It’s one thing to say ‘we need to steward well.’ It’s another thing to do it, and to do it naturally. How do we become people who are wise givers, who love well? How can we counter the consumptive ways that are always working to shape us into consumptive people?
How can we give in a formative way? If we simply give food anonymously at Thanksgiving and Christmas, is that the best way to help? How can we help in ways that move past charity towards justice?
“The reconciled and redeemed body of Christ is marked by cruciform practices that counter the liturgies of consumption, hoarding, and greed that characterize so much of our late modern culture.” (DtK)
I think an important part of this has to do with the habits we practice. Are we becoming selfish people or giving people?
I used to think that one day, I would be a great giver. When we had more money. When my house was big enough to have people over for dinner. When the kids were older and I could volunteer more. One day, I would become the person I wanted to be.
But I don’t think it really works like that. I think it’s the daily drips of habit that form us into who we want to be.
There is more to loving people than just giving money. There is more to serving than just easing a need for a few days. Following our vocation calls on everything we have, and using it for the good of everyone else.
But usually you won’t hear a whole lot of talk about that in church. At least, I rarely have; it has seemed most often to boil down to ‘write us a check.’ And I know that there are financial needs and a staff and the lights to keep on, and I know that organizations like IJM and World Vision survive because people give them money. So I’m not discounting the very important role money can play.
But it’s not the only role when it comes to loving others. It’s not the only option. Maybe not even the main option?
Writing a check does not form me in a spiritual way. Merely giving money does not counter my spending habits. It’s the same habit, just in a different place.
So how can I be formed in love, giving, and stewardship with all of my resources, including money?
What do I love with money? People? Or just doing the right thing? Assuaging guilt? Testing God?
“All habits and practices are ultimately trying to make us into a certain kind of person. So one of the most important questions we need to ask is: Just what kind of person is this habit or practice trying to produce, and to what end is such a practice aimed?” (DtK)
What sort of person am I becoming when I spend money? When I pick up the pen? When I read a book? When I interact with my community?
I know that when it comes to me and other people, I want to know them. I want to know their stories. I want to involve myself, even if it’s only digitally, in their lives. I don’t want to just make anonymous donations. I don’t think anonymity shapes me into the kind of person Jesus was.
But I’m sure it’s different for different people.
In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith offers a practices audit.
“Are there habits and practices that we acquire without knowing it? Are there ritual forces in our culture that we perhaps naively immerse ourselves in – and are thus formed by – that, when we consider them more closely, are pointed at some ultimate end?”
* What are some of the most significant habits and practices that really shape your actions and attitude – what you think and what you do?
* What does your time look like? What practices are you regularly immersed in each week? How much time is spent doing different sorts of activities?
* What do you think are the most important ritual forces in your life? And if you were honest with yourself, are these positive (forming you into the kind of person who embodies the kingdom of God) or negative (forming you into someone whose values and desires are antithetical to that kingdom, oriented toward another kingdom)?
* What do you think are some of the most potent practices in our culture? Or, if you have kids, what are the cultural forces that you don’t want your children shaped by? What are the ritual forces that you do want to shape their desires? And why on both counts?
Next week I have some guest posts coming, reflecting on this audit, talking about what has been helpful to them in forming their lives into ones that love and serve other people. But until then, reflect on the questions he poses, which ultimately ask us:
How can we be formed into people who love God and love others?
Check out the other posts in this series: Identity and Vocation Defined Being an Image of God What Does Christian Vocation Look Like? Is It Who You Are, Or Just What You Do? How Does Vocation Impact Our Places of Work? Stewarding Our Love Pursuing Vocation Alone?