(Written on Sunday, August 5th)
For the past eight Sundays I have woken up either sad or angry. I haven’t been exactly sure why which, in turn, has provoked those emotions to further extremes. It’s frustrating to be angry for something that you don’t understand and it’s depressing to feel like you’re depressed for no reason at all. The rest of the weeks I have generally been fine. Moods come and go and sometimes you have an off day, but I find it interesting that for the past two months I haven’t had a good Sunday. It’s an interesting feeling being caught up in Christianity the rest of the week with school, writing, reading, and conversations but come Sunday to be two steps away from feeling like rejecting the whole thing.
Today our pastor spoke on Luke 18.18-30, the story of the rich man who came to Jesus and couldn’t walk away from his own possessions. The story is less about just giving to the poor (though it is that too) but more about whether our possessions are what dictate our lives or God. Having money is not, in itself, wrong. But how that money defines us and what we do matters much more and that is, inevitably, linked to God’s Kingdom. God holds everything in his possession and, yet, gives to all. This should be the same for all of us who own anything.
It is tempting to relegate the impact of this story to simple possessions, as if somehow those of us that are poor somehow escape the introspection this story calls for: we don’t have money, so there’s no danger in it controlling us.
Well, it’s true. I have no money.
(Actually, I have a little money. More money than most people in the world.)
But compared to others in the U.S. I’m pretty poor. The question of being able to get food on the table for the family or pay the rent is always in the back of my mind: I’m not sure we’ll get there this time.
So possessions tend not to be a major issue for me. Books, maybe. But this cheap computer, or my wardrobe which is generally characterized by what was bought seven years ago, or an ipod which is almost ten years old–these things don’t control me. For goodness sakes, I still use the same running shoes I had a long time ago as a senior in high school (I need new ones though…my ankles are hurting). Possessions tend not to be a major issue for me.
But ideas are a different story. These are my possessions at times and ones which I struggle to hold onto despite being called to subject them to God.
I had a professor a few years ago who sat down with our class and looked quite distraught. He was an open man, liable to spend the entire class talking about his convictions and what he thought was wrong with the world. I sometimes saw him as a little cynical, but so am I so we saw eye to eye on a lot of things. He looked at us and told us about a minister who walked into his Ph.D class and talked to the students about their potential careers and personal significance. What he said stuck with my professor for decades after and now sticks with me: “If God asked you to give up your Ph.D or minister pursuit, if he asked you to leave the U.S., leave education, and leave job security to live in a hut with an unreached tribe, would you do it? Be honest with yourself. Would you do it? If you couldn’t, you probably shouldn’t be behind that pulpit in the first place.”
This question has to repeatedly be brought to the forefront of my mind. I read a lot of books. I write a lot. I speak a lot. I blog a lot. I vlog (video blog) a lot. But Jesus asked me this past week whether that is a possesion of mine. Would I be willing to give it all up if He asked me to?
I suspect that for many in the Christian intellectual world, the answer is no. Fame and the ability to speak one’s own ideas are protected by an image of a cross (as MC Hammer would say, “Can’t touch this!”). I’ve seen people that use Christianity as a platform and use Christian humility, ironically, as a “righteous” expression of narcissism. People have used Christianity for their own political agendas. People use Christianity to tell other people what to do and how to think. People use Christianity as a means of massive networking while rejecting the “nobodys.” Books are written, speaking engagements are set up, radio shows are started, blogs are created, and so on often not for Christ but for furthering one’s own voice. I once listened to a Christian radio host who told a group of two hundred kids that they were “lucky” to get his time because he had so many other things that were more important.
Property is not the only possession. Ideas, and one’s own voice can be that to.
Why was it that I have been upset and sad the past few Sundays? I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that for once, once in a week, I was told to sit and listen. For an entire hour, vocal criticism was not an option. I was not writing a blog or writing a paper. I was not speaking to a group of students. I was, instead, instructed to learn from a pastor who I and others have supported to share God’s Word with us. This shouldn’t bother me, and yet it was starting to. I realized that every other day I could speak my mind. But here, sitting quietly in a run down over crowded Church service, I was asked to listen and not speak. Again, this shouldn’t bother me.
Jesus asked me if my ideas and my own voice were possessions? The answer, at the very least, is that they have the potential to become such and, I suspect, I was starting to go down that road. I must not ever think of my own voice as God’s. It’s not. I must never think of my own ideas as infallible. They are not. I must never think of myself as worthy of anything. I’m not.
I am only what God allows me to be. I am used only in ways that God uses me. And my own voice and own ideas only ever cease to be possessions if they cease to be about me and entirely about him.
Jesus taught me this week that to receive the Kingdom of God I must become poor. Poor, not just in relationship to possessions, but in relationship to my intentions. I must be poor in what I own, including my own voice.