CHAPTER 27, IN WHICH WE COME FACE TO FACE WITH THE GREAT WEALTH WE HAVE
This week, Lightning and Vince are talking about money. Lightning started the conversation by telling a story about how the sign in the window of a local investment company (How well you retire tomorrow, depends on how well you plan today) causes him to panic every time he sees it. Vince also shared a story about the shaming messaging used to promote financial services in the media today. The guys agreed that our society tries to define us by our financial position. And yet, if we define ourselves by our financial security, the quiet inner life becomes more difficult. The more time we spend fretting and worrying about our retirements, the more difficult it is to maintain a calm inner space. There are so many panic-inducing messages coming at us, that it is nearly impossible to have a clear vision of our own finances. No matter how well off we are, there is always advertising to make us feel inadequate. This leads to all of us having a skewed view of our finances.
In order to get a more objective view of our finances, Lightning shared some stats from www.globalrichlist.com. He began with the disclaimer that statistics can be manipulated to support any argument. But, if we put aside our cynicism and critical thinking for just a few moments, these stats can be eye-opening.
If a family of 4 makes $24,000 per year, they are in the top 2.7% of wealth in the world. Incidentally, $24,000 is the poverty line, as determined by the US government.
If a person makes $32,500, s/he is in the top 1% of wealth in the world.
If my income $42,000 per year, I am in the top 1/2% of wealth globally.
The guys were quick to point out that you can be in the top couple percent of wealth in the world, and still be unable to feed your family and pay your mortgage in America. We live in an affluent society, and our context skews our view of our personal finances.
Lightning suggested that if you have an electronic device to download this podcast, you are one of the wealthiest people on the planet. If you have internet access you are among the richest people in the world. It doesn’t seem this way because of our context, but it is true. We are all rich. Even being a below average earner in a wealthy society makes me wealthy. It just makes me discontented and wealthy.
Vince shared a story about friends of his who are making an intentional effort to consume more responsibly. They have discovered that doing so costs a lot more. In a culture where we are all feeling financially inadequate, making choices to spend more on seemingly-identical products is difficult.
Lightning shared an entirely different approach to personal finances that he learned at an intentional community in Evanston Illinois called Reba Place Fellowship. This community pools their resources; every member signs their paycheck over to the community. The fellowship then provides each member allowances for food and clothing and other personal expenses. Each member receives similar allowances, with minor adjustments based on need rather than income. The people who make a lot of money share the same standard of living as those who make an hourly minimum wage. Any financial needs beyond the basic allowances are handled in small groups—the same small groups where members meet each week for bible study, accountability, and spiritual growth. This model integrates our spending and standard of living with our spiritual life.
So, if Lightning wanted a new Ferrari he would bring it up during his weekly small group. The people in that group—with whom he was living life on the most intimate level—would help determine if this “need” should be funded by the community. The small group might ask “Lightning, why do you need a Ferrari?” This could begin a fruitful dialog about Lightning’s inner life and his insecurities that he is trying to compensate for by buying a fine piece of precision Italian engineering.
This is an entirely different way to do personal finances. There are benefits and challenges in any financial model, but making decisions in community often helps us avoid our blind spots and become the people we want to be. When we each manage our finances on our own, we have no accountability and no perspective on our own lives. We spend money to compensate for needs and wounds that are not financial in nature. I can use my money to meet needs that are not actually financial (like buying a race car), which further reinforces the skewed view I have of my financial security. This will only ever increase my inner noise and anxiety.
Most of us have an opinion of our finances that serves only us. We believe that we are not well off. If we believed that we are rich, that would mean allowing ourselves to be the object of Jesus’s teaching. But by comparing our finances to those around us who make more, we are able to dodge Jesus’s harsh words for the wealthy and also not take responsibility for the poor.
One thing that has been transformative for Lightning is asking God to show him the riches in his life. Lightning has found new appreciation for so many free things all around him…sunsets, night-time stars, sitting around a campfire with close friends. He feels so rich and so grateful for everything in his life.
Lightning posed these questions to us:
Are you rich, but living in a context that tells you you’re not?
Are you poor within your context, but rich in a larger context?
Are you rich because of the community around you?
Are you rich because of the blessings in your life?
How are you rich?
Vince closed the conversation with a quote from actor Jim Carey: I hope everybody can get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that is not the answer.
Join Lightning and Vince next week for some thoughts on being poor.