In our Journey to Hope (which admittedly, was supposed to end at Easter, but I’m a little behind), we have explored several surprising places we may find hope. This is Week 5 of the series Journey to Hope, a Rethink Church study.
The opening question of the discussion is “Are you indebted to banks or to people?” When leading a discussion about money with my youth, I framed the question slightly different. “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” We listed some of the things we own, and what they spend their money on. We had a list of things like clothes, phone, entertainment, food/snacks (beyond what their parents provide), video games, and books.
It was an interesting discussion, and they seemed to understand the question, “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” We didn’t watch the video that was suggested by the study. Although I love Pink Floyd, the discussion didn’t need the added media to get it going. For the purpose of this blog though, I thought of a different song.
When thinking about the love of money, I think of the song “If I were a rich man.”
We all like to throw around cliche’s like “money can’t buy happiness,” but money can be a powerful tool. I don’t believe that money in itself is an evil. It is a catalyst or an exclamation point. Money magnifies the character of the one that possesses it. It can be used for terrible harm and it can be used for a great deal of good. The reason I love “If I Were a Rich Man” is because it is so honest. Tevye doesn’t just say, “I’m happy as I am.” He knows that being wealthy could change his life.
He also admits that he might be a little extravagant with his money. He would strut and preen. He likes the idea of people treating him better. He would get a bunch of animals so that they would make a lot of noise and point out to everyone that “Here lives a wealthy man.” Part of the song speaks of the kind of frivolousness that many of us dream of a little. I would buy a Jaguar. Tevye would buy one staircase going up, another even longer going down, and another going nowhere just for show. I appreciate the honesty of that kind of wishful thinking. There’s no sanctimonious piety. Then, he starts to sing about other, more valuable things.
He starts to ponder the meaning of wisdom. He starts to dream of spending time in Synagogue. He dreams of sitting on the Eastern Wall. His passion and deep commitment to God starts to grow apparent has he dives deeper into his fantasy. Finally he comes to the ultimate fantasy – being able to sit with learned men and discuss the holy books for seven hours everyday. The mere thought of it gives him pause.
That moment of the song – when he stops singing – is my favorite. To me that moment reveals so much of the character of Tevye. If you don’t know much about “The Fiddler on the Roof,” I apologize. You should go out and watch it (and I’m really excited that it is coming to Davenport this season). In this moment, I see the difference between the love of money and the love of what money can do. Herein lies the difference between owning your stuff and allowing your stuff to own you.
When it gets down to the heart of the matter, it’s not the great staircases or loud animals that Tevye wants. It is the chance to get closer to God. Of course, if I were Tevye’s pastor, I would suggest to him that he can grow closer to God without money – but his heart is in the right place. For too many, money is an obstacle. It gets in the way of generosity, risk-taking mission, and genuine relationship. These are the things in life that are of value. It is very easy for the things we own, that we think are supposed to be serving us, become the instruments of the oppression we are trying to avoid.
People claim that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. I don’t believe that. Others claim that God is on the side of the poor. I’m not sure when God chooses sides. I think what God wants is for us all to be in relationship with God and with one another. I think money can be related to that, but I think simplicity has more to do with it than a checkbook balance. Simplicity in life goes a long way, and often with money there are complications.
Still though, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to biddy biddy bum all day.