  Agh! He sees me.  Oh no, He IS going to call on me.  You doofus! Why didn't you just keep fiddling with your fish?
"Yes," He calls out, "You over there with the bulging pockets full of fish and bread."
Umm....I start to get the paranoid sense that He is calling me "rich" with all my fish and bread.
"Ahem," I begin, throwing my fish and bread at random people who look freakishly thin in the crowd, "I just thought maybe, that while you were telling that awful story that, um, well, you seemed to be looking at me the whole time, and, um, I don't know, uh, well just tell me, would you???!?!?!  WHY LEAVE A SISTER HANGIN'?!?!?!?  Am I going to hell?? AM I RICH!?!?!?!"  And then I fall down in utter exhaustion over the thought of being roasted for the ages.  It's just too much.

   See, that's how I think.  I read these books about rich people where it's so obvious that there is extreme wealth and over-the-top purchases but it always creeps back in that I become afraid that I'm rich.  Why?  Because it's all so damn relative.  In "Richistan", the rich people surveyed didn't think they were wealthy because they always had someone else to point to who was more wealthy than they were.  Even the one's worth a hundred-flippin-million dollars just pointed to Bill Gates- now, HE is wealthy, they said.  Ugh.  What? I want to slap them with their wads of hundred dollar bills.  But, isn't it true?  Would you say you're one of the wealthy??  Most of us probably not, we'd just point to the people who have more money than us, just like the super wealthy do.  Only, if you asked a family of five living in a two bedroom apartment and riding their bikes to work and school, and suddenly....they're pointing at you.
    So, while I enjoyed reading the tales of those who live on Easy Street, once again wisdom whispers closer to home.  I find myself grappling once again with the biblical definition of rich, aghast at its purposely-hidden definition.  For, if it was so easy to excuse yourself from the self-examination of opulence, a lesson in self-knowledge may go away unappreciated.  I glance at a quote from my dear C.S. Lewis (a man who saved my winning personality from utter savagery-and thus, I will thank him by mentioning him in the next five hundred posts):
       “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them” 
  Oh dear.  It was fun mocking the rich while it lasted.  Alas, I find myself at the end only heckling myself.  It's okay.  Really.  I needed a kick-in-the-money-pants.  I'll go now, and lick my spiritual wounds.  Now, as I think about it, if I was back there, close to Jesus as He told that story, maybe it would have been different.  Maybe He would have looked at me lovingly, even smiling a little at my nervousness.  Maybe He would have called me over to sit on His lap, and taking my hand, looked into my eyes.  And maybe, just maybe, He would have said, "It's okay.  I love that you're trying.  I love that you want so bad to be good.  Work on it, keep trying.  Heaven isn't for the perfect, but for those who kept trying so hard to love Me."  And maybe I would have pulled out one of my fish and the rest of my bread, and gave it Him.


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