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Redistribution and the Rich Young Man

Written by Daniel Tidwell : October 26, 2007

So, as a very recent college grad, a graduate student, and being very newly wed, I for one know about living on a budget. It’s funny, I remember as kid being taught that there were certain things that you are supposed to do with money. There were a few things that were essential. First there was tithing: you have to give God %10 off the top. Gross or net? Well, the answer to that always involved the question: What kind of blessing do you want back, gross or net? The next big thing was paying your bills. After this came savings/investing. I can recall conferences which my dad took me to, at which I was pressed to start investing early in order to be a millionaire by age…whatever.

All this to say, my wife and I have recently been thinking very carefully about what we believe we are meant to do with money. How do we live like Jesus in an empire that tells us consumption, capitalism, and gain are most important?

What do I do with those early teachings about money? For one, I think ten percent is as good a place as any to start. But I don’t think any arbitrary marker is all that essential to what Jesus wants from us.

As we ponder this question, several things come to mind. There’s a homeless woman who stands outside my workplace selling newspapers that an organization donates. If I’m going to buy a paper, why wouldn’t I give my dollar to her? I felt deeply convicted to sponsor a child through a national network several years ago. I am certainly not going to neglect caring for him, but how have I allowed my automated monthly withdrawals to replace my actual compassion for any of the poor I see around me each day?

See, I don’t think it’s as simple as “giving to God.” Instead, I think Jesus calls us to think carefully about how we spend our money. Even choosing not to pursue a lot of income I am, by default of living where I do, in the highest twenty percent of wealth in the world. I have some debt only because I have the privilege of an undergraduate and graduate level education.

So what do I do when I am the rich young man that Jesus encounters? Should I seek some way of straddling the empire and riding it as a vehicle to make money that I could give to the poor? I look at beautiful endeavors like the Grameen Bank, and I am thrilled by the way things can change. Yet, if we simply continue perpetuating a system of greed in order to allow the poor to rise into the middle class, we will continue to inflict the same plague of consumerism, waste, greed, and disequilibrium upon our societies and our planet.

Or is money not even the real issue? maybe money is merely a means of building a thicker barrier between myself and the single mom next door. Maybe my possessions are only a complex distraction that keep me too busy to be hospitable. Maybe my social status is just a construct that keeps me afraid of seeing the image of God reflected in the eyes of the guy who needs a buck fifty to ride the bus.

So where do we begin?

For starters, I know where to buy my next newspaper. We’re getting an extra booklet of bus tickets to give away, and I’m writing a letter to re-humanize a little boy in India who has for too long merely been an entry in an online bank statement.

I’ve noticed, I treat Jesus so differently when s/he has skin on.

Peace,

Daniel

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Daniel Tidwell currently doesn’t have an author bio…for now, he remains shrouded in mystery.

Daniel lives with his wife Jocelyn in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. He is an occasional blogger, poet, artist, baker, and student. He hopes to have a few kids, plant a few gardens, teach a few students, live in a few countries, and learn how to live hospitably before he reaches his 75th birthday (a lot to do in the next 52 years).


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    This was a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I'm impressed with your struggle over these personal economic issues. I think some of us Christians get caught trying to figure out which specific actions are morally right or wrong in any case rather than trying to negotiate what Jesus is calling us as individuals to do with money.
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    What you're talking about here is just about everyone's situation here, and you're being deeply honest about it--but a different direction from which to see the problem may help.

    So I suggest going to the "Free Jacques" link on this site, and downloading _Money & Power_.

    Jacques Ellul is maybe only half-right, but even the half that's maybe wrong is likely to put this conversation way further along!

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