Giving–Conscious and Unconscious Spending: a Reflection on James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a and Proverbs 3
We consciously and unconsciously spend from our Christian wallet, our life’s wallet. That is, how we spend our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital is sometimes with awareness or not. A USA Today poll back in 2013 cites an anger and fear epidemic among Americans:
According to a new USA Today study, the share of Americans who report feeling angry or irritable has surged from 50 percent just two years ago to 60 percent today. A Harvard Medical School study from 2012 found that nearly two-thirds of American teens admit to having anger attacks involving the destruction of property, threats of violence, or engaging in violence. “Some are describing this as ‘America’s anger epidemic,’” says one New York news website. It cites unemployment, the economy, and for those who have work, overworking, as contributing factors. But we’re not only angry. We’re also afraid… of one another. “For four decades,” reports the Associated Press, “a gut-level ingredient of democracy—trust in the other fellow—has been quietly draining away. These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972.” The AP article concludes, “Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say, ‘you can’t be too careful’ in dealing with people.”
There is wisdom here, my friends. Remember, wisdom is knowledge that has proven the test of time. I find wisdom compelling, in that it beckons me to keep examining how anger and fear inhibit the spending of my intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital.
Conscious and unconscious spending is about character and having congruity between our Christian words and actual behavior. Our Christian speech cannot be unconsciously peeled away from or Christian practice.Proverbs 31:10-31 is instructive in this regard to character. Unfortunately, this text is often and usually used on Mother’s Day, which provides limited use of this powerful and instructive text. This portrait of a godly woman is incredible, but it has been used to keep women in a subservient and lesser role than men as opposed to lifting such character traits to speak against the power structures that oppress and further “victimize” women when they speak up for themselves in the injustices they experience. Far too often women are not accepted as peers or respected. Often, women do not receive equal rights, pay, opportunity, status, or accountability. The characteristics of the woman described in Proverbs 31 should be embraced by men in that as we embrace the strong characteristics of the female gender, we will better see how we need each other to fulfill God’s design for humanity and its salvation. Our lives, as Christian wallets, are lived uniquely yet similarly by women and men. H. James Hopkins writes that there is “needed work that is best accomplished together, work that expresses faith, hope, and love in ways that build people up and bring people together.”
Let me conclude with three questions, which the text in James beckons us to ask. First, who is wise among you? We must consciously assess that our lives cannot spend to feed ego or to fulfill some need driven by envy. Second, from what do conflicts, and disputes arise? We must consciously assess how our spending can easily be driven by selfish ambition, cravings, and coveting. And third, what does God want? We must consciously begin, more and more, to submit ourselves to God and God’s ways. Spending our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital must advance God’s mission not our own. Mike Slaughter in The Christian Wallet writes, “I don’t believe that Jesus literally wants us to give away everything we own, have, or enjoy. We must start spending, giving, and living with the conscience of Christ.”
Gordon MacDonald relates the following personal story of living with the conscience of Christ, when a friend who he was caught in a conflict that could have easily spun out of control asked MacDonald for advice. MacDonald simply said, “Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you.”It wasn’t long after that counsel that Gordon MacDonald needed to heed his own advice. He was scheduled to fly from Boston’s Logan Airport to Chicago. When checking in, the agent pointed out that he was scheduled to fly not out of Boston, but Manchester, New Hampshire. MacDonald asked whether she could solve the problem and she could for an additional $360. MacDonald was shocked.
“I’m a 100k customer on your airline. I give you guys a lot of my business. Can’t you just get me on the flight for free as a courtesy?” But the boarding-pass attendant said her hands were tied. MacDonald would have to pay the $360.The testy situation had reached its decisive moment. Though the problem was a result of MacDonald’s incorrect booking, he felt “depreciated, blown off, victimized by a big company that seemed to put a monetary value on every transaction. The ungodly part of me wanted to say something sarcastic (about friendly skies, for example) that would hurt the other person as I felt hurt. Hurting her would help me to feel that I’d hurt the rest of the company—all the way up to the CEO. Perhaps she’d call and tell him how I felt so that his day would be ruined like mine was about to be ruined.”But then he remembered the advice: “Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you.” “I said to the boarding-pass lady, Before I pay you the $360, let me say one more thing. Six weeks ago, I came here to take a flight to the West Coast and discovered that the airline had cancelled the flight and hadn’t told me. They said they were sorry, and I forgave them.Then two weeks later, on a flight to Europe, the airline lost my luggage (for two days). They said they were really, really sorry. And, again, I forgave them. Last week, on a third flight, they got me to my destination two hours late. Your people fell all over themselves saying how sorry they were about the delays. And you know what? I forgave them again. Now here I am—fourth time in six weeks—wanting to fly with you again. See how forgiving I am?But this morning the problem’s mine. I forgot that I scheduled myself out of the other airport. And I am really, really sorry that I made this terrible mistake.You guys have said ‘sorry’ to me three times in the last six weeks, and, each time I have forgiven you. Now I would like to say ‘sorry’ to you and ask you to forgive me and put me on that flight without charging me the $360. You have three ‘sorries,’ and now I’m asking for one. Does that make any sense to you?The boarding-pass lady took her own time-out and considered my idea and then said, ‘It really does make sense to me. Let me see what I can do.’ She typed and typed and typed into her computer—as if she was writing a novella—and then looked up with a smile. ‘We can do this,’ she said. Two minutes later I was off to the gate with my boarding pass.That morning dignity won. The airline forgave me. The skies were indeed friendly. I didn’t have to pay an extra $360.”MacDonald offers these closing thoughts: “This increasingly crowded, noisy world is generating more and more of these kinds of moments where no one is really doing something bad … just stupid (me, in this case). But because our human dignity is eroded by these constant clashes, even our innocent mistakes point to the possibility for hateful exchanges and vengeful acts. You have to keep alert lest you get sucked into saying and doing things that you’ll regret an hour later.”
Conscious and unconscious spending of intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital is all about being wise, handling conflicts and disputes appropriately, and doing what God wants.
Have you noticed the “Six Tips” on how to be the best neighbor posted in the courtyard? They are keep smiling, listen more, be inclusive, be generous, love unconditionally, and judge less. We all stand before God, my friends. That is why some conscious reflection on how we spend our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital in our Christian wallet, our life’s wallet is in order.
This insight is attributed to Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 63.
H. James Hopkins in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, 79.
Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 19.