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Wealth Relativity

by Shawanda Greene

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About a week or so ago, I was talking to a friend about Christian leadership. There’s a particular area in her life where she’s struggled tremendously. She’s been challenged spiritually, physically, mentally and financially.

It’s been my experience that such battles will either bring you closer to God or leave you questioning whether he even exists. At times, it seems like it’s easier to back down than press forward. My friend has chosen to fight, and I commend her for doing so.

Since the beginning of our relationship, my friend and I have engaged in deep, and often heated, discussions about religion. It was inevitable. She’s religious. I’m not. Strange enough, we both enjoy playing the role of devil’s advocate.

Lately, in addition to attending church on a regular basis, my friend has also been getting The Word from some of the television ministries. Our voyage to a debate began here. She made a comment that she has a hard time receiving the teachings of many televangelists because they’re too focused on money.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Hearing a pastor go on and on about how giving to the church will cause me to metamorphose into a millionaire turns my stomach too.

What I took issue with was my friend’s disdain for mega church leaders’ consumption with consumption. According to her, they shouldn’t waste so much money on frivolous purchases. There are people who are really suffering. Financially wealthy pastors should give more to the needy for God’s sake.

To that line of judgmental reasoning, I said “be careful.” Then I asked, “How much did you give to the poor when you had money? How much money did you waste?”

The concern shouldn’t be with what someone else could do.

What could you have done?

What have you done?

What will you do?

If you see an unfilled need, then you fill it.

Sometimes it seems like you’re worse off financially than you actually are because you’re comparing yourself to someone who’s so much better off (or at least appear to be). You have more than you think.

You’ll feel like you have more money if you compare yourself to someone who has so much less. Better yet, try envisioning what life would be like if you didn’t have access to even the most basic necessities: food, electricity, clean drinking water, internet. It’s all relative.

My friend tried to justify her wasteful spending by saying it went to pay for things like eating out. You know because food is a necessity. I eat out too, but I’m absolutely sure my survival isn’t contingent upon me spending at least $761 on food and alcohol every month. One could live on less.

It’s true. No one needs a Bentley, but no one needs cable either. Many couples don’t need two cars. You don’t need manicures, pedicures, massages. What else? Oh, you don’t need a television, a Kindle, or a Nintendo Wii. The non-necessities are countless.

All the money you spend on those little luxuries could be given up to help the less fortunate. Do I think you should sacrifice all you enjoy for someone else? You do whatever you want. I won’t judge you for treating yourself.

What I was trying to make my friend see is that the big spending pastors aren’t the only ones dealing in abundance. At one point, she had a considerable sum of excess cash. Regrettably, she took her good fortune for granted.

Take a moment to reflect on all that you have. All that money can buy and all that it can’t.

Never mind that I’ve made a private conversation public, do you agree or disagree with my position? Why so?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com November 4, 2009 at 10:23 AM

I agree with you.

I think she was having a hard time separating the pastor from their job in the sense that we seem to feel as though social workers, and people with giving or very religious jobs need to be more giving and self-sacrificing than their average fellow person.

While I do admit to feeling like that, I also understand when they don’t. What they do as pastors is also a business. It’s a job to make them money to survive and to pass on the word, as they say.

To put it in another perspective:
When we hear about a rich person donating a million money to charity, instead of only thinking: Wow how nice of them!!

We sometimes think: Heck, they could afford to give MORE, they have millions to spare!

But we don’t apply the same principle to ourselves when we have a surplus of money, even if we can only afford to donate $20, relative to the same percentage of what we earn vs. the millionaire’s donation and their income.

Great post.

Reply

Shawanda Greene November 4, 2009 at 12:14 PM

Thanks. With the exception of close friends and family members, I have no idea how much people give to charity. If you’re extremely wealthy, you could give away half your fortune and still be considerably well off. This is why I feel we shouldn’t be too hasty to judge.

It seems some people would suggest you give to the point where you only have enough left over for basic necessities and modest luxuries. The problem is that the figure tends to hover around the level of earnings or net worth the judgmentalist (not a word) expects he/she could reasonably obtain.

Here’s what I find truly idiotic. I’ve heard people say, on numerous occasions, that rich people give away money just for the tax break. That makes a lot of sense. Currently, the highest federal income tax bracket for an individual is 35%. You give $1,000,000 to a qualified charity and save $350,000 on your tax bill. Looks to me like you’re still out $650,000. That’s clever.

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Jason Menayan @ Dyalogues November 4, 2009 at 2:54 PM

I agree with both you and your friend.

Each of us is responsible for ourselves, so before we worry about how other people spend their money, we should look at our own spending behavior.

At the same time, to see the ultrarich televangelists constantly preach about giving, charity, generosity…and continue to live a life so lavish that it makes most people’s stomach turn, well, that grates the nerves for another reason entirely. But, since your blog is focused on budgeting and wealth, I’ll leave my comments on the hypocrisy of the hyperreligious on another blog. :)

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Peter November 5, 2009 at 12:27 PM

I think this is a tough topic for a lot of people in the church – myself included. How much should I be giving, and is it wrong to spend my money on expensive things when my money could be used to help others?

Like you mention I think it is very easy to be judgemental of what others are doing, and at the same time not look at our own lives and giving.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matt 7:3

I know this is something I have done in the past, looking at the pastors of some affluent churches in our area. But since then I’ve gotten closer to some of them, and I didn’t realize just how giving some of these men in fact were. They put me to shame, actually. But again, they’re human, and I’m sure they’re tempted all the time as well.

Living in such a materialistic society it can be easy to fall prey to stuff-itis, and I know I have at times at allowed myself to be too focused on accumulating things. We just have to guard ourselves against that, and remind ourselves that we are only stewards of what God has given us. When we remember that it is all His anyway, it makes it easier to give – in my opinion.

So, do I think it is always wrong to buy luxury items or spend money on ourselves? No, I don’t think so. But I do think that it is easy to lose focus on things that are important if you’re not careful. Because of that we have to examine our own lives, and give freely – while at the same time being careful of judging others – and their giving.

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