-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of a series. Check out the other two:
Charity is a Double-Edged Sword
Greed the Ultimate Deadly Sin
Other-Centered vs Selfless and why it matters
Okay Church, gird up your loins. It's time for a reckoning.
We, as an entire institution, really suck at seeing the danger to other-centered people. As our numbers dwindle we care less and less about where our help is coming from, as long as it comes. Last week I explained the difference between self-centered, and selfish. Basically, self-centered people are only able to see themselves. They do not understand or see the world around them. Meanwhile, selfish people see the world, but choose to act in a self-serving way. Often bad, but not always.
Other-centered people are incapable of seeing their own needs beyond the needs of others. They are self-sacrificing, while not realizing that's what they are being. They are the easiest people to take advantage of. One negative comment can reel them into a state where they think they need to self-correct into being more self-sacrificing. They are targets of gas-lighters and generally narcissistic individuals. Even self-centered individuals will unknowingly take advantage of someone who is other-centered.
Churches all over the world abuse these people. Yes, I wrote abuse. Other-centered people are generally natural caregivers, and are drawn to social service organizations and projects. Because of their inability to see their own needs, it's super easy to overburden their lives with projects. These people burnout and then they think it's their fault they burned out. The Church then isn't there to help them when they are the one in need. They find other other-centered people to take the burned out person's place and the cycle begins again.
Selfless people, conversely, are people who see and know their own needs and still give of themselves for the sake of others. These people know when to stop being selfless to meet their personal needs and keep going later. Churches get uptight and angry when a selfless person finally says no, and a healthy selfless person will see those uptight and angry reactions as the unhealthy situation it is.
Am I laying this out clear enough? This is how Churches all over the world have broken: By taking advantage of other-centered people, and attempting to take advantage of selfless people. It very dangerous because it looks righteous, when it's only taking a righteous cause and uses it like a weapon.
Charity When Weaponized
Yes, it is completely possible to do the right think in the wrong way.
Bach wrote epic music on an ivory keyed piano, but that black rhino still died to make those keys.
Yes, it's good to give stockings to lower income families during Christmas, but those stockings are still filled with toys made overseas by slave labor.
And finally Church. Food pantries, clothes closets, and mission fields are filled with other-centered people who burnout and hurt all the time.
We've got a problem church! A much bigger problem than can be solved by simply trying worship around a kitchen table instead of a sanctuary. No one trusts us anymore, and for good reason. I feel like Alice having entered Crazy Town Wonderland, and everyone is talking nonsense and patting themselves on the back like it all makes sense when it doesn't!
Charity is weaponized when other-centered people are abused into working to meet the need, or the need itself is not really met to make people outside that need feel good about themselves. Either it's selfish people taking advantage of other-centered people, or it's selfish people making themselves feel good instead of really meeting the need. In any case, no matter how charity has been weaponized, selfish takes the place of selfless. Selfish is always the culprit.
A Note On The Giving Tree
I have been witness to multiple churches pulling out The Giving Tree to discuss charity. This is the story about a boy and a tree. By the end of the story the boy takes everything from this tree, even her trunk. The point is to see Christ as the tree, and the boy as us. Yet, it usually turns to us needing to be more like the tree.
Don't be the tree.
Don't be the boy.
Don't be this book. This book is a pretty depiction of an abusive relationship. If Christ is truly the Giving Tree, than no wonder we are dying as a Church! We've taken, and taken and taken. We need to start asking, "How can we help you, Christ?" This is an important question to our future, because taking from Christ is literally taking from ourselves. We are the Body of Christ. We are destroying ourselves every time we pull out the hacksaw.
I'm going to wrap this all up with one more post. What does healthy and just charity look like?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is related to last week's post, and a larger post about the Seven Virtues. Consider checking those out too if you have time. (Charity is the virtue tied to the deadly sin of Greed.)
Charity is a Double-Edged Sword
Self-Centered Versus Selfish
In April of 2014 I picked up my Common English Bible, my go-to translation, and looked up Romans 8:6-11. I immediately saw the translation team's choice of using "selfish" and "self-centered" interchangeably like they were the the same thing. I have strong feelings about this subject, so if you want more than my TL:DR I'm about to give, click the link and read the whole thing before moving on.
Basically, we are all born self-centered. As we grow we up we reach this moment where we realize the world around us. At that moment we can become selfish or selfless. Self-centered people are not selfish. They don't get how their actions are helping or hurting the world around them, because they cannot see beyond themselves. There's something magical about this time in our lives. We are like Adam or Eve in the garden. Living in ignorant bliss. Then, like Adam and Eve they eat from that tree of knowledge, and know.
What we do with that knowledge sets the tone for how we act as adults.
Selfishness Does Not Equals Greed.
There will always come a time when selfishness is necessary for our survival. It's healthy when our selfishness is life-giving. It's okay to tell a group that you can't do something because you truly don't have time, or your focus has to be spent on something else.
You are a living machine, meant to work continuously for 80+ years. That's a very long time for one machine to work without stop. Christians are called to see the need in the world and meet it, but it's impossible to meet that need if we can't even meet our own needs. It is not greedy to engage in self-care. It can be selfish, but we need to de-stigmatize that word when it comes to healthy selfishness.
Greed Is Always Selfish.
Greed is the ultimate deadly sin. All the other deadly sins (sloth, gluttony, lust, envy, pride, wrath) are rooted from a place of greed. Greed is when selfish desire knowingly takes from the need of those around them. It lacks any and all sacrifice on the person engaging in it.
We have to be careful how we throw around that scarlet G. It's easy to see someone taking from the needs of others and just throw the word "greed" all over it. We have to remember that greed comes from a place of selfishness, not self-centeredness. You tell a self-centered person they are being greedy they will deny it. That's because they can't see beyond themselves. In those moments, you have to play the serpent and take them out of their metaphorical Eden.
Yeah, I wrote it. This should bring home the seriousness of the task at hand. By helping a person understand the world around him or her, you are forcing them out of their Garden of Eden. You are their bad guy. If being the bad guy comes from a place of selflessness than it's right and ultimately good. But, if taking someone out of their garden is for personal gain, or selfish, then you are truly the bad guy.
As an important side note: This is part of the reason a trained minister is so important for the church. A minister is more than just sharing their opinion on a Biblical text. They are also caregivers, and mentors. A good minister will keep a group from flipping out and raging, because a good minister will see the complexity of a situation. Those ministers are there for the entire Body of Christ, not just the small group they are personally attached to. They will see the wholistic and holistic calling to heal all. Sometimes, they will personally be the "bad guy" because being anything else while being the leader would be selfish. Sometimes, it's greedy to be the person who is liked. No one wants to be the bad guy, but really good leaders will be because it's the right thing to do.
That means greed is the easiest sin to accidentally fall into. It can be greedy to force someone out of their self-centeredness, but it could also be greedy to allow someone to continue living into it. It can be greedy to be selfish, but in the right circumstances it might not be. It requires reading the situation, and understanding the circumstances.
Once greed has its hold it will naturally fall into any of the other six deadly sins. It will always start with greed, and greed will always kill something righteous. Always. It's the easiest to accidentally fall into, and its target gets hit the hardest.
Next week we'll talk about Charity, its virtue, as it can be subverted and misused. Charity is not always a good thing.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is the final post in a series about the Virtues/Deadly sins:
"It's all Greek to me."
That phrase means you don't know. It's an important phrase to wrap up this series because I need you to know, and I need you to know Greek.
Here's what I feel about the Bible: It is not the inerrant Word of God. To believe it is takes away the power from the actual experience being written down, and the power of God to act today. Most people who use the phrase "inerrant Word of God," are English speakers. It's arrogant to assume our English translations are perfect counterparts to the original Greek and Hebrew. Some words and phrases don't translate easily. Then, hundreds of years later, our understanding of words change. Charity is one of those words.
This whole time I've been comparing the virtues/sins to 1 Cor 13:13. "Now faith, hope, and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love." It's a deadly sin if the action is not done in faith, hope or love. Conversely, it's a Godly virtue if it does.
The reason I brought up Biblical interpretation is because of this verse. Back when King James commissioned the KJV the translators saw the word "Agape." (Pronounced: Ah-Gah-Pay) In Greek it looks like this:
Here's the thing about the Greeks: They had six words for "love": eros, mania, ludas, storge, pragma, and agape. For those of you who have a decent understanding of English roots, you might be able to pull basic definitions out of these loves.
Like "eros" is the root for "erotic," This would be lustful love.
"Manic" is rooted in "mania" which is an obsessive love.
"Pragmatic" is rooted in "pragma" which is thought driven love.
Agape is selfless love. It was considered the highest form of love. It came from a place of ultimate self sacrifice. These very early translators saw the word and used something that meant just that in the English language: Charity. Meanings of words change, and Charity doesn't mean today what it meant back then. Today it means an organization set up to help and raise money for those in need. It changed from an action to a thing.
Now this isn't a case for everyone to pick up their KJV again. There is a reason new Biblical translations come out. Today we understand the original language better. We have multiple secondary and primary texts for translation teams to use. The Dead Sea Scrolls changed the game with pieces of primary passages, and secondary examples.
Also, as I've already written language changes. Do you think God wants you to translate your translation? By yourself? There's a reason why translation teams are done in groups (beside the obvious definition of the word "team.") Not all words have one easy definition. Most Bibles have tiny footnotes at the bottom of the page. That's where the Biblical team didn't completely agree. Instead of just picking one word, they pick both and put the "losing" word in the footnotes.
No translation team is putting "Charity" in the footnotes of 1:Cor 13:13. Love is the best word today, but it also has to be understood in terms of the Greek word used for it: Agape.
Well, now I've done it. I turned the last virtue into a series on it's own. It deserves more than one week. I'll get into Greed, it's Deadly Sin next week, and we'll go from there!