Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mutually Exclusive

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.


  1. Wow, this is a tough one. Everyone has different ideas about what is a need or what is a reasonable price. We humans can find ways to justify any action--"It was a really good deal,"or "I need a new couch because then I'd feel more comfortable having people over," or "I really do function better with my Starbucks coffee." Can't someone help people just as well drinking coffee they make at home?

    A new church building may not be reasonably priced, but would most definitely be used to help others and may be necessary if you are cramped for space.

    It's important for Christians to avoid the finger pointing. It serves no purpose other than to divide us. We are on the same team. We all have blind spots.

  2. Tami,

    Wow, I'm responding so quickly! Yeah! I completely agree with you on so many of these points. I think the Starbucks coffee is a lot like the BMW car -- a fancier more expensive version of what anyone actually needs! Coffee made at home is just as good, and a regular Honda is all anyone really needs as far as a car goes. It's a tough call, though, because judging people isn't helpful either. Maybe the person has a Starbucks gift certificate, who knows?

    I have to disagree about the church building though. I've never really understood why a building is even necessary. Why don't people meet in homes? If there's too many people, why not meet in more homes or the gymnasium of a school? I just can't think of any good reason to purchase a new building unless there really isn't any better thing to put the money towards (which would never happen).

    I agree that finger pointing isn't helpful, but at the same time nothing will change unless we say something. I think people should say something if they felt that money was being used in a way that wasn't glorifying to God, but not in a mean, accusatory way. We definitely are all on the same team!

  3. Uh oh, now you got me going, girl. We are on totally different pages when it comes to this church building deal.

    Like it or not, a church building symbolizes for many people a place to find God. No, it doesn't have to be any big fancy thing. A home or gymnasium will suffice, but no matter what it is, what do you do when it becomes full? Do you tell them to try someplace else? Do you really want to turn anyone away or may it hard for them to be a part? Some people are summoning all they have to get themselves to a church. If there isn't room (or even so tight that it's uncomfortable), they may give up altogether.

    I have a feeling we may not ever see eye to eye on this issue, but I appreciate your willingness to discuss it in a respectful way. It's good for us to see other points of view.

    Fun discussion, Cahleen.

  4. Hey there... welcome to High Calling Blogs. :)

  5. Tami,

    I love discussing things with you! I never feel like you're going to yell at me or kill me, so if I have to disagree with anyone, I'm glad it's you. Thanks for being so nice! By the way, I think a church building can be nice, but it's just way down on my list of priorities. =)

    L.L. Barkat,

    Thanks for the warm welcome.


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