Monday, 23rd July 2018
Article by Rev. John M. Connan. Posted 28/4/2008.
An article in a recent copy of TIME drew my attention: it was about wealthy expatriates who live tax-exempt in Britain. “The numbers who put anything back into this country are trivial,” said a local economist. “I would like to see people endowing universities, backing social entrepreneurs, helping to restore our galleries and our museums. To the question ‘What is a life well lived?’ I don’t think ‘To be as greedy as possible’ is the right answer.” It got me thinking ‘What is a life well lived?’
The cost of living’s on the increase. Petrol prices are spiralling. Housing loan repayments are presenting some people with very tough choices. Credit card debt’s the only way some keep going. It’s as though the main issue in life is money: our need for more and more money to buy more and more things.
Most of us live extremely well – much better than our parents; and infinitely better than most of the rest of the world. Do we really need all the things we accumulate? Have our possessions come to possess us?
Recently I spent five months in mid-Pacific Tonga. I was teaching in a church college. The 120 families in the college community – married and single – gave as their once-a-year offering more than AUD $300,000. Some gave with reckless abandon and were short of cash for food after giving their donations.
Their extreme generosity set me thinking. Why did they do it? Few Australians I know give with such reckless joy!
What’s the difference between those Pacific Islanders and Australians?
While that question was in my mind I read something else that set me thinking. It involves the issue of how we see ourselves.
Australians – in the main – see our value in what we’ve got: our homes; our clothes; our appearance; our 4-wheel drives; our boats – our things. [I came back to Melbourne because my house needed a coat of paint. My house, it seems, is part of how I see myself!]
I remember hearing of a couple who decided to dispense with their usual newsy Christmas letter. Instead they sent copies of their bank statement and their investment account so their friends could see how ‘well’ they were. Their ‘value’ was in what they had.
Polynesians value themselves, instead, in terms of what they give away! The more they give the more they matter to others and themselves.
What’s a life well lived? Could it involve more important issues in life than things? Might it be that people matter more than things? Have Tongans got it right that shaking loose from things and using wealth for others is closer to the life well lived?
And if we decided as individual Australians that people are more important than things, what might that say about the way we could use our national wealth?
In closing let me draw to your attention that there’s more about money in the New Testament than any other issue. It’s worth discovering where Jesus and his friends put money in their scale of values.
Rev. John M. Connan
Supply Minister, Blackburn North Uniting Church.