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What Do We Do With Money?
What Do We Do With Money?

Curbing Our Appetites

Friday, September 24, 2021

What Do We Do With Money?

Curbing Our Appetites
Friday, September 24, 2021

Sallie McFague (1933–2019) was a renowned scholar in the theological disciplines of ecology, economics, and feminist Christianity. In her book Blessed Are the Consumers, she calls consumerism “the most successful religion on the planet” with catastrophic results for humanity and our planet. However, she also suggests a way forward.

I have been struck by . . . the rather shocking practice of self-emptying, of what the Christian tradition has called “kenosis” [see Philippians 2:5–8]. . . . I believe it suggests an ethic for our time, a time that is characterized by climate change and financial chaos. These two related crises are the result of excess, our insatiable appetites that are literally consuming the world. . . . We are living way beyond our means at all levels: our personal credit cards, the practices of the financial lending institutions, and the planet’s resources that support all of us.

Could the crazy notion of self-emptying, a notion found in different forms in many religious traditions, be a clue to what is wrong with our way of being in the world as well as a suggestion of how we might live differently? . . .

As Fr. Richard mentioned in Wednesday’s meditation, when money controls every aspect of our lives, it is extremely difficult to find our moral compass. That’s why the practices of simplicity, solidarity, and community that are embodied by people such as Quaker John Woolman (17201772) are so important. They show us that it is possible to live an alternative to the dominant culture. McFague continues:

I am thinking of John Woolman, an eighteenth-century American Quaker who had a successful retail business and gave it up because he felt it kept him from clearly seeing something that disturbed him: slavery. He came to see how money stood in the way of clear perception of injustice: people who had a lot of property and land needed slaves to maintain them (or so these folks reasoned). He saw the same problem with his own reasoning. . . whenever he looked at an injustice in the world he always saw it through his own eye, his own situation and benefit. . . . Once he reduced his own level of prosperity, he could see the clear links between riches and oppression. He wrote: “Every degree of luxury has some connection with evil.” [1] Reduction of his lifestyle gave him insight into the difference between “needs” and “wants,” something our insatiable consumer culture has made it almost impossible to recognize. . . .

To empty the self is not an act of denial, but of fulfillment, for it creates space for God to fill one’s being. We are satisfied by nothing less than God; our deepest desire is to be one with God, even as Jesus was. Made in the image of God, our destiny is to become one with God, so that we too can say, not my will but God’s be done. This is not a loss, but again, the greatest gain.

[1] John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman, and A Plea for the Poor (Corinth Books: 1961), 43.

Sallie McFague, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (Fortress Press: 2013), 6, 7.

Story from Our Community:
As a single parent and survivor of domestic abuse, God’s gracious provision and constant renewal have transformed and strengthened my self-concept, re-wiring my old connections that said I was not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough. Throughout my day I stand inside Love, noting that I am seen and known and that in Christ, I am enough. —Amy R.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, Lamp Posts (detail), 2012, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Identical lampposts are all in an ordered, symmetrical row, like a factory output of goods for our uncontrolled consumption. Both money and spirituality are tools, neither good nor bad. If they become weapons for manipulation, they have the potential to harm deeply.
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