This is in response to the Acts8 BLOGFORCE! challenge question around stewardship.
I have a phobia around money. I don’t think this is unique to me–lots of people, I’m sure, have similar hang-ups. I am convinced that I will never have enough money, that I am using money incorrectly, and that I am a Bad Person for the ways in which I spend money. And so opening the little banking app on my phone fills me with the cold sweats.
I know where this comes from. I survived several periods in my life where I could not make ends meet–and trips to the grocery store or to the doctor were delayed until the next paycheck came through. I also grew up in a family where the reason given as to why we didn’t have the things the people around us did was ”people make different choices with their money.” So, I got the message that if I couldn’t make ends meet, it was because I had done something wrong. Money became, for me, a stand-in for my moral worth.
Curiously, despite money having all this moral weight in my brain, I never heard much in church about money. There was the annual stewardship sermon, which implored us to give money to keep the building heated and the lights on but not much else.
It was in seminary, with the brilliant (and now of blessed memory) Terry Parsons, who started to change my mind about money. Stewardship, as she explained it, was not an annual event designed to pay the bills–stewardship was how you lived your life.
As she told it, everything we have is a gift from God. Despite what culture says, we don’t earn what we have, and we don’t deserve it. Our material possessions are free gifts, which we are called to be faithful stewards of so that the mission of God can prosper.
That was a really big deal for me. For the first time, someone was contradicting the idea that good morality equated to economic prosperity, that I had picked up. In Terry’s view of the world, having money or not having money wasn’t a value judgement. Money (with some major differences in the distribution system!) was more like grace– since we all received it undeservedly, our job was to send it forth just as freely.
And so what did it matter whether I had money or not? Money belonged to God, not me. My job was to put money where God wanted it anyway. Does God want me to have healthcare? Then yes, I should pay that doctor. Does God want people to be able to have a living wage? Then no, I should not shop at WalMart, even though it was cheaper than many alternatives. Does God want the church to survive? Then yes, I should certainly give to my local parish and its mission.
Coming to see money and my material possessions as belonging to God, and not to me was a radical shift in my understanding and comfort level with money. It empowered me to be bolder with my resources, more able to see at work in everything around me–even the things which scare me most.