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Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Hoarding Manna

You can get your ketchup bottles made custom these days. Did you know? Anyone with a couple extra bucks can just have their own name designed right into the label on a Heinz ketchup bottle. This is a thing. Because we deserve it, right? Don’t we hard-working North Americans deserve to have our ketchup personalized?

I read this morning about a new beauty technique that involves a $2,000 procedure for removing blood from your body and injecting it into your face. Apparently, it’s a rage with the Kardashians and, no doubt, young women everywhere will follow suit since it allegedly makes you look younger. Hide your age. Save your pennies.

At the superstore this morning, I picked up an assortment of color-coded insulated faux-mason jar drinking glasses for my kids. At $5 a piece, they weren’t exactly an extravagant splurge but I find myself wondering if there was a better universal use for that $20. Could it have bought a meal for someone? Diapers for a struggling single parent? Added to the funds from other unnecessary purchases to contribute to bringing clean drinking water or medical help to the masses of people on this planet dying daily from contaminated water and malnutrition-related illness?

Yes. Of course it could have. But I liked those cups and the money was mine and no matter what I do in this life, I will probably always have a warm-enough home with a cupboard full of more drinking glasses than people to drink from them. What’s wrong with that?

I glance around and my heart calculates the sum total of all the excess I can see from where I’m sitting. A man rides by on an $800 bike, passed by a $30,000 car. I take a swig from my $4 bottle of vitamin-infused fancy juice in its plastic bottle and make notes with my $3 pen in the university library my $10,000 a year tuition helps fund. If it rains, I will open my $22 umbrella and try not to get my $18 flats wet, which would be a real tragedy since I only have about sixteen pairs of shoes in my closet.  

Somewhere it all gets dizzying and I become nauseated.

It’s easy to think that what I have or don't have, what I do or don’t do doesn’t matter that much. But it matters.

It matters because the sad truth is that there are more than enough resources to go around in this world. More than enough dollars and farmland to feed the hungry. More than enough words for everyone to be encouraged and more than enough of us calling ourselves disciples to overcome the poverty of love that exists all around us. We hoard the manna and it spoils in our homes, in our bellies, in our pantries and bank accounts and vacation homes. We are afflicted by the disease that comes from overabundance but to cure it, we hoard some more and thank Him for His blessing.

It overwhelms me, the abundance of God’s manna and the way it can still feel daily like we never have enough to go around. I never know how much is too much, whether giving up air conditioning matters while my family still pays $200 a month for cell phone access, and if having a hundred bucks in the bank is responsible stewardship or if it’s hoarding riches so I avoid the question altogether and buy a Blu-Ray player because, well c’mon, we need one, right?

As my heart cries for ministry again, I try to imagine how it is we justify this lifestyle when we’ve all been told to abandon it. Yes, Jesus, we whisper in our stone-walled churches with the patterned carpet and the cappuccino ministry. I give it all to you.

There are days I think seven articles of clothing ought to be enough to live on, that a room with a bed and a loaf of bread is all I should strive to keep ahold of in this life. There are days I think, “sell all you have and give it to the poor” actually means sell all you have and give it to the poor and isn’t just a metaphor for discipleship, that “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” isn’t an invitation for a posh holy land tour but a command to get our knees bloody, to fill our mouths with the taste of the poverty which can only be quenched by mercy.

I went back to college so I could someday teach at a university and have a retirement account and health benefits but lately, its feeling an awful lot like the pursuit of comfort above all things and I’m pretty confident that the kind of comfort I need is not the kind that gathers zeroes in an IRA. I’m not sure if “get wisdom” means the kind I can memorize out of textbooks or the kind that can only be learned in the hard doing of following His footsteps.

The truth is, I’d like to balance the life I want, the life I secretly believe somewhere deep down that I deserve with the commands of giving and serving. I’d like to do what makes me happy and believe that things like sex trafficking and gendercide are God’s business, that there’s nothing I can do about them but maybe cut a check every once in a while because God has been good to me. But I feel myself believing the lie… it’s okay to be comfortable while other people suffer. It’s okay to worship in fancy churches and learn at fancy schools and talk about how people suffer while I wrinkle my forehead and purse my lips because how sad. It's okay to buy a latte and another new candle and do the kind of work that people do when they’re pursuing their own comfort because that's what this country is all about. That's what this life is all about.

I’ve believed the lie that my happiness, my comfort, is more important than obedience. I’ve believed that I can have a foot in both worlds—that I can sponsor a child or two and hand the homeless guy a burrito and I’ve done my duty. But I hold my wallet close. My children and my cell phone and my apartment with a thermostat that works, because I don’t really want to give it all to Jesus. I don’t really want to lay down and die, even if that’s precisely what I signed up for when I asked Him to make me His.

The honest truth is that I know all of it. I know it and I believe I’m off track. I make small changes and buy fair trade coffee and sponsor a kid and think I’m doing something good in the world but all the while I’m smothered by the abundance we’re all neck deep in around here. I don’t know how to live in this world but not be of it.

I don’t know but I’m willing to learn and I’m going to continue asking for brokenness until I abandon the idea that I can balance the American dream with the commands of Christ, because I suspect that there really is no balance. There are only personalized ketchup bottles and luxury cars and children in Africa being suffocated by their own tumors for lack of medical care. There are only cheeseburgers and sale racks and girl babies buried alive because they should have been born as males. There are only plastic bottles filled with designer water that I can swig and gulp from all I want but not without the image of the thousands dying every day without clean water access, of the bottles that linger in the earth longer than the bones of the babies who died without it.

And I pray the prayer I’ve been afraid to pray all along. The prayer that I would mean it. The prayer that trades work for water bottles and just enough for far too much.



  1. Yes. I know this argument, this tension. Sometimes it just makes me crazy. Or crazy-er.

    I do know that I can get jazzed about trying to imitate others in the way God has called them to pursue faithfulness. I'm not so good at sitting with palms extended asking, "God, how do you want me to care for the least of these?"

    And sometimes, I think he wants me to minister through my words (you know, like the way you just did). But then I get stubborn and stingy with those and think, "Those couldn't possibly make any difference."

    Or could they?

  2. Oh Nancy, and that is the question I need to be asking too. Or could they? Obedience looks different for us each perhaps? And also, sometimes the same. Thanks for reading.

  3. Beautifully written and so understood, Cara. And I love Nancy's response. I do think we each have to listen to God's whisper to each of us - to do what we can with what we're given. Hey, I married a man whose gift (and profession) it is to invest money wisely and make it grow. And I've been the grateful and comfortable beneficiary of that gift. And so have zillions of other people. Well - maybe not zillions - but a lot. Because he is generous and wise with the way he stewards the money he builds. I sometimes am - and sometimes I want what I want when I want it and that's all there is to that. I'm working on that - sometimes, fitfully, ungraciously, but honestly, I hope. I appreciate your honesty and your call to leading an examined life. We gotta ask ourselves the tough questions from time to time. And we also must be generous AND wise - and somehow, there has to be a way to find the balance in that.

  4. Generous and wise. Yes, Diana. The more I try to understand it, the less I can grasp and the more tangled up in it I become. Money is obviously not the culprit but as with everything, I suppose the answer lies in "what would love do?"

  5. An amazing post, Cara. This is topic is something near and dear to my heart that I have been struggling with for a long time, but have been unable to put into words. This question of "what is enough?" Enough money? Enough time? Enough sacrifice? Enough personal happiness? I love the comment below by Nancy about ministering through words. That is what I hope to be doing, as well. You have certainly mastered the ministry of words.

  6. Nancy, I totally agree with your desire to minister through words. I want to do the same. Like you I have similar doubts about the ability of my words to make a difference. And even if they do make a difference to a few people, are they making enough of a difference? And that takes me back to my internal struggles with what is "enough."

  7. Great post. My family has been going through some real financial hardships the last few years and it's really changed my view of money. Because even though we sometimes can't leave the house because we have no gas or I've had to do without glasses for a while or we couldn't buy birthday presents and at one point were heating water on the stove because the gas was cut off, we always had what we NEEDED. No one starved or suffered illness or real harm. And as we adjusted to having little, I finally started to grasp the idea of excess. I think this is our problem - we don't recognize when comfort becomes excess.

    My family was just talking last night about what it must be like to be a worker in a sweat shop making plastic trinkets for Americans. How selfish and vile we must look from that perspective. At this moment, it is looking likely that our financial fortunes are about to turn. I pray that we will be able to hold onto the perspective we've fained as the result of having so little. And that we'll remember that we're given excess so we can make sure it gets to those who need it rather than so we can endlessly increase our comfort.

  8. Great post- especially this part "I never know how much is too much, whether giving up air conditioning matters while my family still pays $200 a month for cell phone access, and if having a hundred bucks in the bank is responsible stewardship or if it’s hoarding riches so I avoid the question altogether and buy a Blu-Ray player because, well c’mon, we need one, right?" How do we know how much to give? How do we know what our "needs" are... I feel like logically, because there's so much need in the world, I need to go to the extreme and live on the absolute minimum and feel guilty about being American and having nice stuff... but that extreme isn't good either.

  9. He's provoking you. Stirring your heart. Sifting your experiences. And your asking and wondering about it all is truly remarkable worship. Truly. This process of wondering and asking matters.

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  11. There's so much truth in this post I don't even know where to begin. It touched a nerve and brought up thoughts and questions that get pushed to the back of my mind because they're too difficult to answer right now and even if I think I've found peace with an answer how do I really know if I'm on the right path (I'm an imperfect sinner!)?
    Have you read Dangerous Surrender by Rick Warren's wife, Kay Warren? It's been years since I read it and I don't know if it exactly relates to this post, but it comes to mind as I'm sitting here.

    Thanks for your writing!

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  15. Cara, I'm totally chiming in with my sister Steph's comment above. This post is incredible. I can't tell you how much it's spoken to me and unleashed something in me that's been scratching at the surface for a long, long time. We're sharing your post on our blog this week as part of a conversation about divine discontent that we're having with each other and our friends and what to do with that feeling that how we're living isn't jiving with what we believe. Thank you so much for ministering to us with your words and for putting into words what so many of our souls feel!

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