With the arrival of summer, I have been stressing out about money. Vacations, weddings, extra weekly outings with friends in town, switching apartments…etc. I know I’m not alone in this – every summer there is a HUGE push in sales, advertising, etc around vacations, summer activities, entertainment, fashion, food – all that. I’d like to share a pre-view of a book, of an author, who’s been helping me sort through that stress to what the stress is really about – how do I relate to money, or more specifically, material things and creation itself? How do you relate?
I say pre-view, because I haven’t finished the book yet – but I am so impressed with everything I’ve read so far that I couldn’t wait to finish it to present it to y’all. The book is Slave of Two Masters, by Melinda Selmys.
Melinda artfully draws on many sources – the Bible, the Catechism, numerous Encyclicals by numerous Popes, and cites authors as varied as Alice von Hildebrand, Peter Kreeft, St John Chrysostom, John Ruskin, Confucius and Jean Baudrillard – to help us examine the relationship between man and money, and man and God.
But she doesn’t just talk about money – in her intuitiveness, she sees all the relationships involved. She talks about work, time, social justice, gender, placing a monetary value on human lives, treating each other and each other’s bodies as commodities, consumer culture, waste, advertising, virtue, poverty…and I’m only half-way through the book. Melinda has a gift for linking so many different themes that we often don’t realize are connected – she has a gift for understanding the organic ties that bind such things together, and a gift for explaining those inner-connecting ties through a profound grasp of philosophy and theology.
In examining my own relationship to money, material things, etc, Melinda’s book has help me continually re-orient towards God, instead of just stressing out. Her book has been a steady and much needed guide, not just because of the summer spending craze that’s in the air, but also in this hectic phase of life as a young adult graduate student – when the pressures of student debt, trying to make it on my own, preparing to launch a career, etc. can all take the focus off what my heart needs to be centered on in order to navigate any of this with integrity and freedom – my relationship to God.
It may sound irresponsible or radical or totally ordinary, but in dealing with money, as with anything else, when God is not at the center, things will fall apart and become disordered. But if we let Him be God for us, open our minds and souls to the Wisdom He has written into creation, and give Him that central place in all our relationships (our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the material/created world), we will find harmony, we will find peace, and we will soar…
But now I’ll let Melinda talk for herself – hopefully she won’t mind my posting a few quotes here, precisely to invite you to spend your own time and money and get a copy of the book for yourself! And one last thing – don’t limit yourself to these quotes, because the depth of the development of her ideas and all the connections she draws cannot be communicate by these little snippets!
From the introduction:
“It is therefore necessary to put to death the notion that money can bring the joy and peace which human beings desire. It is not possible to worship the Lord God of Israel, but also, just a little bit, worship the golden calf…Does this mean Christians must live a grim life of austerity, feasting on ashes, dressed in sackcloth, weeping and tearing their beard all the days of their lives?…Only if we assume that the enjoyment of earthly life must be measure in gold.” (p. 1-2).
On consumerism and identity:
“In the present age, one of the immaterial values which material things are often called on to signify is identity…Identities are no longer rooted in families and communities, and the anonymity of city life creates a need to create and maintain identities which are immediately visible, and which declare themselves through concrete symbols. Consumer goods become the tribal signs by which people with similar interestes and attitudes recognize and identify with one another…When people buy their identities on the free market the result is always self-consciousness and anxiety.” (p. 16).
On waste and the disposable culture:
“The simplest way to increase demand is to create products which are meant to be wasted. Disposable goods are associated with “convenience,” which, like efficiency, is supposed to liberate time. This however is often an illusion. Accomplished through sleight of hand: the worker, already having spent time in order to gain money, no longer sees the intimate connection between the money gained and the time spent. In many cases, the amount of time that is saved by a convenience product is not comparable with the amount of effort it takes to earn the money to purchase it.” (p. 19).
“When men treat the fruits of the earth and of human labor with contempt, disposing of them instead of valuing and maintaining them, they treat one another with contempt…Ingratitude for the gifts of the earth prepares the soul to be ungrateful also for the gift of other human beings. This is a large pat of why our present society, not in spite of but because of its affluence, is a culture of loneliness.” (p. 20-21).
On imparting value to goods:
“…because goods are only able to express the value that the person has put into them, no amount of multiplication will ever bring a man more joy than he has to impart. The multiplication of desires is a frantic casting about for more value by the man who has material excess coupled with interior privation.” (p. 29)
“A person who has the spirit of poverty is not one who denies himself the good things of the earth, but rather one who is able to gain more enjoyment from a very small number of earthly things than other men are able to gain from oceans of wealth. By increasing his spiritual capital, the virtuous man is enabled to impart more value to the things around him; to love them more, and in a more ordered way.” (p.29)
Back cover book description (in case you aren’t convinced yet!!):
“It is impossible to serve both God and Mammon. This is one of those hard sayings in the gospel that often causes people to go away sad. Material wealth seems like such an important part of happiness here on Earth that the cost of giving it up for Christ seems intolerable. Money secures so many basic human goods: freedom, choice, social status, dignity, self-respect, the ability to provide for others, and even life itself. Poverty may be a virtue: but surely it’s one of those gruelling, unpleasant virtues which are reserved for people who have made religious vows.
Yet there is one thing that is difficult to explain. The people who have embraced the virtue of poverty have freedom, choice, love, dignity, self-respect, generosity and fullness of life. More so, in fact, than the people who have tried to obtain these things with gold.
Everybody knows, vaguely, that this is true. The question is, how do we go about proving it from day to day? When Mammon promises us the world, if only we will bow down and worship him, how do we find the faith to trust in God instead?”