price tags

Mr. Boffo was interesting this morning:

Except it wasn't God who put the price tags on everything, it was us...

I like the observation, though, that in Eden everything was free, a gift. I believe Jesus calls us to live that way again, and promises that we will be supported (by God's gifts) when we do: "Seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well." And I've experienced this, too. It's real.

A couple days ago I was answering questions about "giving without pay" and depending on the gifts of others, and included this part of an e-mail I once sent to Erin (her words are in quotes):

"If all Christians were to embrace a form of living as gift that is similar to yours..." Yes, I've been asked this again and again. But I've come to see that this is not a real problem, just a theoretical one. Because, as you say, all Christians will not live their lives as gift as Jesus did (I'd rather keep him as the model, not me). Jesus' extreme example is the ideal for Christian maturity, which few get close to. This is not his fault, but ours, and we don't have to remain as immature as we are--but that's the reality. So I encourage all Christians (all people) towards the ideal Jesus demonstrated, but at the same time I know not many will approach it. (It's a great miracle and incredible witness when they do, though!)

"Does the way you’ve chosen to live almost count on other people choosing to live in a more material, worldly way?" Again, let's focus on the way Jesus chose to live. But I've asked myself this same question, too, and it's a good one (I don't want to need or hope for others to live in a more worldly way). This reminds me of something I wrote in my journal this past summer. I was talking to a pastor about wealth:
One thing he suggested was that Jesus 'validated' the lives of rich people who supported him, by accepting their gifts and not admonishing them. But I said why admonish them when they were being generous and giving away their wealth? They were taking a good step towards the kind of life Jesus demonstrated. And if they kept being more and more generous (as Jesus taught), what would be the result? I don't think they would be wealthy for long. You don't maintain wealth by giving, but by holding back...
Jesus never suggested or encouraged people to stay wealthy in order to support him or the poor (that's a rationalization we provide ourselves). He always encouraged people to give, the more the better, lauding the widow for giving away her last two coins, telling the rich young man to "sell all and give."

But giving like this is usually a gradual process (it was with me). A process of growth, a process of letting go. People mature and change over time; they're not just benefactors or recipients always. I see Jesus living the ideal that we should be growing into. When we give selflessly, sacrificially (and thus diminish our wealth, our property) then we are moving towards the ideal he demonstrated. That's a good step. But we shouldn't stop there and establish ourselves as "benefactors," maintaining control of our wealth and doling it out as we see fit. That wasn't what Jesus taught or lived. We should keep giving, more and more radically, and as we do we move closer and closer to being "one of the least of these my brethren" ourselves. And closer and closer to how Jesus himself lived.

But at the same time, growth and change is happening in the lives of those around us (perhaps partly because of our witness and example). As we grow and become more materially dependent (but also more spiritually rich with lives that are a gift), others who have been living in a more material, worldly way are also beginning to grow and change. They start to become givers, start to sacrifice and share. So the beginning of their growth is used by God to support those who have become poor for his sake, and the new givers are also blessed in the giving (especially when they're able to give to those who receive like Jesus did, in a way that satisfies and inspires the giver). But this relationship is not fixed or static. It's fluid, alive, growing. People grow from worldly material takers, to beginning material givers, to mature spiritual givers (which includes gracious material receiving as part of it), more and more like Jesus.

Of course part of this also is that spiritual maturity is often "short-lived." Spiritual maturity, becoming more like Jesus, also means becoming an "offense" like he was and walking the way of the Cross. So part of mature spiritual witness is usually (always?) letting go of life also, literally, dying well, "laying down your life for your friends." So they leave this earth and others grow up to be like them (which is to say, like Jesus). And new followers begin to be givers. So the progression of spiritual life and growth continues.

Does that make sense? No one "must" remain at any limited level of maturity, no one is needed (by me, or anyone else) to remain as a wealthy "benefactor" to support Christians who live gospel poverty like Jesus did. They are affirmed in their giving (not for what they hold back). But they are also encouraged and called to keep giving more, and to themselves become more Christlike, more like the ones they may be supporting. I try to do this (like in that conversation with that pastor, for example, who was at that moment a benefactor to me, or in my conversations here with Reba people). In a way, I'm trying to cut off my own support, by encouraging them to give away everything. But I know that's better, for them and for everyone--including me. Because I would rather have a closer brother (a partner, a stronger Christian witness) than a benefactor. And I know even now God is preparing others to begin the gradual growth into making their lives a gift.