Friday, January 22, 2010

The words I've been needing to hear...

I find that sometimes I become inadvertently fixated on topics which hijack my thoughts anywhere from a few hours, to a couple weeks. Generally I find the germination period proportional to the weight that the thought has in my life. Lately, and not to surprisingly given all that is going on in the world (read: Haiti) I've been thinking a lot about materialism and personal spending. Granted, I believe this is a topic that plagues all who live in America, as we have developed from primarily producers into almost solely consumers. And while we could talk for days about the evolutionary process that got us here, the question remains, is this an evolution that we want to continue to embrace or are we going to stop perpetuating the cycle, step back and give some critical thought to the issue - it comes down to numbers - the world cannot sustain a community that are primarily consumers; it's just that simple.

But right now, I'm not worried with the world at large, I'm thinking on a more micro-level, I'm looking at myself - am I materialistic? It's a conversation my husband and I have had before, and I think the answer that we arrived at unsettled us both when we realized we were probably teetering on the cusp of answering that question with a solid 'yes.'

Being the research fanatic that I am, I went online and started combing the Internet for definitions of materialism (I probably should have really read the definition of rationalization because I think that's what I was ACTUALLY doing) and came up with pages of definitions, articles and diatribes. And while I thought that extracting a 'materialism rubric' with which to measure my life would make me feel better, (especially if I found out I wasn't by societal standards) what I found myself really looking for wasn't a better (read: gracious) diagnosis, but a cure; a cure for my consumerism. And that's when it hit me...I knew where to start. I knew because of a sermon I had heard nearly a year ago...and the answer came in the form of John Wesley.

Over a year ago, my husband and I along with some friends, went to attend service at Glide Memorial in San Francisco. It was an amazing service - the music, the people - the general outpouring of love and acceptance was intoxicating...it's one of the reasons why I love Glide so much...but the message this particular Sunday was what really stuck with me, even to this day. That Sunday, the pastor spoke about John Wesley, an English Anglican priest with the COE who had a very strong message about finance and giving, which he not only spoke about with great candor and force but that he also lived in his own life. She recounted his own method of personal finance which went something like this:
"Wesley preached that a believer should “Gain all you can, save all you can,” so that he or she could “give all you can.” He went on to give an example of such a life without ever mentioning that the person being described was himself.
"[He] had thirty pounds a year. He lived on twenty-eight and gave away forty shillings. The next year receiving sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight, and gave away two-and-thirty. The third year, he received ninety pounds, and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year he received a hundred and twenty pounds."
For four years, Wesley lived on the same amount, twenty-eight pounds. As his income increased, he gave the surplus away, regardless of how much it amounted to or what percentage of his income it was."
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I remember sitting in the pew and thinking that this idea was not only revolutionary, but that even today it was completely do-able. I think that Wesley's own experience speaks to the power of what we can achieve when we work to give, rather than work to consume.

So what does this mean? For more answers I consulted John Wesley's sermon "The Use of Money" {found here} and was really convicted upon reading these sections:

"[C]onsider, when the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward: As such he entrusted you, for a season, with goods of various kinds; but the sole property of these still rests in him, nor can be alienated from him. As you yourself are not your own, but his, such is, likewise, all that you enjoy. Such is your soul and your body, not your own, but God's. And so is your substance in particular. If, then, a doubt should at any time arise in your mind concerning what you are going to expend, either on yourself or any part of your family, you have an easy way to remove it. Calmly and seriously inquire,
(1.) In expending this, am I acting according to my character? Am I acting herein, not as a proprietor, but as a steward of my Lord's goods?
(2.) Am I doing this in obedience to his Word? In what Scripture does he require me so to do?
(3.) Can I offer up this action, this expense, as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?
(4.) Have I reason to believe that for this very work I shall have a reward at the resurrection of the just?

You will seldom need anything more to remove any doubt which arises on this head; but by this four-fold consideration you will receive clear light as to the way wherein you should go.
[S]ave all you can, by cutting off every expense which serves only to indulge foolish desire; to gratify either the desire of flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; waste nothing, living or dying, on sin or folly, whether for yourself or your children; -- and then, give all you can, or, in other words, give all you have to God.

No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of "the wisdom of the just." Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son: So "laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life!"

The part that resounds with me today is "No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men!" It's an amazing and gracious reminder that, 1) it's not about me but 2) that I am an agent of the change I seek not only in my life, but in the patterns of this culture.

Wesley, as Christ did, calls us to be active participants (read: producers) in the world, empowered by the gifts and talents that we were given. I love that the message in Wesley's sermon is not one of abject condemnation, but the opposite, it is a call to greatness and purpose - one that I think we are all longing for in our own lives; a reason for our existence. It is like we are standing on the front lines of Pelennor Fields, and these are the words of that inspire us to action, this becomes the basis of our battle cry; this becomes the reason that we lay it all on the line:

"Gain all we can, save all we can, so we can GIVE all we can!"

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This is the antidote to materialism.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty..."

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It’s hard sometimes, to be angry at a situation or to be frustrated with a seemingly convoluted circumstance. It’s hard because there’s really nothing to be mad AT. There’s no face, no person to confront, no reset button to repeatedly push in frustration or direction in which to point a finger of blame. It’s nebulous, and gray, and undefined, and to be completely honest, that’s what makes the situation all the more maddening.

I’ve been the scapegoat for situations such as these – and it’s not fun, because as the scapegoat, you can’t win. You start at a disadvantage because the other person has the benefit of emotion overriding rationale. To them, it doesn’t matter how culpable or non-culpable you are. You’re THERE, and that’s enough. At this point they just want it out, AND at that point, no one’s choosy; it’s a clawing desperation to make the momentum of the uncontrollable crap spiral stop.
I spent several years of my childhood being the scapegoat, and one would think that that would produce an individual who was proactive against such passive behavior in their actions; you’d be wrong – I won’t take that behavior from someone, but apparently, I’m not above dishing it out.

Last night I found myself at the bottom of a crap spiral; I won’t go into the details, but through a series of unrelated and yet equally unfortunate events, in a seemingly unrelenting succession, I was left feeling stressed out, covered in crap water (literally) and at my wit’s end. I was like a rabid Old Yeller, being backed into a corner: darting eyes, my mouth may or may not have been foaming, and I was out for blood. Somebody had to pay for this. I felt the victim of a ‘crap day’ hit and run! Nobody to take responsibility, and I sure as heck knew I didn’t deserve any of it!

And so I turned on my husband. I’m not proud of it, and I’m even more ashamed because I’m very much aware in the light of this new day, why I did it. I knew he’d take it. He’s good in that way. I knew he wouldn’t walk out on me, and he would try to see my hurt and frustration through all my rampant and flippant accusations; I made him the face of my crap spiral*. And no, he didn’t just “take it.” He loves me and he called me out on my unchecked accusations, but that only added more fuel to my fire in the moment.
(*Now please note, I didn’t just look at him and start yelling…I’m crazy at times, but not that crazy. Like any good watershed moment, all it needed was a small crack, a little scuffle, and like a minor chink in a dam, it came pouring out.)

There was no rationality in my actions. They were blatantly RE-actions – thoughtless, hurtful and low. And in the light of day I cannot believe that I chose to take them out on my husband. I’m not proud of that, and I’ve apologized; but it really got me thinking about how hard I’m going to work at being an equal partner in this marriage and what being a ‘partner’ actually means.

To me, it means taking responsibility and not using my relationship to absorb a bad day. If anything, I should take COMFORT in my relationship as a safe-zone – where bad days cease to have effect. Why would I want to jeopardize my safe zone?

I’m not saying that I need to swallow my feelings, but I need to keep them better in check and not allow myself to blur the lines of what I actually feel he’s responsible for versus thrusting responsibility for everything that’s plaguing me upon the one I love. I know that we promised to love each other in good times AND in bad, but I don’t need to invite the crap into our marriage by blaming him for the uncontrollable!
I think too often in this culture marriage is treated with this cavalier attitude in which it needs to prove itself “weather proof”…but shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to protect marriage? Granted it should be able to ‘weather the storm’ but that doesn’t mean we should willing put it in the path of the storm!
As a newlywed, I do realize that I’m still learning…but I realize so much now that what marriage is teaching me isn’t always about how my husband and I sort the chores, or live together, but about how it is teaching me to be a better and more responsible person. My husband is the daily mirror which reflects not just the love he has for me (and all that goes along with that), but it’s also a mirror of accountability – of truths I may have been able to deny or not take responsibility for when I was single and accountable only to myself (of sorts).

So, I guess this is the very long winded way of saying I accept responsibility for the fact that I took out my anger on my husband, AND that I want to change that reaction of “scapegoating” and work harder to respect the sacredness of our marriage and all that that entails.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hello 2010!

And...it's here!

Right, I know, I'm a weeee bit late on the arrival of the new year, but as we procrastinators say, "better late than never!" Despite my lack of posts, I have been busy reading other blogs, and I love the new trend I've seen of resolutions take the form of positive intentions with regards to maintaining good patterns, or further projects or talents discovered in '09.

With that, I thought I would share my resolution, which is in keeping with the trend of improving upon strides made in '09 - I resolve to do at least one painting a month.

For me, this seems like an impossibility, especially since we are nearing the halfway point of January and I JUST found my subject for this months painting...but nonetheless, this is the resolution.

The office is ready, my easel is set, and if I could just figure out where I put my courage and resolve, I'd be ready to go. Here's to hoping inspiration sets in this weekend!

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