This post is part of a series called Merely Beloved. For more info click here.
Tearing Open the Barn Door
There is always a lot of chatter in religious circles during Advent about “reclaiming Christmas.” The idea generally is to reclaim the meaning of Christmas from a commercial endeavor whereby we do our best to spend more than we can afford on gifts that no-one needs anyways and instead remember the coming of the Christ-child who brought peace, redemption, and healing to the world. This is a worthy effort. But one of the spiritual disciplines that is most meaningful to me and my family during the Advent season is spending money.
Before you gasp with horror at my heretical and shallow spirituality let me explain. One of the most meaningful spiritual practices for me leading up to Christmas is giving money away. I like giving money away. Well, okay, I’m not sure I can truthfully say I like it when I think of all the fun things I could buy for myself, but I am blessed when I give money away. Especially at this time of year, giving money away, donating to charity, tithing, whatever name you want to put on it – keeps me from being such a fool.
Most of my life I live like the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. I do just what Jesus warns against – storing up all my grain and my goods in larger and larger barns. (Well, I am a minister so my barns aren’t very big, but they are big enough, probably bigger than they need to be.) I put money away in ROTH IRA accounts, 403b accounts, and of course the wonderful PCUSA pension plan all young Presbyterian ministers are sure will be there for us when we retire (won’t it?). I re-finance my house to lower my mortgage rate. And I do my taxes carefully in order to claim as many deductions and credits as is legally possible including the very nice deduction for…giving money away.
Yes, at this time of year my wife and I make a list of the charities we want to support and we make sure we have completed all of our donations before December 31 in order to deduct our donations on our tax return in the spring. But it isn’t only for the financial incentive that I appreciate this part of our national tax code. I am grateful for it because each year it reminds me to go through what has become a life-giving spiritual discipline that lowers my foolish quotient and keeps me sane.
Because most of my life I live like the rich fool. I live as though my life consists of the abundance of my possessions. Even though it doesn’t. I live as though what I earn is all mine, mine, mine like Gollum hunting desperately for the “one ring”. Even though it isn’t. I live as though I can store up my grain forever if I just keep on gathering up each kernel. Even though I can’t. Yes, most of my life I live like the rich fool.
So I am grateful for the poke and prod that comes each fall to give money away. Because giving a tenth of my first fruits rips a nice big hole in my barn door. Grain spills out. Lots of grain if I remain faithful to the commitment my wife and I made years ago to actually tithe. Grain spills out and onto the fertile ground of need and opportunity that is the world around us. One of my favorite traditions at this time of year is sitting down at the kitchen table with my daughters and a Heifer International Gift Catalogue and “buying” animals for each person in our extended family. Our grain becomes chicks and llamas, water buffalo and honey bees.
Tearing open a hole in my barn door frees me from the self-deception that I can ensure comfort for myself for eternity. It reminds me who my maker and provider is. It reminds me to be grateful that I have the means to give financially and still put food on the table. And it grounds me in the joy of a life lived with open hands and an open heart. And so I will do my best each Advent to practice that very important spiritual discipline of spending money…by ripping a big hole in my barn door.
Rev. Mark Elsdon feels very blessed to be celebrating this Christmas season with his two daughters and wife in snowy Madison, Wisconsin where he also serves as Co-Pastor and Executive Director of Pres House, the Presbyterian campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Mark will be cheering for a Badger win against his alma mater’s big rival Stanford in the Rose Bowl.