Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Till the next episode

Bradford pear begins to open

I've been posting a lot about money lately because money has been a lot on my mind. It's one of those things that gets stuck in your mind and stays there. For one thing, I've been thinking about this quote from Julia Cameron:

"For many of us, raised to believe that money is the real source of security, a dependence on God feels foolhardy, suicidal, even laughable. When we consider the lilies of the fields, we think they are quaint, too out of it for the modern world. We're the ones who keep clothes on our backs. We're the ones who buy the groceries. And we will pursue our art, we tell ourselves when we have enough money to do it easily.

And when will that be?

We want a God that feels like a fat paycheck and a license to spend as we please....

'Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all things will be added to it,' we have been told, often since childhood, by people quoting from the Bible. We don't believe this. And we certainly don't believe it about art. Maybe God would feed and clothe us, in a pinch, but painting supplies? A museum tour of Europe, art classes? God's not about to spring for those."
It reminds me vaguely of that oh-so-tempting prosperity gospel, doesn't it?

In Thailand, there weren't always a lot of books in English for me to get my hands on. I wasn't one of the lucky members of the Commonwealth Club (bloody Aussies, Brits, and Canadians). They had a lush wood-paneled English-language library, just off from their Olympic-sized pool, with a concession stand that sold real Dr. Pepper, sold by white-gloved Thais.

So I read missionary biographies: David Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Hudson Taylor. They're all great stories. David Livingstone goes trekking across Africa... Mary Slessor gets rowed down a green river into the innermost heart of the jungle... Hudson Taylor grows a braid to fit in with the nineteenth-century Chinese. When I think back now, I realize that they were all just adventurers, and maybe that's what I loved about their stories.

George Mueller had the most compelling spiritual story. He used to have food just show up at his door. Just show up. He ran orphanages, and when the kids ran out of food, a bread van broke down in front of his front door. When they needed a rent payment, the exact amount, down to the penny, was shoved in an envelope under his door.

At least that's how the legend goes. I believe the legend a little less whole-heartedly now. But I still believe in the idea behind it, or at least try to. I still believe that if I actually step out in faith, even in some nebulous non-Christian way, that somehow, I'll be financially able to do it. I used to have a friend who believed that if he closed his eyes and ran full-throttle into the woods, at full speed, and really believed, believed, that he'd be able to miss all of the trees. Sometimes I have that kind of belief about money. It's the belief part I have the hard time with.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oops! Mary Slessor was never in Africa. She was in present-day Nigeria.

Melissa said...

I assume you mean India? My source probably wasn't very reliable... A Moody Press pamphlet for children entitled "Mary: Queen of the Jungle." Still, I think most of my memories are from the picture of her being rowed down the middle of a river in the middle of dense greenery. The same thing about David Livingstone. They just became legends to me.

Nevertheless. I should have Wikied.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I can't resist saying a few things about your comment that: "I still believe in the idea behind it, or at least try to. I still believe that if I actually step out in faith, even in some nebulous non-Christian way, that somehow, I'll be financially able to do it. I used to have a friend who believed that if he closed his eyes and ran full-throttle into the woods, at full speed, and really believed, believed, that he'd be able to miss all of the trees. Sometimes I have that kind of belief about money."
First, a kinship story: When I wanted a boat so bad for so long, but didn't have the money for the dream, I came to believe that, if only I were in the right place at the right time, got to know the person, etc., I would find some retired old guy in Tampa or St. Petersburg, etc., who owned a wonderful sailboat that he had become too old to sail, that it was in great shape (my fantasy always had it enclosed in an indoor dock beside his house), and that on getting to know him, and him me, and hearing of my great love for sailing and for boats, he would be persuaded to simply gift it to me. My wife ridiculed the notion, but I always maintained it could happen. Many an old guy has more money and goods than matters to them. (And indeed this did happen to a friend of mine, a marine mechanic, who was given a gorgeous 43' Beneteau by the elderly owner, after he had lovingly serviced it for several years and they had become good friends, something like father and son.
So, it could happen, just as the lottery jackpot could happen. Fortunately, I listened to my wife. What got my sailboat was a lot of drab work, trading precious time for money. It took me about four years to save enough for Dancing Star.
At the risk of alienating your religious readers, I believe that the quest for enough faith to move mountains, allow oneself to run blindly in a forest, or to provide for one's personal heart's desire, whether it be love, land, or peace of mind, is a faith that often is paid for in prolonging naivete. I respect faith, but it cannot be a substitute for a healthy curiosity about how both ends (let's say land in Alabama) and means (let's say coin of the realm or directly working off the price)are met.
I have read you long enough to know that you are not naive, live all too much in a frustrating real world, and that a part of you knows this truth. It is, however, unreconciled with the prosaic truth that you expressed so poetically quoting Yeats: Since Adam's time, it is certain there is no fine thing but needs much labouring.
Faith and belief systems are not for the purpose of wishing for a divine intervention in your behalf, but rather to give you the personal psychic strength that you will find your own will and way to reach the goal, the heart's desire. The divine in us, if it resides at all, does not grant Dr. Pepper's, Mercedes, land in Alabama, or the charming building on it, but rather gives us the caste of mind to be practical idealists, doing a thousand things, but ever on the path to achieving that innermost heart's desire.
It is clear that you are still questing and striving. I believe you have the strength of mind to find what you really wish for and the practical means to gain it.
One invaluable thing your blog will do is remind you of where you have been, and the gradual focusing on what is essential to your life.

With kind regards,

Capt' Walter