It’s not every day we have an apostolic leader (Jesus Army speak for big leader) over for dinner. And the trout was off. Cue waiting at the table while my ever-resourceful wife cooked up some chicken fillets instead. But said leader amused my kids (and their dad) with optical illusion videos on his phone and all was well.
Later we had a great evening talking about lots of things from UK housing through to Pope Francis. Not surprisingly, given the rollercoaster ride my wife and I have had this year, we talked about vision and disappointment and community.
One issue we touched on that I thought would make a worthwhile wee post was the difference between generations when it comes to their money ethic. It ties into the wider discussion about intentional community – because if you’re going to share your money, as we do in a common pursue, the way members see money matters.
The older generation (his lot), we realised, prize frugality. This is the generation whose parents negotiated rationing and making frayed ends meet. For them ‘simplicity’ is about spending less. A community lounge with faded curtains, ill-matching plastic chairs and patched-together cushions is AS IT SHOULD BE.
The rising generation (our lot) prize liberality. This generation hasn’t, by and large, grown up with scarcity. For this generation ‘simplicity’ is about spending more on others. About not worrying about money, being generous and spontaneous. A community lounge with simple, contemporary decor and plenty of (young) people feeling at home is AS IT SHOULD BE.
Of course, the younger generation’s liberality can tip over into profligacy – ‘want it nice, want it easy, want it now’. Likewise, the older generation’s frugality can slide into parsimony – ‘if it’s not horrible, it’s not holy’. And both sides can be inclined to characterise the other unfairly: ‘Wasters!’ ‘Misers!’
A better approach – as so so so often with these paradoxes – is to take both views at once. As John Wesley said ‘Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.’
Don’t waste God’s money; don’t be indulgent. Don’t penny-pinch; don’t be miserable.
Or to put those things positively: Spend money joyfully and remember that ‘God gives us richly all things to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17); identify with the world’s poor and remember that ‘if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content’ (1 Timothy 6:8).
Jesus (funnily enough) got it right. ‘You can’t serve God and money’, he warned. But he also said ‘Use wicked wealth to make friends’.
Simplicity is best. But if the fish is off don’t eat it.