I was listening to the Steve Brown podcast yesterday, and Tony Campolo was on! Tony Campolo is a frequent guest on the Steve Brown podcast, and I'm always greatly encouraged by what he says. It's heartening and refreshing to actually listen to a Christian who focuses on what matters. I'm talking about the simple, important things: feeding the hungry, giving, loving. When did Christians stop focusing on these things and start caring more about supporting useless legislation?
In this particular podcast, Campolo made a statement that struck a chord with me. He argued that one cannot be living rightly as a Christian and own a BMW at the same time. How, by any stretch of the imagination, can one justify owning a BMW when there's war and poverty in this world? I agree with him wholeheartedly, but at the same time this presents a difficult problem. Who gets to decide what sort of luxuries are "acceptable" and what ones are incompatible with living an authentic Christian life?
It's easy for me to say owning a BMW and following Jesus are mutually exclusive, but maybe consuming Starbucks and following Jesus are as well (they don't call it "Fourbucks" for nothing). When should we just relax and enjoy what we have and when should we feel guilty about it?
Guilt is only helpful if it initiates useful change, so instead of just whining and complaining about how horrible everyone else is for not living some sort of ascetic, monk life, I need to take a sober look at my own actions and consumer habits (but I'll still look at people who drive BMWs and think that they're self-seeking asses who obviously think they have nothing better to do with their money).
So, how do I keep myself from joining the ranks of the self-seeking asses? I'm going to ask myself these questions before I buy anything:
1. Do I really need this?
2. Is the price reasonable?
3. Will this help others or make me more effective at helping others?
I think as long as the super-important-item-that-I-just-have-to-have has at least two of these things, there's no need to wallow in guilt and shame. Take coffee as an example. I may not need coffee, but it makes me more effective at helping others. I'm definitely kinder and more patient when I've had a cup (or two or three cups) of coffee. I'm also more effective at helping others when I'm awake. So as long as the price is reasonable, it's all good!
Sometimes, I am so incredibly flippant with my money that it makes me sick (once the euphoria of my newly purchased treasure fades away). What makes me even sicker, though, is hearing a stupid sermon about tithing (last I checked we were under a new covenant and supposed to give according to our hearts and not our calculators, but I digress) and then have the pastor turn around and talk about their new building fund. Hmmmm, does a new shiny building get a "yes" answer to any of the three questions above? I don't think so. You want to know what really makes me sick? Hearing a sermon about how Jesus cared for the poor one week, and then hearing a political sermon the next week supporting a candidate that couldn't care less about the poor (but hey, he's a Christian so he must be good, right?). When it comes to living a truly authentic Christian life, these things, my friends, are mutually exclusive.