I know that there’s a lot of angles on the conversation of wealth and poverty among Christians, but I wanted to just trace this one because I’ve had thoughts on it lately, especially with having just become a homeowner.
I was in a counseling session not too long ago and it somehow came up that I hate being privileged (and for the sake of this reflection I’m going to define “privilege” as having a middle class upbringing according to North American standards, since that’s where I come from).
For a long time, and still, I’ve tried to neglect this privilege–to appear as though I’m other than I am because how could I have been born into a high status when someone else was not? I’ve tried to resist buying [and desiring] expensive things, kept my wardrobe minimal, bought many items secondhand and in generally been content to look down on others who choose to buy items at Anthropologie. I’ve even at times had a weird kind of jealousy thing going–almost as if I envied that people could be called “the least of these” and tried my best to look and act as though I somehow belonged in that category.
In a session where I was lamenting some of these things and the weird space I felt I was living in, my counselor brought up the phrase “an embarrassment of riches.”
“Isn’t it an interesting phrase?” she said. And it honestly described the feeling perfectly for me. But the thing that she got me to do was to see that the posture of embarrassment needs to be examined a little closer. I came to realise, at least in my case, that embarrassment never lead to anything fruitful.
Because while there is true value in living minimally and simply (and I absolutely value these things!), it’s another thing to try and negate the status and influence that you have the potential to hold.
I always-and anyone who is similar to me (read: Mennonite, or just plain frugal) will be able to testify-work out of an economy of scarcity. I tend to think that generosity comes from sharing what little we have, widow’s mite style. But what if there’s also the option that God might give us the potential to have many things, much money, even a house, and allow us to be generous with that? Jesus praises the widow in that story for giving “all she had” but I wonder whether the widow would have been overjoyed to give far more than her mite, or been able to host lavish dinner parties for the down-and-out, or bought some clothes for a friend who couldn’t afford them?
It’s tricky, but I think it needs more thought than simply wishing to be other than what we are or being embarrassed to own things or make money, which is what I tend to do.
Anyways, just some thoughts for others who might be feeling lost on what to do when we have much and others have little. Be encouraged that there are ways to use wealth well and rise to the challenge to give generously, and it isn’t a rule that it is nobler or better or more Christian to refuse material abundance.