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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Churches, Charity and Money

I think we believe (as our culture does) that having money prevents the occurrence all problems. And by extension, giving money is the way to solve all problems.

That money is what defines us and our worth to each other and to the church.

Someone in need? Fund a charity. People need to hear to word? Write a missionary a check. Someone can't find a job or needs to move? Give them some cash.

When money becomes our end, and the lack of it becomes the root of all our problems, I think we lose sight of who we are called to be.

I think the real altercation between Jesus and Judas centered around this very issue. Jesus depended on others for his needs, and yet provided what others REALLY needed. Not by giving them money or helping them gain status. And not by "helping others help themselves."

Judas was angered by this. Judas did not seem to be able to get past his desire to provide the physical, to establish the treasury. There is an apocryphal account of Judas approaching Jesus with the money he had collected from people willing to support Jesus' ministry. 30 pieces of silver. Jesus had another apostle redistribute it among the poor, that his ministry required no wealth to support it, not even for daily needs. Judas stomps off, and when we next see him, he's talking to the Elders about money.

John 12: 4-6 has a similar account, though the school of John treats his words as duplicitous (following the account where Mary wipes Jesus' feet with her hair):

"4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it."

In both Matthew 26 and Mark 14, it is right after the disciples (not named specifically) are angry about the woman (also not named) wasting money on Jesus that Judas goes to the chief priests and asks their price.

I don't think Judas was greedy. I don't think he was "evil." He just didn't have faith that transcended worldly means. And he let his compulsion for security of the now override his faith in things to come.

And I think that's why he couldn't come back the way Peter did. He hadn't let Jesus provide for him in the first place (not really), so he had no hope that coming back would save him.

Maybe I am finally becoming "liberal." Except I once again find that philosophy lacking.

I think that budgetizing (new word, I know) our needs is harmful. I think predetermining what will be required of us and setting it up as a goal creates a loophole in our sense of compassion and our sense of obligation.

It's like we're capping our grace.

In my own life, I prefer to meet challenges as they come. Sometimes I wind up overextended, but I always seem to make it. And I've found that when I wind up overextended on someone else's behalf, I usually wind up with more resources the next time around.

But I know that as an institution, we consider that plain reckless. And poor stewardship. And being irresponsible.

We like to know that we're going to be around next year, so we plan ahead. We invest funds. We create capital accounts. We draw up budgets to ensure that our outputs do not overwhelm our inputs.

I think in these activities we resemble Judas more than Jesus. Jesus told his disciples to set out without anything, not even a change of underwear. He never kept anything for himself, and he didn't seem to approve of collecting funds in lieu of actually helping people in person.

It also bothered me that in every sermonette a member of the finance committee has given me (whether in person or from the pulpit), the speaker takes great care to go through all the steps and thoughts the committee went through in trying to solve the deficit problem. I have yet to hear the word "prayer" used before step #4.

We considered slashing salaries, cutting staff, reducing ministries and consulted our slush fund before praying over our efforts? That's what it has sounded like each time it's been presented.

I know that no one seems to have faith in the people of this church. That once a need is presented, people will simply step up and meet it without marketing and metrics in place. But could we at least have a little faith in God before we polarize our choices to cutting outputs or increasing revenues?

We let people vote with their checkbooks for too long, and then chased off most of the heavy givers in our battles over money and property. Not to excuse those who left, because I don't feel any better about those who would turn their backs on their family in a time of need.

But as I cross a few more names off my service list every few months, I know that it

A) Has to be impacting our aggregate contribution, and
B) That I feel ashamed for even thinking about that first.

Money is still one of UA's idols. It's just that idol is smaller now.

And I am contributing to it, though I refuse to worship it. Which doesn't mean much, except in my own head.