Transitions are the stuff of life. Or: change is the only constant.
There is a lot of transition in my life these days. It is unsettling.
There is a desire for stability and certainty that stays with me. It makes me moody, depressed, anxious, and envious.
Some of the transition is life stage stuff. I'm closer to 40 then I used to be. Health stuff is becoming more of an issue. I've got to pay closer attention to my body and how to not abuse it.
My four kids are all getting older everyday - though it seems most apparent when they finish up another year of school. Like they did the other day. 5th grade, 3rd grade and 1st grade are all coming up this fall.
And I'm back in school, at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois; I'm finishing up my first class in Missional Ecclesiology for my doctor of ministry degree in Missional Church Leadership. The class is messing with my assumptions about ministry and church. "New" brings both opportunity and anxiety.
Tara and I are approaching our 18th wedding anniversary, 19th engagement anniversary, and 20th dating anniversary. In all those years (two decades!!!!!) there has been so much transition (aka: growing up). I can't believe how much of my narcism and pettiness she has had to put up with all this time. There is so much more room for improvement for me when it comes to loving.
We are moving, for the fourth time, to a house we hope to make our home for a long time. Hopefully it can be a hangout house for our kids and their friends, and our friends.
But selling a house, buying, packing and moving brings with it lots of transition tension and frustration. All this while Tara is wrapping up a challenging school year as a kindergarten teacher, I'm transitioning back into pastoral work with Anchor after a four month sabbatical, and the responsibilities for lots of other details in life all seem to converge at once.
I suppose this sounds like whining. Maybe it is. But it's all swirling around in my head. And now that it's typed out, it doesn't all seem so intimidating. Still a little overwhelming, though.
But it's not just the physical transitions, the geographic ones or the scheduled changes. It's also about what I believe, what I see, how I interpret reality, what my purpose is, what matters in life, and how to sort through all the ramifications of my choices. There is spiritual transitions, existential transitions, philosophical and theological transitions, emotional and social transitions. It feels like everything in my life is in transition. Like I can feel the churning of all the transitions. Well, not all, but a lot.
Maybe the transition that weighs on my mind the most is economic transition. Meaning: the growing awareness that every economic transaction has a real consequence on how other people live and experience reality. For over three decades I never cared where my stuff came from or how it was made. But now there is a growing awareness that my purchasing power affects real people. My Apple products that I purchased affect the livelihood of underpaid workers in China. The Tyson chicken I eat was likely prepared in a disgusting factory by illegal immigrants. The gasoline I purchased for my car came at the expense of local villagers who were displaced by an energy company in Africa. The more global our economy, and the more "truth" that journalists uncover, the more aware I am becoming of how my actions affect other people.
I don't want to think about how to better spend my money on products that will contribute to real flourishing of workers. It seems so complicated. And yet....
Jesus makes a big deal about money and possessions in his teachings. I don't want money and possessions (ie anything I buy with money) to have priority over a life oriented around love of God and my neighbor. If I really am going to let the love of Jesus affect every part of my life, that has to include my money and all that I possess - whether for survival or leisure.
In getting ready to move, it has become apparent to Tara and I that we have way more stuff then we need. And we hardly ever go shopping for stuff! It is too easy to accumulate more stuff then we can even use. And as our economy becomes globalized, cheap stuff isn't so "cheap" anymore; and technology that is supposed to bring convenience and leisure to our lives often makes life more cluttered while impoverishing those that slave in another land to produce the minerals or piece together the instrument for my user-friendly life.
I can feel the resistance in me, the desire to put my head in the sand and not pay attention to the impact that my dollars have in the world. I tithe. Tara and I give more then ten percent of our before taxed income away. Most of it to our local church, and then also to other charities and needs. And we still have more then enough money to accumulate stuff we don't need. We could afford to give away more money. And yet some of the best use of our money would be to use it more wisely on the products we know we need.
Constant items we purchase are food (grocery and restaurant), utilities and mortgage for our house, gas, household items, and then there is the occasional purchase of clothes, luxury items like movies, music, books, and then big ticket items like vacation, technology stuff, and gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I'm sure I'm missing something. Tara and I work hard to handle our money well. But it seems so apparent to me that we need to pay more attention to what we buy, who we buy it from, how it was made, who made it, and what the real cost of the item is to us and those who "made" it.
To me, this transition gets at a core belief: does my money have anything to do with my love for God and my neighbor? Who is my neighbor? The one in need. Does my use of money in purchasing stuff keep people in need? Does it create greater need? Does it contribute to alleviation of need? With where I live in America, in Indiana, in Fort Wayne: do I believe that God wants a greater accounting with the why, what and how how of what I do with my money? And my time, for that matter.
If love of God and neighbor is the summary commandment of Jesus, and if money really is a central part of my life, I ought to make some practical connections with how I view/use money and possessions. Otherwise, all my Christianity is a whitewash for my unexamined motives and assumptions about money and possessions. As the truth comes out about how Americans purchasing habits shape the world, Christians have to ask: what does my use of money and possessions communicate about Jesus and the gospel?
It's this kind of musing that is bringing about fundamental transitions in my heart, mind, and life. There are expenses in moving, going back to school, doing a sabbatical, and raising a family. There is money to be earned through our work. Where we live, how we live, what we live for all connects to money and our purchasing values. I have paid too little attention to money and how it shapes my schedule, my time and energy for friends, my availability and heart for my family.
I want to do something great in the world. This desire is something I am learning to submit to Jesus. Same for my desire for stability and certainty. But in my desire to do something great in the world, I ought to probe around my unexamined assumptions about money. Maybe I can do more in the world with less. But with the less that I do consume/purchase - knowing how/what/where it came from can begin to make a great difference in the world. And my motivation for all of this? Obedience to Jesus. Because what I really desire is to please Him. And that starts with believing Him. And I'll know I believe him when I obey him. And I can only obey him when I let him convict me of my sins, forgive me, put a clean heart within me, and reshape my desires such that I can participate in his restoration of all things.
And now that I've written this post, gotten stuff out of my head, I feel better. And has all this just been a way to procrastinate on changing any of my purchasing habits? Tomorrow will tell....