Thursday, October 19, 2006

STEWARDSHIP?

I have been having a discussion over at signposts.org.au about the socalled stewardship theology as opposed to "poverty theology" and "prosperity theology"

Some clever people have tried to make those that believe following Jesus means making a huge change in how your money is used, into some new breed ascetics that find some kind of personal piety in not having much. And they have profered this idea of stewardship as the proper balance between two equally extreme abherant teachings.

Well let me just put my opinion out there, and I hope you will all be able to understand where I am coming from: that is a pile of shit!

:)

The accurate portrayal of the so called poverty gospel, says that we take the issue of stewardship to be part and parcel of the gospel. We see it as impossible to say we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday. We see the idea of living in splendour while people are starving all around the world, and people are dying because they have no clean drinking water, and people dying for lack of medicine for preventable disease, as all issues of stewardship. We believe that there is enough stuff to meet all of the needs of the world, but that our consumerist society has embraced this insane philosophy of more, to the detriment of our neighbors afar and close.

The "poverty doctrine" says that we will not only live more fulfilled lives but actually follow Jesus more accurately by living simply, so others might simply live. That if you have too much stuff, you have someone elses stuff.

This doctrine states that we are to be stewards of this world, and that means cherishing it and protecting it as the maginificent artwork God has created. To seek for ways to erase our dirty foot prints, and live in ways that are complementary to nature, not just consuming of it. This is all about stewardship.

However, this idea of stewardship is turned on its head by a faulty interpretation of scripture. The idea of stewardship becomes the idea of "God gave me all this money I should use it and invest it and make myself as secure as I can with it, so I am being a good steward of what God has given me. In other words, we have take our individualistic consumeristic culture and used it to turn Gods word into an excuse for us to take care of number one. It is simply a justification for selfishness. Or in some of our more virtuous friends, for familyishness. And it gets more extreme, "if I have this extra money I should invest it not give it to the poor, because then I can make more money, and then I will have more to give to the poor, but why shouldn't I invest that too? And ofcourse I should by a bigger house so I can use it for Gods glory, (which usually means I will have a church barbeque there once or twice a year and maybe have someone over for dinner, rather than taking in a single mother or asylum seekers. And ofcourse I should be the Mercedes, it has a higher resale value and is safer and I want to protect my family its all about being a good steward mate!"

Yes I believe in stewardship, but not in this Christian version of it, no thats not what I mean at all.

rev

20 comments:

David said...

It is an over simplification to say if you have too much stuff you have someone else's stuff.

It's good rhetoric but doesn't acurately state the truth.

For example, some people work harder or in areas of high demand and thus earn more money. Some people are lazy or want less stuff than others.

Do you really think if we consume less then people in poorer countries will be able to have more? Sorry, it's not as simple as that. Poorer people might do better for themselves if they are given skills and finance, rather than handouts. Accomodating single mums or refugees is just a temporary patch that doesn't fix the underlying problems. Poorer countries might fare better if richer countries removed trade barriers, or didn't interfere politically.

Your view of the world, John, has been so mis-informed by your personal biblical thinking that it has become way out of kilter with reality.

It's ok to be idealistic, but why not let idealism be informed by historical reality?

The Rev said...

So David, how many times have you seen people that were poor be given handouts and wind up right back where they started?

So I say it isn't enough to give them money but you must also provide community for them. You must also teach them social truths, and teach them skills. You do this be actually living with them not by sending them some seeds.

I have actually done this stuff and seen it work spectacularly, so perhaps my world view has been mis informed by my own experience. Ofcourse that doesn't sound so good, does it.

If we consume less, then we can take the money and use it to do things like create sustainable clean drinking water for people who need it. You cannot work if you are sick from parasites. We can use this extra capital to provide seed money for creating small businesses that create income not only for them but for others.

Perhaps you should tell me your brilliant plan and how you are putting it into action?

rev

David said...

Do not mistake my "cheap potshots" for disapproval of what you are doing, Rev.

I may only have made one small financial contribution, but I intend to make more.

Rebecca said...

Hey Rev...I'm sure you think that "we" need "them" as much as "they" need "us", right?!! :P

David, certainly it's not enough to simply consume less - but the ways in which we consume do have an effect on the underlying problems. Ie if I'm prepared to pay more for my food, esp for organic produce, I influence the economic viability of farming and therefore influence farming methods. The history of the area just north-east of where I grew up shows a frightening pattern: dropping commodity prices, followed by drought, followed by overgrazing due to the impacts of the first two factors, followed by fire, followed by severe flooding due to the erosion caused by all of the preceding. What if enough consumers got together and voluntarily paid more for their meat and veg?!! That might offset the effects of free trade pushing commodity prices down, which would ameliorate all the other factors.

Or what about the change in McDonalds menus over the last few years? All because of one, albeit extremely popular, film. :)

Paul said...

I think this is well meant, but I am wodnering what you would say to most old testament saints who were considered very wealthy and also many new testament ones. I think there are times of plenty and times of famine. And yes we are responsible for helping people.

I have served three churches that have never even come close to this. The one I serve now is in the middle of a "stewardship" campaign to buy more land, yet we can't even make budget. I am about to be laid off because they can't make budget. That seems really wrong to me, but I don't see how anyone is actually doing this either.

Anonymous said...

Rev what you said has struck a chord with my own thoughts of late. Ok David sure it may be a little idealistic, however I do not think it is worth throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Our consumption in the west is having massive effects upon developing nations, through 'them' producing stuff that is consumed predominantly by western countries. 'We' built the factories there in the first place because it was cheap labour (which is not empowering for the people in these places) and 'we' were aware of the effluent created, which is why we built it there.

So yes, indirectly our consumption is linked, because regardless of the skills and financial assistance given, if ways out of poverty are not provided then poverty will continue. Yes, fair trade etc needs to be explored and become operational, but that on its own simply is not going to fix poverty on a global scale. In many cases, are the trade prices solely keeping people impoverished? Alternatively, is it a range of things, from the governance of the country through to international debt? Therefore, is fair-trade in someway reactionary? On the other hand, could it also be, consider a way of easing our conscience, allowing us to sleep at night. I feel that I have gone a little too far in that last comment, but for sake of an argument ;)

Back to the original topic of stewardship, our middle class values speak a lot about safety and comfort. It may not be comfortable living among people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, and housing them within your own house etc; and it could be labelled a reactionary to consume less so that we can give more, however sometimes reactionary is all that is left. Yes, education is required to get to the root of the homelessness problem, but what then of the homeless single mother. Do you say to her...?

"This isn't great for you living on the street but we are working on the root so maybe within a year (minimum) you'll have a house and know how maintain it. Anyway great to see you I’m off home."

I think it goes both ways. If we are not careful, we rely sole upon reactionary methods to fix complex issues. However, something also needs to happen immediately, and if it is that we need to rethink our consumption for the sake of our ability to give to others around us then so be it.

Geez what a spray.

David said...

Isn't the administration and organisation of our collective wealth by some rule-based system or a set of "personal principles" precisely the wrong direction?

It's not whether we "consume less" or "buy fair trade" or "invest ethically" or "buy a modest car" or limit our personal consumption, or support a fair governmental social policy/taxation system, vote Greens, wear cardigans or talk nicely.

All of the above simply perpetuates the divide between those comfortably off and the marginalized; it keeps the poor in their place, keeps the mentally ill wandering the streets, and produces another generation of social problems.

Shouldn't the Christian response be more about creating supportive communities into which we bring people in need. Communities in which people can develop/heal/rest/achieve/whatever in meaningful relationship with others. It would seem that churches have hardly scratched the surface in developing this concept. Where do you see church groups developing housing projects in which church members actually reside and which house the homeless, mentally ill and drug-adicted? No, a typical church welfare "program" might be a soup kitchen staffed by volunteers, an emergency housing assistance "program", a free counselling service, or the dispensing of food vouchers.

The whole idea is to create a community where all people, which means especially those who do not currently belong anywhere, are an integral part.

If this is what you are indeed doing Rev, why don't you post some more details about it.

Kathy said...

David,
Let me introduce myself. I am John’s mother, and you’ll be surprised to hear I live in a gated community that feels like a resort. I’ve worked hard to secure my own well being. I have all the trappings, lovely home, nice clothes, great job, but John still loves me and doesn’t judge me. When John was growing up, my ex-husband and I tried to give our boys everything we could afford. John was raised by an overprotective stay at home mom and a hard working and successful father. Although John had to help pay for his tuition (John started working at age 14) he did get to attend a private Junior high and high school and we tried to provide all the boys with all of life’s necessities and as many extras as we could afford. When John first finished school and entered the workforce he bought nice clothes, fancy watches, and other things to enhance his life. When he a Raquel first married they were into fixing up as nice a home as possible and loved nice things. Then John and Raquel became youth pastors and things changed. They started working with troubled kids and while helping them they started changing their outlook on life, on others, on the world. I found it scary and didn’t like that my grandchildren weren’t getting all of life’s material comforts and fancy clothes. I felt a lot of the feelings you expressed about John getting a regular nine to five with all the benefits, that they strive to get a house, a good running a car, an IRA, but as I watched I saw so much good happening. John and Raquel were no longer consumed with their outward appearance, or their home’s appearance. They not only were giving so much of themselves to these kids and eventually to the homeless around them but it seemed to me they were learning to give so much more of themselves to each other and to their children. The less they had the more they gave and the more they gave to others the more their relationship flourished. These two who scrimped by were still able to help those in need. I watched and a few times experienced them opening their home. In fact always before they came up to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family, they and their little church community opened their home to the street people. They had to be fed before John and Raquel were able to relax and be fed. They threw a big feast too, with all the trimmings, they didn’t scrimp on anything. The few times I went I’m ashamed to admit it but some of those people didn’t smell too good and I didn’t want to get too close, some even scared me, but their little church embraced these people. They talked with them and listened to them, they even hugged them. Isn't that the first step necessary before you can help someone. You need to accept them for who they are, embrace them where they are, don’t judge (because you often don’t know what brought them to where they are). Why should you expect others to accept you if you don't accep them. Once you tear down that barrier they will be more willing to accept you, trust you, open to you, and only then will you be able to help them. This isn’t easy to do in large institutions and most troubled people shy away from large places. But one on one they don’t feel threatened or overwhelmed, they feel accepted and loved and sometimes it’s the first time they have every experienced these feelings. Now I don’t feel we all need to live the extreme and I don't think John does either. A community should consist of people who work and provide and people who administer and tend to the needs of others. Kind of like a marriage (I’ll get a lot of slack for this but) I believe one partner needs to work to support the family while the other needs be there to tend to the family’s needs. Now that I am working I believe it all the more. It isn’t easy coming home and having to clean, cook, shop, do the wash. If I had to do all that plus spend time talking and listening to the other family members problems I would zone out. If I’ve made it sound like one day John and Raquel woke up and just gave up their old life style that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a struggle giving up some of life’s little pleasures and some of what at that time seemed like life’s necessities but they persevered. As a mother I am proud of John, Raquel and my grand-daughters. I no longer pray for them to get a successful job because I realize they are richer than anyone I know and far more successful. My prayers now are that God will give John, Raquel, the girls, and all their church family, the strength, health, wisdom, and love they need to continue doing God’s work amongst the people who need us the most, the people to whom most of us would hand a dollar to and then turn away. Thanks John and Raquel for quieting your lives enough that you were able to hear God speak to you and for obeying.

Rebecca said...

:D

That's lovely. Thankyou for sharing Kathy!!

David, you're right - of course we should be trying to create supportive communities. And there's plenty of examples of Christians doing the things you describe!! Maybe you need to dig a bit below the surface and find out where they are and what's happening? I'm sure the Rev name some groups and inviduals if you're interested, and I definitely can.

David said...

You're fortunate to have achieved your current position, Kathy. The fact that John's work has produced a change for the better in your own life outlook must also be rewarding.

Rebecca, I would be interested to know of the identity of these various communities, provided of course, they are happy to be identified. You can contact me via email, david517 at optusnet dot com dot au.

Keith Lowell Jensen said...

Right on Mom.
I'm dang proud of the Oz livin' Jensens too.

And David, thank you for your respectful and polite respons to our mom.

David said...

Doesn't mean I can't be rude to you, klj, you evil atheist.

What have you achieved in life, apart from a string of dead-end jobs and broken relationships. With the concentration span of a gnat and the intellectual capacity of a bacterium, you can't seem to hold a thought for more than two seconds, let alone a job.

David said...

Mind you, klj, you could ask the exact same question of me. Well maybe not as many failed relationships.

Incorrigible is the word.

Keith Lowell Jensen said...

I'm celebrating 13 years in a wonderful relationship come January.
Other than that though, I'm a complete failure, since I measure a man (or woman) by how far they've progressed up the corporate ladder and by how fat their bank account is.
I hope to turn over a new leaf though. I have an interview at Taco Bell in an hour. Wish me luck.

Ben (its been a while!) said...

Its such an interesting debate... one that I struggle back and forward with all the time. In fact my wife and I had a long discussion about this stuff today.

I remember hearing someone on the radio the other day reminiscing about an old 60's tv show and how one of the characters used to have a jacket that had patched on the elbows to avoid wearing holes in it.

I got to thinking, when is the last time that I bought new clothes because the ones I have are worn out?! I recently have been feeling like I need a whole new wardrobe because I have 'nothing to wear'. The truth is that I have about 30 shirts in my wardrobe, none of which are 'worn out'! (must mention the fact that most of them are unwearable because I'm too fat for them now!! Due to all the food I eat because I am 'starving'!!)

On top of that I have probably 3-4 pairs of shoes that I never wear! I was thinking, isnt it amazing the shoes that I 'need' when I go on holiday. Thongs, casual shoes/runners, and some black dressy ones.

Suddenly - I dont need a whole new wardrobe (maybe just to lose some weight!)

Barro said...

Hi guys,

interesting following some of this discussion, someone once said what you see when you get out of bed in the morning will determine how you think, and might i add read the Bible, currently I am in bangkok partnering with some great people (UNOH) in a slum community, as a rich fat white western male, and seeing the reality of how many live, I think Jesus has much to say with what we do with our possessions, it is easy to justify oursleves, but at the same time it's not just abolut getting people onto a guilt trip.. we need to act, we live in a global village and the facts are in the so called civilized west we consume far too much... just try seeing it through someone else's eyes

Makeesha said...

preach on rev, preach on!

Rebecca said...

david - I've seen your post, will email you when I have a chance!!

BruceD said...

Sometimes I think christians encapsulate themselves in a systems of rules because it's easier to follow a rule than it is to trust the Father.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rev

Well if you look at the mount of transfiguration, Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

We as men are always trying to put God in a box, especially when we see something good. Men see the poverty theology, as well as the prosperity theology as good for them and God.

I believe everything 100% is His and we have to be willing to give when he asks.

In Him
Lori