Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's take a breath

Before we go too far in throwing stones at the AIG folks, let’s take a breath and reflect on the spiritual dimensions of this issue.

I think I understand the outrage that is consuming folks in our nation. The line of thinking is not that complicated—“the financial industry got us into this mess, they made a buck and caused pain to the rest of us, now we’re giving them our tax money—and they spend it on bonuses? Let’s take them to the edge of the village and stone them!!”

In my formative years I grew up believing in righteous anger—and boy does it feel good to throw stones. There is a wonderful biblical tradition of social justice/righteousness. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Hosea—they would be blowing their stack at the AIG folk right now. I wonder what theatrics they would use to condemn them. And oh yes, Jesus probably would be blowing his stack too. He turned over the tables in the Temple when the money changers were exploiting the poor.

But are we surprised that people are capable of such greed?

The actions of the folks at AIG are a reflection of our culture—one that encourages people to consume, get rich. We’ve come out of a time of excess, we’re afraid, and now we’re looking for some people to blame.

What interest me more in this story is not that people at AIG committed terrible acts of greed. I’m curious about the faith stories of the people who took these bonuses. What were they taught about money growing up? Where did they attend worship? Where do they attend worship now? What type of faith do they have?If they participate in a faith community, what is the message about money that the churches are teaching?

I think all of us in the Church could take a step back and reflect on how we are doing on communicating Jesus’ values about money.

Jesus was very clear that the way we spend our money reflects our values. Remember what he told the rich young fool: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

The folks at AIG are really not that different than the rich young fool. I just wonder who shared with them this teaching of Jesus.

I always smile when I hear people criticize the church for talking too much about money. I smile because Jesus talked about money more than any other topic. If we in the Church are bullied into silence about money, then we are missing a major point of Jesus’ teaching.

Instead of pointing our fingers, let’s recommit ourselves to sharing the message of stewardship that Jesus proclaimed. We have plenty of people in our churches who are not that different than the folks at AIG. What are we communicating to them? Until we in the Church are successful at teaching Jesus’ message, we will continue to watch these sordid stories of greed spin out.

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