Tag Archives: money

Sell everything you have, and give it to the poor!


As most people would have noticed already, recently I’ve been finishing an older collection of songs with titles like ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. (downloadlink to Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass )
People have asked me before why I wrote the song, and what I think about the bible verses that it’s based on, so maybe it’s a good idea to clarify a bit with some bible study about Christ and money, or riches in general.

Let’s start with the song, which can be listened here. Music-wise it’s basically a very simple folk song in an American style, so simple that anyone who has had a few lessons on a guitar can easily play it (please do! It’s only G, C and D). The lyrics are a simple retelling of a story in the gospels that is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ in English, a passage found in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-34):

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said, I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do:

sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
yeah everything you have
get rid of it
sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

easier it is for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything… /easier it is…

Quite catchy, isn’t it?

So, why did I write and still this song if I didn’t exactly do what I sing myself? It’s clear that I didn’t sell all my possessions, nor that I am planning to so… The first explanation is that I sometimes write songs about things that I want to understand myself and try to learn more about, wrestling with the subject. But there’s a lot more that can and should be said.

Some in the first church might disagree here (a lot of people did sell everything, read acts) but I believe that while the command to the rich young ruler was not a general law for everyone, and only a personal advice to that one guy. But still there is a very grave warning about being rich in this story and other places of the New Testament that cannot be ignored if you that the bible seriously.
Or at least that’s what one who takes the bible at face value would think, but it seems one of the most-ignored biblical messages these days, even though there’s a very grave warning attached to it. Whatever the metaphor of the camel an the eye of the needle means (I’m not going into that discussion here, it only would distract) the range of interpretations one could have for “easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” goes from it being very very hard for rich persons to be saved to beyond impossible. It might be softened by ‘what’s impossible for humans is possible for God’, but it still looks like it looks very bleak for rich people when it comes to being saved.

It would be an understatement to say that according to Jesus there is something very dangerous about riches and money. The fact that the only false god Jesus calls by name is Mammon, his own personification of money should say enough here, but there is much more in the New Testament to back this up. Jesus literally says ‘blessed are the poor’ and ‘woe to the rich’ in Luke 6 for example. The apostles also have some interesting things to say. Let’s look at some bible verses, and I suggest that if you want to really think about this issue you read them slowly and prayerfully and let them sink in, and let the text read you.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money/Mammon.

(Note that the NET bible translates ‘Mammon’ into money here)
This is straightforward: Money competes with God, and if we serve money we will not be able to serve God. The danger of being rich here is that the things we think we own end up owning us, and take us away from God, and demand our soul.

1 Tim 6:6-11 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 6:7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul echoes the same idea here, but adds different layers about temptation to it. Note that he is often misquoted here, he does not say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, but that the love of money is. This is an important distinction to contemplate.

There also is the famous warning against the rich from James, where he echoes Jesus from Luke 6 and seems to assume that riches often comes from a sinful life:

James 5:1-6 5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

No, that’s not Marx, that’s the New Testament, and it echoes countless passages from the prophets in the old testament, including the description of the sins of Sodom in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 “‘See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

To complete this bible study, and to bring some balance to those who think that utter poverty is what all these verses point to (they don’t) I also connect this to the wisdom of Agur (no, I have no idea who he is either but he is included in the bible here as a wisdom teacher…) as recorded in proverbs 30:7-9 that I turned into another song on the same album, with less chords and instruments than ‘sell everything’, but a lot more weirdness. The music to ‘poverty nor riches’ might lose itself in pseudo-shamanic atmospheres and noisy freejazz interludes, the lyrics themselves are straight from the bible without much paraphrase:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
to not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me
and give me neither riches nor poverty
only my daily needs
for I may own too much and disown you
and say Who is the Lord
or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour your name O Lord

How do we connect the dots here? It seems that there are great warnings against being wealthy in the bible, which are very often ignored. Which is quite dangerous, because relatively spoken we all are rich as Westerners. Compared to a lot of people in the global South today, and to most of the population in biblical times, we’re all rather wealthy and rich even though we often fail to see it. But the effect on our soul and our faith might still be there if we don’t watch out…

There are 2 very important realities about money.
* Money can very easily become an idol. Jesus doesn’t call it Mammon for nothing. This is not something new, a lot of philosophers and spiritual teachers in all kinds of traditions would agree about this. Money, and possessions in general are a dangerous idol that make it impossible to connect to God.
And some are willing to sacrifice human lives and whole ecosystems for. And that in our modern secular times… And that brings us to our second point:
* A lot of rich people have become rich by being oppressive or dishonest, as Jesus, James and the prophets tell us. This is evidently very bad for the involved oppressed, but it also is a sin that keeps the rich one away from God, makes one arrogant. If you dehumanise your brother to just a pawn in your game of getting richer instead as a person worth as much as you, deserving as much as you, you’re far from God indeed.

In spite all my rage I might still be just a rat in a cage. My album title ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ might be sarcastic but after all I still am Middleclass myself. Some people would look down on me as not earning much to certain contemporary standards, while others would see me as incredibly wealthy. (Including most of my forefathers in earlier eras, people from biblical and historical times, and people in the global South)

I’ve met people who knew what it is to live with nothing and trust God, living from day to day in faith and trust. While this is very basic Christianity, it also is something very few modern Christians need to develop, and something I know is seriously lacking in my faith life. I trust that I will have enough. I am a spoiled Westerner.

(The issue of being wealthy might even be part of why the West is losing its Christianity in this era btw. Faith is trusting in God as a Reality anyway, and we have made it accepting conceptual statements.)

As you see, these are things that I am still am struggling with. I don’t have all the answers, and even if I had them they will not sink in unless you have struggled with them yourselves.

Some will think I’m going way too far here, but I’m not sure of that. If you think I’m too soft on sin here, and want a more resolute input, I refer you to this excellent series by Micael Grenholm on Holy Spirit Activism who does argue it is a sin to be rich as a Christian. And his biblical explanation is quite strong, stronger than a lot of reasoning where super-important issues for some people are defended as ‘biblical’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Poverty & Wealth
the love of money vs. the way of Christ…
Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!

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the love of money vs. the way of Christ…


Thee ebible.com verse of the day, reminded me again how different the Way of Christ is compared to the assumed ways of life of this modern world:

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. ” 6 So we can confidently say,”The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5 – 6

In a world where our current economic systems are based on greed, ‘more more more’, and ‘I’m cooler than my neighbour coz I have X’, and where people think that greed is a good driving force behind an economy, the Way of Christ is actually quite subversive…

If  only all of us Christians would effectively live according to the last of the 10 commandments about not coveting what belongs to our neigbor, there would be a big problem for our contemporary Marketing and Advertisement industry, which tries to create new needs every day, and tries to sell us everything we don’t need… (And then I’m not even talking about the commandment before that one, about not bearing a false witness!) If one would try to set up a system that is opposed to the words of Jesus and the OT laws, our late modern consumer capitalism would be a pretty good candidate of what would emerge…

But instead of keeping our focus on what shouldn’t be but is, let’s look at what should be and how it’s meant to be, and let’s for a moment meditate on the following words of Paul in 1 Tim 6:

:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. :7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so1 we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

The way of Christ is not to follow money, which becomes an idol called Mammon in the bible, but to use money or the unrighteous Mammon (if we have it) to make friends. Yes, people are put before money here.  And people who hoard riches, which are living out our neoliberal dreams in other words, are even used in the gospels as an example of human wickedness… Kingdoms are clashing here. Which one do we choose?

The way of Christ is to love, first and foremost. Mammon should desacralised and instead of turned into an idol that guides our lives, and riches and money are to be used to help other people, and not to build our own empire. Jesus even said to the rich young rules that he had to sell everything and give to the poor if he wanted eternal life, and before we are too quick to dismiss that, let’s remember the first church in the book of acts effectively lived like that, as did the first Christians in the first centuries, a lot of monastic orders throughout the ages and even New Monastic today…  So it’s not impossible…

Imagine how the world would be different if we really followed Jesus, settled for enough and shared the rest with all those in need. It has been done before. The Roman emperor Julian the apostate, who didn’t like the Christians very much, said that ‘the Christians fed their (Roman) poor in addition to their own. So why do we think of these things as so otherworldy?

And I am part of the problem here!

I know I’m preaching to myself now, and I still have a long way to go in this.God help me, Spirit lead me, Jesus teach me!

Any additions, examples, whatever?

shalom

Bram

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!


edit: since my post initially wasn’t that clear about what I meant, I expanded it heavily, the new part is put in [ ]-brackets…
edit2: thanks to Stefania for assisting me in the tracking down and removal of a whole truckload of typo’s…

The title already says it all, and I don’t mean to attack anyone, but it makes me wonder about our whole religious publishing and music industry:

Copyrighting Truth is theft and a crime against humanity!

Any Truth that gives life cannot be our own property, but should be shared with all of humanity! Every grain of truth we stumble upon is not our invention, but something the Almighty has given us. To not give it away freely is to steal from those who need it as much as we do!

Jesus tells his disciples to bring the Kingdom of God:

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Mat 10:7-8)

What shall we think then of all our religious publishing?

So how can we as Christians put a copyright on anything that proclaims the Kingdom of God? How can we claim to own Truth about the Kingdom of God, and only give it to those who pay? Do we then follow Jesus more, or Mammon, the false God of the dire money?

Isn’t this blasphemy? All Truth belongs to God! Shouldn’t it be given freely?

Or don’t we believe in the importance of the religous messages that we sell? All those Christian books that promise new insight in the bible, new truths about God and how to live our life to the fullest, and yadda yadda yadda. If it’s true that we have this information, is it Christlike to charge money for it??

Or don’t we really believe in the importance and trancendence of what we have to tell, and treat it like any other information that can be told. Do we believe that God is more important than the things of this fallen human society, or do we believe that Mammon and the ways of this world which are imprisoned by that false God are more real than the gospel we write about, than the Truth we proclaim, than the Kingdom of God? I would say that

All Truth that matters belongs to God and is not ours to make money of, but ours to share in all possible ways to those who are spiritually starving in this postmodern world!

[So what do I mean? I did say ‘Truth’ should not be copyrighted. I don’t say our books are the perfect incarnation of Truth. I may not be a big fan of copyrights the way they exist in this world, but when you write down your own story, it’s evident that you are the owner of that story, and no-one else should be using it as a product to make money of behind your back, that’s just fair.

One of the things I was thinking about when writing this post is a story I once read about Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, being sued by some guy who claimed that Dan Brown had stolen his theories about I think Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France. Now, let’s assume for a moment that this story is true… (it’s not) Then the guy claims to be the owner of the truth about Jesus. We have a serious problem if the Truth would be owned by someone, and it would be even worse if that guy doesn’t even care about truth, but sees it as a product to be bought and sold.

Like I said, if it is Truth, it is of God. It cannot be owned or controlled by us, and our motivation should be to share it with everybody.

So if you as a Christian have something that (you believe) has the power to bring people closer to God, you should make that available for all. That does not mean you can’t make money for a living selling your books, but if you really believe in the power of what you have to give, and then make people buy your book, and workbook, and series of teaching DVD’s, and put copyright notices on all of them with warnings that violators will be prosecuted by federal law and stuff, something does not at all fly well with me. If your stuff is that good and essential and life-transforming and yadda yadda, and you’re only willing to give it to those who pay you, you’re robbing people and ripping of God. And the result is more like some kind of scientology-light than the Kingdom of God…

So make your books, sell them, make it available, but if you really believe that you have something that’s important for everybody, you will not only sell it, but also prompt people to share it. You will applaud it if someone else finds a new way of commnucating what you were sharing building on your work.

Because in the end; the Truth in there is not ours, it’s God’s! We, and our works, are just vessels, jars of clay in, and the treasure inside of us is much more than Mammon. ]

What say you?

shalom

Bram

blast from the past 3: Love is the first Law!


One last old blogpost from myself, but I think it is an important one… As a soundstrack I would propose the half-handed cloud album ‘we haven’t just been told, we have been loved’, but that one is not listenable on the internet as far as I know… (so buy it, it’s defenitely worth it!!) or my song ‘feelings say nothing’, see the introducing paragraph to my first ‘blast from the past‘ post (including the warning), since the post was named after the other title of that song. Another proposed song is the beautiful  ‘words can’t’ by my friend AdiVa which can be heard at her myspace.

wednesday, december 06, 2006
title: Love is the first Law!!!
originally posted on http://www.myspace.com/bramc
Love is the first Law, the first law of everything, the one that should be obeyed above all, even the first law of the bible: Both Paul and Jesus do summarise the whole law in ‘love your neigbor as youself!! If you love God, and your fellow human and yourself, then the law is fulfilled! If you just try to keep any law but have no love then it’s all useless…
The only way to really live is to give up yourself and give yourself to the other, and the Other!! Self-satisfaction does not satisfy anyone… If you seek only yourself, you will find yourself empty, but if you give yourself, you will live!!
Love is not just a feeling. It is much deeper than our emotions, our feelings are just an expression of it… Love can be also a choice we have to rely on when our feelings do not want to co-operate…
The other forces of this world are seeking the self and will finally end up in emptiness, like power and money. Sex is a lie unless you truly give yourself to the other, and do not take yourself back as long as you’re both alive… Love is the only thing that matters!!!
love and peace
Bram

blast from the past 1: work, sex, love and God…


hi all you imaginary readers;

Since  I’m starting with using this english blog, so I thought it could be interesting to repost some older posts I made on some other sites. This one is from the few attempts I once had to use my myspace as a blog, from april 21, 2007, not too long after my marriage. for a soundtrack listen to my songs the beauty in this innocence and  feelings say nothing (love is the first law) which can be downloaded free from last.fm (Warning: crappy lo-fi and weird music!!)

date: saturday, april 21, 2007
title: work, sex, love and God…
originally posted on http://www.myspace.com/bramc

and Oh yeah…

My life has been changing so fast: I’m a grown-up man now… I’ve got a job, I’ve got a wife… I’ve made it now!! I’m someone finally would some people say… And yet I’m wondering, wondering about something, as if I’m missing something, maybe missing everything…

Oh yeah, work is important. When people ask you what you do to earn money they might even derive your identity from the answer… I basicaly just take care for the green in the city because I need the money to live with my little family… But I’m happy with this job because at least I do something that makes the world a little better… even if it’s just about working with plants and trees in this city…

Hmm… I once collected bags of garbage on the street formy money, and it was maybe the most useful thing I ever did for which I did to get paid! If people would not do that for some weeks the world would be a big garbage belt!!! Sometimes the most dirty jobs are more important than the big jobs people look up to in this world… But hey, doctors and teachers were slaves in the roman empire…

I don’t believe that a ‘job’ should be your identity… it is important to do things that make the diference… Paid or unpaid… Am I the guy who does the lawn in the stuyvenbergpark, or an I the weirdo who sings ‘father I am tired’, a song of which people tell me they can relate to, but of which i’ve never made any money. Or am I just the friend, the lover, the guy who tries to be a follower of Christ? I don’t know :s

All I wanna be known for is the love that I give!!!! The rest should be just details!!!

about sex then… It is so over-hyped in this world, but I’ve never been interested in it the way the world sells it. I never experienced it that way either…

Call me naieve for my perception of it, but here’s my point of view on sex: I’ve been single all my of life, and I had never even kissed a girl before I started the relationship with she who is my wife now… People don’t believe me when I tell it but it feels natural to me, just to discover everything together… she’s my best friend, she’s my lover, she’s the biggest present God ever gave me, and she will never be replaceable. I am very well aware that such a thing can only happen once in a lifetime. And that it sounds alien to lots of people too if you tell about such thing…

Love is something weird: It is strange when someone really loves you like she loves me… It is strange when she knows everything about you, including all the dark thangs that you hate about yourself, and still loves you more than you can understand… The Eros stuff is just a part of it, and the love would still be there without sex and it would still be complete in a sexless world… Sex is a part of our relationship, and because it is something we have discovered together, it can only be a part of me and her, and not something on itself… And still it is just an expression of something deeper… It is giving yourself, litterally becoming one, and being so vulnerable without being hurt….

When you are loved in such a complete way, and then you feel at the same that God does love you with a love even bigger than this love which seems to be beyond compare and in which you float away, you cannot do a thing but just drown in it…

Love is what matters… Not money, not your job, not sex… Love is the first law!!! The love that you have given will be what matters in the end!!!!

shalom

Bram