Nothing I Have is Truly Mine
I've been having annoyance with my internet connection and home voicemail recently. I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say that I've been spending quality time listening to the hold music at Slingshot. Most of what they play generally serves to make me more cross and agitated than I was before I called, which probably isn't to anybody's advantage. But they seem to have one song on repeat that plays every time I call - Dido's 'Life for Rent' with its repeated motif 'cause nothing I have is truly mine.'
I think part of the reason they must have this song on repeat is because it's very hard to hear that phrase over and over and still feel very angry about something as trivial as voicemail. Having read the rest of the lyrics of the song, I don't know that Dido means the same thing by that line that I take from it. But thinking about it in isolation...'nothing I have is truly mine.' It's an amazing statement. Nothing...is mine. Truly mine. Not my body, my health, my family, my stuff...including my computer, my connection to the internet, my right to have people leave messages when my phone line is busy...
Is this a true statement? What does 'mine' mean? What does it mean to 'own' or 'possess'? What does paying money for something actually guarantee? We have property laws that define that you can pay for something and then somebody else isn't allowed to use it without permission. Or that you can be in a legal relationship to someone and that guarantees certain obligations. But these are pretty limited ways of understanding 'mine'.
Can I own the spark of God that makes all things what they truly are, or this good earth, which is God's creation? Do I in fact own myself, when every breath is given to me by the generosity of God's sustaining life force?
If I say something is 'mine', does that mean that I have control over it? Well, ultimately all things are beyond my absolute control. My body can be sick, my mind can pack up on me, my husband can leave, my child can die or turn against me, my stuff can be stolen, or break...
And while I might feel like I have some agency to prevent or deter these things from happening, oftentimes things just happen, despite all caution, and the random absurdness of life becomes obvious.
I heard an interview with one of the survivors of the fires in Australia. Her house is still standing. All the houses on the other side of the street are gone. The wind changed. Is there any logic to the 'mine' that says 'hey, stop, this is my house' in the face of fire? Only the logic of the person whose dead body was found in her fire ravaged car, alongside the crockery she'd gone back into the house to save.
And so...voicemail. Well, I wanted it to be a certain way and it isn't. So now I'm going to have to find a different phone and internet provider. Probably not worth my anger. Probably not worth kicking the cat over, if I had a cat. Cause nothing I have is truly mine.
Where am I going with this?
The world is in recession, financially. And for some of us here it's starting to bite. Those whose businesses are precarious. Those who are looking for work and can't find it. Those who are facing the possibility of redundancy. Those who are having to make others redundant from their jobs.
There's a part of me that would welcome this recession, if it started a conversation in our culture about how we live and what principles is our economy based on - questions like how much stuff is enough stuff, how do our consumer practices affect other parts of the world, and the denial that makes us behave as though our earth can support endless growth. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that conversation is happening yet...mostly I'm just hearing about attempts to fix the problem to get things back how they were, without any discussion of the assumptions that underpinned 'how they were', and the ways in which 'how they were' caused the problem in the first place. So, anyway, if that conversation were to take place among the decision makers and influencers of our public life, I would welcome some belt tightening.
But I do not welcome the difficulty that some people are experiencing and will experience - particularly those for whom life was already tough. As people protect their own finances, and interest rates lower, philanthropists and charities feel the pinch - and then even more people fall through the cracks of our system - onto the streets, into addiction, into violence and crime. And I do feel for people who are losing their savings, or their homes. It is a very hard time for many.
So it seems like a good time to ask the question how we, as Christ followers, can stay generous and open-handed, when the temptation is to lock down, and protect ourselves.
I think at this time, it might be useful to remember that in God's economy, 'nothing I have is truly mine.' All that I have and am is at God's disposal.
Remember the picture painted of the early church community in the 2nd chapter of Acts:
'They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone that had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.'
I don't believe in tithing. I believe in developing relationships that include all aspects of our lives including our money. That is, I don't believe that we should devote 10% of our money to the church, or to charity, and then say of the remaining 90% 'This is mine.' This picture of the early disciples is one where Christ's love so permeated the community that one person couldn't remain wealthy while a brother or sister in Christ went hungry.
Instead of saying 'mine', when times were hard, they relinquished their hold on some of their stuff, so that the needs of others could be met. They ate together, so that all could have food, and so that sharing in a meal could remind them of their family connection in God, and keep them grateful and generous.
Life now is extremely privatised. I am the pastor of this church, and yet I don't necessarily know all of those among us who are struggling financially, and I wouldn't necessarily know how to help you if I did know. I'd like to know - I'd like to be alongside you and support you. And I'd like to think that as a community we could do something to help. But who in this day and age feels comfortable saying to a church of their peers that they have financial need?
I have wondered from time to time, and still wonder, about putting together a Cityside community fund, to help people who are starting off in business, or who are out of work for a time, or who are wanting to pursue a creative endeavour or do study and need funds to tide them over. But when I start thinking along those lines, I get all bogged down in questions of 'well, who has money to spare to give to such a fund' and then 'who would administer it', and the most thorny one as I see it, 'who decides whose need or cause is deserving...and would that be on the basis of someone's former credit, or our perception of their character, or what we believe to be the validity of their plans?' And then I throw my hands up in horror at the complexity of it all and never do anything.
I guess in seeing all these problems I'm being realistic but also a wee bit faithless. Because when I read the passage from Acts in context, I remember that part of what shaped this radically open-handed community of people, was the Spirit of God, moving among them in ways that provoked awe and favour from those who looked on. To me, it would be a miracle of God's Spirit to see a community of people in our day and age talk openly about our needs and give to one another even at the cost of giving up our own possessions. It goes right against the grain of everything we have been shaped to be in our society.
As soon as you raise financial issues you raise trust issues and relationship issues. We give to people we care for, who we know, whose goodwill and trustworthiness we have established over time. I think that here at Cityside there's a really good flow of support and care among certain relational lines. And I know that some of you practice hospitality very intentionally and that this leads to genuine generosity. I think that when we start to know each other, when we hear each other's stories, we are a very generous group of people. But I think that we have a way to go in really knowing and sharing in the lives and concerns of all in our faith community.
And so I pray, for a profound visitation of God's Spirit among us, and in all the churches...to create genuine relationship, to be with us when we break bread in each other's homes, taking our communion to ever deeper levels of trust and openness, so that we are moved to care for one another with our time and our presence, and our words and our wallets.
Nothing I have is truly mine, because I cannot take anything with me when I die. Except. Except. There are some religious teachers who tell us that what we do take with us are those things we have truly loved. Store up treasure in heaven, our master Jesus taught us. What is this treasure? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people. What is truly mine, is the investment of love that I have given and received in this life.
I am going to pray now. I invite you to join your prayer to mine.
Our God, we live in troubled times.
Many of us do not feel the trouble.
This is part of our problem.
Because we know that when one part of the body hurts
we are all hurting, whether we know it or not.
And so we pray, God, Holy Spirit,
That you would come and dwell among us afresh,
Stir our hearts with love for one another that is real,
that leads to honest talking,
and a care for one another
that is transforming to us,
and to those beyond our community here.
Be with us in the breaking of the bread,
Be in our midst with signs of your presence.
Do not let us settle for a faith
that is an accessory to a life
that is otherwise dictated to us
by our culture's norms.
But be a holy fire,
that renews us utterly,
so that in all that we are and all that we choose
we are storing up treasure in heaven
while holding out open hands on earth.