“We’ve figured out how to solve the problem of our overcrowded little chapel. It will only take five million dollars.” With these words I greeted Lourie and her two small children as she swung by the coffee shop to pick up Andrew. Andrew and I had spent an hour and a half solving all of the world’s problems—especially as they touched our little parish—while Lourie took the car to run around town doing errands. I was joking when I told Lourie that the only problem was money, at least that is what my mind tells me; but emotionally, it was no joke.
Emotionally I get impatient. I look at the needs and the almost magical way they could be met if only we had the money, and feel the frustration level in my stomach rise. Looking outward, I want to coerce or cajole others who seem to have resources into loosening up money to meet what seems to me such a pressing need and such noble cause. But a little deeper down (or is it further in?) I feel something else.
Deeper down I see myself, my own resistance to release resources—money particularly. I have a level of giving that I have become comfortable with. I occasionally go over—for a good cause--but I am not a sacrificial giver. I am not like Sts. Joachim and Anna who gave one third of their income to the Temple, one third to the poor, and lived on the final third. I tithe, which at least biblically speaking, is the minimum level of giving below which one is “robbing” God [c.f. Malachi 3:8]. Tithing is nothing to be proud of. To be proud of tithing is like being proud that you go to church most Sundays, that you avoid meat on church fast days, or that you are faithful to your spouse. These things are not extras, they are just part of a normal Christian lifestyle. I have no basis on which to compare myself with others, for I myself am a charitable minimalist. Ten percent for God, ninety percent for ME, to maintain MY lifestyle.
With the loss of my part-time job, I have become particularly aware of how much of my income is spent on lifestyle maintenance—and here I do not mean the maintenance of a Christian lifestyle. Bonnie and I own our home, so our actual upkeep (after taxes and insurance) requires really quite little. In fact, having recently crunched the numbers, our part-time salary from the mission is sufficient to cover all our necessary expenses. So where did the other money go? Well some went to projects around the house, some went to dinners out and concerts and movies, some went to gifts for children and grand children and others (weddings, graduations, baptisms, etc.), some went to art supplies and software and books (that’s all me), some went to good causes, and a big chunk went to visiting our kids spread out all over North America. All of this expenditure has been reasonable, at least that is what I would tell a parishioner who presented such a scenario to me; but I must admit that it is all lifestyle maintenance. Nothing sacrificial about that.
Don’t get the delusion that this self disclosure is leading to repentance. I’m a hard hearted fellow. The purpose of this self disclosure is to share with you why I can’t rail against others for not being more generous in their giving. Wise Solomon said that as wealth increases so do the mouths that consume it. It is easy to cast our problems in financial terms that those who seem to have more resources than we have could remedy if only they would. It’s always the other guy’s fault. But when I look within, when I look at my own budget and the reasonable extras that go into sustaining my lifestyle, I am struck dumb. With wealth—no matter how much or little—come mouths that consume it.
And looking deeper still, I see an idol. I think his name is Mammon (how did that pesky booger get in my heart, again?) Holy Nativity does not need more money. Trinity Western University does not need more money (Andrew and I were also fantasizing about a minor in Eastern Christian studies at TWU). The problem is not money. In fact, the problem is not outside me at all. The problem is my heart. I do not believe God loves me. I do not believe God loves my spiritual children. I do not believe that God loves all of His children in the Fraser Valley and beyond, Orthodox, not-yet Orthodox, and not-yet-even Christian. Secure in the love of God, there are no needs. And so, I guess, there is a call to repentance after all. My heart must return to my Father’s love, accept it, believe it, trust it.