Monday, July 14, 2008

GIVING AND RECEIVING

A telephone call from Daughter #2 in CA yesterday was one of those alarm calls mothers usually receive in the middle of the night. However, this call came at mid-afternoon and had to do with the world of finance, not one of my best subjects. It seems that Indymac Bank, where she has some savings, had failed on Friday, closing its doors. After investigating the problem, I found that those savings were covered by FDIC insurance. She owns several automobiles, a large comfortable home, her husband has a well paying job, and her family is healthy, but a bank failure without FDIC coverage would have been a great loss to her, and I was sympathetic to such a loss. However, the call troubled me because it conveyed a certain lack of trust and fear on her part that God wouldn’t continue to source her family with all they needed. The conversation brought to mind attitudes toward money I often forget to convey to my offspring –that we should all make some of our resources available for God’s work and in that expansion of self, we feel prosperous. I keep thinking I should call her back and remind her of her prosperity, of how, yes, the nation's economy is a concern for all of us, but she should try to loosen up when she has financial fears -- to come from a feeling of prosperity rather than scarcity.

You know, I threatened to publish some excerpts from old sermons I’ve given, and the incident presented me with the opportunity to record a few thoughts from one of those sermons that centered on the widow’s mite.

Women without male sponsors in the Mediterranean society were an embarrassment to the ancient world. A widow without an extended family was forced to become a beggar, or in some cases, a prostitute. The avenues for widows to acquire money were limited, and they became one of the first responsibilities of the early church (especially deacons). In the story of the widow’s mite, this woman had gone to the temple and approached thirteen large brass receptacles with trumpet-shaped mouths, open and ready to swallow up the “coin of the realm.” Nine of the receptacles were available for sacrifice and tribute money; four were receptacles for free will offerings. This indigent widow dropped two small copper coins worth a penny into the mouth that accepted free will offerings, and Jesus, sitting nearby, observed the offering of this woman with intense interest. Unlike the righteous men surrounding her (who probably made bets on whether she got the coins through begging or prostitution), Jesus recognized that the widow had made her only resource available for God’s work. We assume that, despite her apparent indigence, this widow felt God had really blessed her. In my opinion, this indigent widow let everything go and let God use her as one of the first models for authentic stewardship.

The widow’s act of generosity brought up the image of a close friend of mine. About 12 years ago, this friend, Jo Ann Lordahl, who is a writer of self help books, was struggling with the idea of making her life more prosperous. She came into town for a visit and began talking with me about money, or the lack thereof. “Listen,” I told her, “when I feel myself tightening up about money, you know what I do?” She looked at me and began listing reasons single women remain paupers, and I listened until she finally asked, “Well, what do you do?” I replied, “I start giving it away.” She retorted, “Oh, give me a break.” And I protested, “No, I mean it. Years ago in the late 80’s, a friend of mine went down to New Orleans to attend a workshop about money and brought the materials home to me. I read all of it, and one idea kept leaping out at me: When you feel yourself tightening up about scarcity, start giving money away. Get yourself a handful of dollar bills, if you have to, go out in the street, and start handing them out. It’s a universal law that when you give, something in you expands, and you add to the love and expansiveness in the universe with your action.”

Jo Ann looked at me as if I were advocating throwing pearls to swine, shook her head, but went away to think about her part in the expansion of the universe. A year later, her faith in the concept of giving became manifest in the form of a manuscript entitled MONEY MEDITATIONS FOR WOMEN. It’s one of her best books and covers exercises, resources, anecdotes, and affirmations for creating prosperity. In Jo Ann’s words, it’s really a book about evaluating the connection between money and spirituality… just as the widow did before she dropped her mite in the free will receptacle.

All the major spiritual traditions of the world recognize the attributes of altruism and compassion which often flow out of our poverty. The Dali Lami has written a book entitled THE GOOD HEART in which he tells us that all the aspects of our lives – our religious practice, our spiritual growth, our basic survival are impossible without other people. And when we think along such lines, he advocates we find sufficient ground to feel connected with others and to feel, like the good widow, the need to repay their kindnesses! We have to ask ourselves such questions as: When will we stop feeling inferior to those who are more gifted than we are? When will we stop being envious of those who get more of everything including attention and admiration? When will we stop envying others’ prosperity?

The first beatitude is about poverty. Louis Evely says that the ancient Hebrews thought they had divined who God was, that he was not only all powerful, he was rich and that he’d give them good health, personal wealth, and male heirs. He’d fill the larders of those who were on that first level of Mediterranean society – the very wealthy. As Evely said in THAT MAN IS YOU, the Hebrews were firmly convinced that God would always be the Dependable Distributor who would crown their system quite nicely with prosperity. And then along came Christ who sat on a hillside and spoke the beatitude: Fortunate are the poor. He exhorted his listeners to completely empty themselves, to divest themselves of all their things, their society, their comfortable habits, goods – everything – because when they emptied themselves and committed their lives to him, sought him above everything, he’d work wonders in their lives and their spirits would be enriched beyond measure.

As Jo Ann later quoted another writer in MONEY MEDITATIONS FOR WOMEN: “You have to make room for your prosperity to come to you…if you make a place for prosperity in your life, it will appear…it is not until we recognize our union with aspects of the universal source, God, that we begin to grasp the meaning of prosperity…unlimited substance. Money is a good place to practice the shift from ideas of lack and limitation to those of connectedness with the infinite source which is always able to provide us everything we need.”

It appears that another telephone call to Daughter #2 is imminent. She doesn’t read my blogs!
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