Monday, 5 October 2020

Vows of poverty?

 There's a thing about being brought up a Christian that says "thou shalt not be rich, and if you are then it's wrong and a sin". Note that I didn't say this was a biblical teaching, but it certainly underlies a lot of the 'truths' that used to be imparted and bible stories that were told. Rich man and Lazarus, camels and needles, (gates or otherwise not withstanding). Many of the words of Jesus on the topic are fairly straight forward and without nuance, although much of the OT is. My grandfather* was convinced that if God had given him wealth he would have lost control and come to a sticky (i.e. sinful) end. Certainly some of my forebears would have looked askance at the idea of personal wealth, even though there would likely have been significant jealousy within that look.

I've known of key church leaders who've determined to give away as much as they can. Historically it seems that often the call to Christ and the call to be poor go hand-in-hand (bet the missional guys keep quiet about THAT bit!).

When Chris and I were first married, it wasn't unusual for guys to travel door-to-door trying to 'offer' investment opportunities, and they found it almost unbelievable that we had no interest in money and making more of it (wider context here - Margaret Thatcher's government was in power, greed was good and everyone suddenly discovered they could own stuff). We would politely tell them that we weren't bothered - we didn't have much anyway - and weren't worried for the future (in what I now realise was probably a slightly smug-appearing Christian way).

So it begs the question, are we called to be poor?

This has become pointed for me because we have inheritence money that needs to be invested before even more of its worth fritters away in savings schemes. When money is hidden in savings accounts, getting a little interest, you know it's being used to help others and it's invisible, just numbers on a page. If you instead invest it in something like a second home, suddenly it's very visible, in-your-face in a way only bricks and mortar can bring home. 

So back to the beginning, we automatically - I automatically - think poor. I don't think bigger picture, continuing to scratch around for odds and ends to mend and make do, because I know being well-off is wrong. In 2019 I changed camera systems, selling off the old stuff and investing significant money in new kit - and have felt underlying guilt ever since for doing so. Guilt colours decisions about money and the future in ways that are just plain dumb, and makes it difficult to make simple rational decisions. While talking with Chris the other day I realised how much my 'thinking poor' locked me into un-thinking caution and fear of losing everything because I dared to try something different.

And I don't have an answer to the question.

I could reach back into Christian double-think and say that if you're called to poverty and have faith that's where you should be then it's right for you, ditto being wealthy. But I don't think God particularly works that way, at least for most people who are just trying to get on with their lives, doing the best they can to provide. It's not a case of being full of faith that they are in the station in life that they were pre-destined to occupy (and woe betide them if they get ideas about changing that station) but trying to live by walking down the path that's in front of them as they are best able.

 Is the flip-side that if one becomes well off through application of those Christian values of hard work, diligence and personal growth then you can quietly nod & wink toward the idea of poverty while enjoying the money your hard work has earned. If you're grateful for being able to earn well, does that make it OK? Is a bit of guilt a necesary price, and a burden we should just simply carry like st. Christopher**, on our backs, knowing it will do us good in the long run?

This may be somewhat muddly - I have several slightly different strands of thought running around right now, and they may have become a little tangled. 

Guess I'm just trying to think through some of the hangups in my family history.

Just as an addendum, let me tell you that it's much easier to be poor when you're young, single-minded, determined, energetic and enthusiastic. When you're older, achey, tired, sceptical and have been broke at times in the past then the whole poverty thing looks as attractive as fish that have been left somewhere warm for a few days.


This turned out rather longer than expected for a coffee-break post.


*I'll balance this with a phrase my grandmother used to apparently quote quite frequently, that contentment with godliness was great gain. She'd had many moments anxious about money and knew a thing or 2 I reckon. Though not about managing wealth, other than the theoretical principles.

** People like to make up stories for better legends, and Christians are just people like everyone else.


  1. Bingo, this is right on my street Toni.
    I mean the questions, not the answers.

    Yes I agree, its far better to be poor when young. When I think of it now it gives me some cause for reflection on just how good my life is right now.

    I think I have been living with a bit of a poverty mentality that makes me try and save save save because right now we are making more than we ever have before. But that also comes out of a place where I don't have to depend on God for the stuff of life. So its making me not have to depend on Him in the same ways I have in the past. (Or at least in the same areas of need).

    And ditto I cringe when I buy a new computer for work etc, because of the cost and I could just as well bought a cheaper one.
    It also has me being poor furniture etc. because its cheaper.

    My growing conclusion is that my attitude of poverty is still shaping my life, just on the other end of the line now, not because I have little but because I have much.

    My speech is starting to blur as well. But I hear your struggle and heart in that post.

  2. Thanks Randall. I think it's a sign that money still controls or heavily influences us, and that we're not really free - only that we are relatively wealthy compared to previously. I also notice that in a work context I can spend £20,000 on a piece of kit without any concern other than whether it will do what's required, and that somewhat confirms the control money still has.


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