The death of Antonin Scalia has people talking about his legacy. Most of the comments start with “love him or hate him, he made an impact.” An op-ed in the New York Times says: Justice Scalia’s most important legacy will be his “originalism” and “textualism” theory. But it also says his attitude of calling opponents “idiotic” or worse may also be as memorable. He often made a point that recycled a 19th century slogan about Native Americans: “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution” — that may also be the kind of thing history recalls.
When Ronald Reagan nominated Scalia in 1986 I was not thinking too clearly about my legacy. I was creating one, but I was a bit in denial about being actually responsible for it. I was the father of toddlers and in the throes of planting a church, so I had a lot to influence. But I consciously left the future in God’s hands and lived as radically as I could imagine. I am sure I also thought my opponents were idiotic at times. As a result, a lot of good happened and no small amount of bad. I think I could have used some more consciousness about what I was trying to build that others might live in.
I always say things like “We’re not building the pyramids here,” meaning that we know we are being shaped by God all the time; what we do is temporal and subject to development, like we as people are subject. But that can be taken too far, since we are made to influence one another and what we do also has eternal value, or at least long-lasting ill-affect. So I am glad we have a seminar coming up this weekend that will teach us about considering our legacy a little bit. It is called The Color of Money: Blue. Blue is the color of water, the season of the Way of Jesus devoted to people who are exploring the depths of being a Jesus follower. What do mature Christians do with their money? What legacy will they leave?
Last year the Capacity Core Team did some good thinking about money. Some of it will be worked in to the upcoming seminar. They came up with four words that I think we all have to ponder when we are making decisions about what to do with our money and what our money might do for others.
Four words to ponder when making money decisions
Character. How we use our money is a sure indicator of whether we are acting out of our true self in Christ, or not. Our goal is to become a sharer, like God. Most of the time, if we have a twenty in our hand, a choice is being made. That might be why our creditors love paperless, automated systems, so we never see that money at all and can’t figure out what is going on! We like not knowing, too, since it is hard to be responsible and the machine makes us think everything is taken care of.
Community. Having a common fund with the other believers is such tangible faithing that it is irreplaceable. It might shape us more than anything else; sharing like that quickens latent discipleship. Not sharing like that is also shaping everyone staying on the outside, right now. Being a sharer implies that we have a personal connection with someone. Bill Gates is a sharer too, but mostly with spreadsheets, with masses. We are sharers with each other, first. Our common fund is the basic tool of our love since it is built with love. Building one makes us something even as we are making it.
Resistance. We’re taught a lot about money in this society/economy that oppresses us. Basic money management rules never change: Spending less than you earn will always be beneficial. Investing your money will always be better than doing nothing with it. And planning for the future will always be better than blowing your paycheck as soon as you get it. But in the U.S. those management ideas are usually applied to becoming wealthy not pursuing God. Some of us resist the pursuit of wealth by refusing to seriously deal with finances. Some of us resist resisting and try to Christianize the pursuit of wealth, or at least avoid talking about our preoccupation with it. Alternatively, we want to have a godly resistance, not just resistance of some sort. We need to address the use of money (which is a subject often laden with taboo or fully enslaved to some godless philosophy) with love and in the presence of God.
Investment. This is a very “blue” word, since it implies that you have something to invest: a character that makes godly choices, a community that is worth your heart, a conviction that frees you from slavery to the world’s ways and an imagination about what might be growing. Investing money is about creating wealth for most people — that is the goal of capitalism, right? But investment should be about one’s spiritual legacy: What we are given to give to the world? What is our best shot at moving transformation along? Investment is about building something that is bigger than just our own wealth. Our church is our most immediate “something” that we build together. But that tool we have builds something bigger than itself, too. We can see what it builds when we explore what our investment in MCC does, or when we can dare to spend our savings to plant another congregation, or in how we invest in the lives of our leaders and staff and manage to maintain our properties.
Sharing money is where we answer two of the most important questions in life: “Where do I belong?” and “Am I important?” Sharing what we have expresses our unity within the body and in our common purpose. What we have matters because we each matter. We need each other. Without each other we wither.
Antonin Scalia spent his whole life trying to get the cap back on the societal bottle that blew its top in the 1970’s. Most Christians have been doing the same thing, in vain, right alongside him — no doubt some with great motives. We, as Circle of Hope, have been trying to do something else. Like our song says, we like that “new wine.” It is not new like it is an innovation. It is new because the world is, like Scalia said, a bit “idiotic” and life with God seems new to us. Each generation needs its own taste of the new life Jesus is bringing to an ever-dying world. How we handle our money is a great test of the faith we bring to living in that world. How we share is one of the most tangible ways we get to demonstrate that something new in the world is not only possible, it is being built.