"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, April 28, 2004 I keep reposting comments in the main blog because 1) they're good comments; 2) my responses (surprise) are longer than looks good in a comment; and 3) my comments feature seems to be working only half the time.
So, Hopie said: "Within Diocesan Council, we break up into different mission groups (like Youth and Campus Ministry, Clergy and their Families, etc.) and we decide individual budgets for each program. We then bring our budget cuts back to the large group and make a case for them. There have been countless times when you, Mike, have said to the rest of our group that we need to fight for the campus ministry budget-- that they can't take another penny away from us. In our fighting for money, we were implicitly saying that we should get more than others. Doesn't this go against your argument about sharing the wealth with ALL our Christian brothers and sisters? Do we distribute everything so everyone gets a little, or do we concentrate our giving to make more of an impact?
"I think it comes down to a matter of prioritization. People need jobs in America, and people need jobs abroad. The question is who to feed first. And you can only go so long before you have to answer that question."
This is really good. It just keeps getting more complicated.
The main reason I have fought for the campus ministry budget is that I believe funding campus ministry at that level is in the long-term best interests of the whole church and because traditionally it has been one of the first budgets to get cut because it is an area that doesn't see immediate financial payback. Now, if I'm going to be completely honest, it's also easy to lead that fight because it involves people and ministry I care about. Using that example, I would say that the principle is still right -- but there have probably been times where my actions have been wrong ... where I should have been more of a team player. These things are really, really tough and I screw them up as much as anyone.
But the larger issue is the scarcity/abundance issue. People need jobs everywhere and we have ministry all over the diocese that needs funding. Now if there was only a limited amount of wealth, we would have to prioritize -- not only in terms of who got it first, but who got it at all. The thing is, in both cases, there is more than enough wealth to go around -- in both cases the wealth is in the pockets of those who have it and they are holding on to it. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has said (and he's the expert) that this is the first time in human history that we have the combination of the wealth, technology and capacity to END extreme poverty. There is no scarcity of anything except willingness of those who have an overabundance to give to those who are in scarcity. Same on the diocesan level. St. Michael and St. George's (the wealthiest parish in the diocese) stewardship materials a couple years back had a great graphic that showed what a tithe of someone living at the poverty level would be and what the average pledge of an SMSG parishioner was -- the parishioner's was less. There is no scarcity of anything except the willingness of those who have an overabundance to give to those who are in scarcity.
That doesn't get around your question of whom to feed first. Even with abundance, you have to answer that question unless you have the capacity to snap your fingers and make everything wonderful at once -- which, of course, we don't. But that question is a lot easier if we have the dedication of the people who are being fed, who are being employed, to spend their energy not building up more wealth for themselves but making sure that although they are fed first, that they are not the last, that the circle keeps expanding.
And the even larger issue is as profoundly spiritual as it gets. It's about who our God is and whether we allow ourselves to be disciples and lovers of the one, true and living God. When we hoarde wealth in its many forms, when we hold onto more than our share. When our neighbor asks us for our coats and we turn away, we are acting as if we are God ... as if we are dependent on ourselves for all that matters in life, as if we have to defend what is ours because we might not get any more. If we are to follow the God who became human in Christ, who gave the divine self to humanity in the most profound way I can imagine, then we need to strive for the same trust and nonattachment that God in Christ showed.
That's terrifying. Christ put himself in humanity's hands and humanity killed him! This isn't Joyce Meyer Ministries saying that if you give me $1000, you'll get $5000 back. There are no guarantees that if we live this way we won't lose everything and die. The only guarantee we have is that even if that happens we will not have lost what is most important and, in fact, we will have gained our soul, gained life that is eternal not just in length but in depth. The only guarantee we have is Easter, the empty tomb and a Christ who appears to us and shows us his wounds and says "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."
I am SO bad at this. I look around my bedroom as I write this and I have so much stuff that I don't need. And I can use my wife and family as an excuse for holding onto it, but the truth is I am just learning about sacrifice myself. I can say that I do give 10% of my income not because God is short of cash but because I am paying the ransom on my soul ... a soul that is more often than not owned not by Christ but by my lifestyle, my wealth and my comfort. I am tryinig, little by little, in ways far from heroic, to change. To be a better team player. To not hold on so tightly to the fiction of "what is mine." To trust God. To let go.
It does come down to prioritization. Who are we going to put first? Are we going to put ourselves or someone else. Hopie is right ... even in a world of abundance, there are tough decisions to make. And if we make them by the American rule of law, which is a damn good rule of law, we can choose putting ourselves first and rationalize it and legitimize it and be completely in the right. But we're supposed to follow a higher rule ... the rule of Christ, the rule of our baptism. That means putting others first and trusting that Christ will provide. Maybe that means the next time I'm at a Council meeting and there's a choice between cutting campus ministry and some other program, we should volunteer to fall on the sword ourselves and trust that God will provide -- and live as an example of how we feel the body of Christ should be.
I'll have to think about it. But something tells me that's right.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."