Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is Your Business?

As Christians, one of the ways we've adopted the way of the world is our obsession with privacy. We're just as prone as anyone else to say, "that's none of your business." Yes, sometimes it's not. I think I have an old post here about the difference between privacy and propriety. But I do believe that depends on context, not content. I can't think of anything in my life, given the right context, it wouldn't be appropriate or necessary to share. Yes, those contexts may be few and far between, but they exist.

As a general rule, a Christian life should be open - open to inspection and question, suggestion and caution, open to correction, discussion, and outside influence. Privacy is not a luxury Christian enjoy. That's difficult for us, living in a society that prizes privacy as much as anything. We like the notion of independence, self-determination, and the ability to say, "that's none of your business." Building that wall around ourselves, one whose access is controlled by us, is comforting. No doubt.

I'm not sure it's helpful, though.

Recently, a large purchase by one of my denomination's leaders made waves because it got picked up by a big city newspaper. It was sort of unfortunate all around, especially because a lot of the discussion it spawned turned pretty personal, judgmental, and vindictive. That was sad. Obviously, one needs some sort of relationship with the guy to be able to truly ask questions about this specific purchase. At the same time, I was excited to see people willing to talk about something US society tends to avoid - money, spending, income, investments, giving, lifestyle, etc. I think these are important things, worthy of real examination.

Obviously there was a personal example floating around, so it wasn't like we could totally speak in hypotheticals - but I have some real internal conflicts between the way we're taught to behave with money (both culturally and within the Church) and the words Jesus used about money and the future and how we're best to respond to those things.

What became frustrating was how simply and easily such questions were shot down, even in the generic. I'd love to sit down and have a conversation with someone about my own finances, asking and evaluating exactly the same kind of questions we were asking about the leader in question. I think that kind of loving scrutiny can only help expand my perspective and energize my imagination for more and better attempts to be faithful.

One of the go to responses when people get uncomfortable with such conversation about someone else is, "why don't you lay out your checkbook for us and let us go over how you spend your money." In one Facebook thread I started to do just that - laying out some basic spending habits and decisions we've made for our family, with a promise of more detail if the discussion continued - I mean it when I say my life is an open book. The response was one of awkward negation, "I was only being rhetorical." I've had the same interaction with people many times, to the same result. It just seems like this kind of openness and examination should not only be normal, accepted behavior for Christians, but welcomed and encouraged.

There are problems inherent in this, especially when we're not culturally used to these discussions. They'll be awkward and floundering at times, but they're important. Yes, some people are too quick to speak and do so with unhelpful motives. But lots of other people are too reluctant to speak with equally unhelpful motives.

As Christians, the way we act, including what we make and how we spend it, is someone else's business. It's all our business, because we're accountable to each other and responsible for each other. I'm not saying it's easy, but we have to work hard to have personal discussions about things our culture generally names off limits. It's only going to do us good in the long run.

One thing for sure, though, as we move quickly to quiet those voices looking to challenge for selfish or unloving motives, we must be careful to just as quickly challenge those looking to maintain silence or exclusion in the interest of privacy. Questions are good. Discussion is good. New perspectives are important, valuable, and helpful. Yes we need relationship and context and all of those other things, but mostly we need to simply trust each other. If we really believe we're doing this journey called life together, we're going to get where we want to be quickest and easiest if we do it together.

It's not my business or your business; it's OUR business - and we can't forget that.

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