Eugene Cho

materialism, mammon and simplicity

Materialism and money is an issue and a threat in my life.  I hate to admit it but it is.  I wrestle with it nearly every day.  I read once that a person spends about 80% of their time awake engaged with MONEY:  earning it, spending it, and dreaming about it.  There are days it overwhelms me and there are days I feel like I have a great understanding and mastery over money but only for it to rear it’s beastly head again. 

We’re all consumers.  Every single one of us so how would you respond to this question?

In our society, we’re surrounded by the push to consume. We’re constantly bombarded with the newest gadget or trinket we supposedly cannot live without. How do we combat the pull toward materialism, and what does simplicity look like in the 21st Century?

Relevant Magazine published this article as part of their series entitled 7 Burning Issues where they ask 7 “well known” leaders what they think.  Below is the article with their answers but I’d love to hear from us regular folks what you think about this issue of materialism.  What is responsible consumerism?  It’s very clear to me that MONEY and the Global Economy is what drives this world.  Think the stimulus check.  And it makes perfect sense why Jesus himself would isolate the conversation of Mammon as an idolatrous threat to the worship of God in Matthew 6:24

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

What do you think?

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Brian McLaren: This is a major theme I’ve been exploring in recent years, because I believe these days it’s the economy, not the nation-state, that is driving the world. It would be good for people to consider the ways capitalism can become a form of idolatry, where markets are given godlike powers and people have an unwritten creed of salvation by consumption alone.

One of the most powerful things the next generation of emerging Christians can do is be at the heart of a new global movement for ethical buying and fair trade. We can use the power of markets for good, just as they have been used for evil in so many ways—environmentally, socially and politically. It’s a question of the Kingdom of God—how would we expect economics to work in the Kingdom of God, as opposed to the systems of this world?

Steve Brown: If Jesus tells you to sell everything and follow Him, do it. If, on the other hand, He tells you to start a business, provide hundreds of jobs and support His work in the world, do it.  How should we then live? With simplicity, compassion and a realization that our hearts are where our treasure is. For some, I suppose, that means driving a Mercedes instead of a Maserati, owning one large house instead of three and giving the “overflow” to Jesus. For others, it might mean taking the bus instead of driving a Honda and giving the overflow to the poor. And for still others, it means being poor for Jesus’ sake.

Shane Claiborne: What is enough is defined by our relationship to our neighbor—if our neighbor has four cars, then we think we are living simply if we have two cars. If our neighbor doesn’t have water, then two cars is probably too many. We have this command to love our neighbor as ourselves, but I think the great tragedy of our culture is that we are pushed away from suffering, away from poverty to the point that it’s enough if we give a tax-exempt donation or volunteer for a week out of the year. And yet if we’re really in relationship with people who are suffering, that messes with us. It keeps us up at night when we are faced with the reality that we have people in our neighborhood living in a cardboard box in the winter, and we have shelter.

I think the most important question is not what I should give away, because the Scriptures say you can sell everything you have and give it to the poor, but if you don’t have love it’s nothing. So the deepest question around simplicity is about love, and redistribution of resources is only meaningful inasmuch as it’s rooted in love. When we really figure out how to live in the personalism and love of Christ with our neighbor, then that defines what’s enough so that we’re not just driven by an ideology, but by a love relationship to our neighbor.

N.T. Wright: Most of us in the Western world need to have our noses rubbed in that

more than we regularly do, and not use the kind of convenient get-out clause—“Well, that’s something Jesus says to some people but not everybody.” When people say that, it tends to mean “but please, not me.” That’s dangerous. One of the first steps we have to take is to recognize that the vast majority of the Christian world for the last 2,000 years—and still today—lives in much more poverty and a much simpler lifestyle than we in the modern West can easily imagine.

It’s up to individual churches and individual Christians to find ways to use the wealth we’ve got, with wisdom—and the best thing to do to avoid making money a god is to give it away.

Money becomes a god very, very easily. So giving it away cheerfully and wisely is a step toward really saying money is not the ruling force in our lives. Money is not the thing that makes you a genuine human being. Saying that is so counterintuitive in Western culture.

Nancy Ortberg: I think every Christian should take very seriously what they do with their finances. A starting place is tithing, to give 10 percent joyfully every time you get paid, and give it back to the Church, to help the Church be the force that it should be in the world. After you’ve got the habit of tithing down, start figuring out how much is enough. I used to tell my kids, “The lower the ceiling is on enough, the happier you’re going to be.”

When you can wake up in the morning or spend your day free from needing to run to the mall or look online and buy all this stuff, you’re going to have a freedom in your spirit that’s going to be a great way to live.

Beyond yourself, figure out how much is enough, and then start thinking of serious ways in which to give away boatloads of money. Find organizations you care about that are making a difference. How do you release your money back into the world to do good when you have enough clothes in your closet and enough cars in your garage? The freedom that comes from that really teaches us a lot about God. It also teaches us there’s no end to His resources. And I’m not advocating just giving away all of your money, but when you have enough, it really becomes incumbent on us as Christians to use our money for a strong force in the world.

Cindy Jacobs: God has worked in this generation a desire to make the world a better place for all. This means grappling with issues of eliminating systemic poverty, taking care of the environment and living with each other in a kinder, more relational way.

For this reason, I believe the question is, How much is enough? We need to make wealth to steward it to create jobs, help single moms, the elderly and find ways to deal with the AIDS crisis. Our lifestyle should not be “me” centric, but “Kingdom of God” centric.

Click here to see bios of our panelists

Filed under: health, religion

45 Responses

  1. bolim says:

    I think the issue of money is the single greatest issue facing the church today (times haven’t changed much b/c Jesus talked a lot about it as well). Tom Sine also writes about this in his book, The New Conspirators. Sarah just went to a conference “Less is More: Voluntary Simplicity in Troubled Times” hosted at Phinney Ridge Lutheran last Saturday (I would’ve gone too but someone has to watch the kids). One of the speakers was Cecile Andrews who makes the point that there is an inverse relationship between the fostering of community and materialism. I.e., isolation breeds materialism and community breeds simplicity. Can’t combat materialism alone, we need to do it together in community. One other point: church can’t do this alone – another point made at the conference is that neighborhood groups and faith communities need to partner together to do this.

  2. Aaron says:

    This is a great post PE! This is an issue I wrestle with big time!

    Some of these responses in the article seem so cliche and so grey! I agree with most of them but really I do not see here, nor have myself, any solid answers…

    I guess the message is what Jesus told the rich young ruler… “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Something we try to make so grey and make convenient, he makes black and white. I think most of us in the US are “rich young rulers.” That message is tough.. And if I am honest, its one I am not ready to follow.

    I remember you saying something to the effect of ‘you know you are giving enough when it hurts’. I think thats a good point and it makes a lot of sense to me… but my biggest issue is; why is it hurting? is it hurting because i would rather have things? why do i want so much stuff? why am i so selfish? how do i make myself not even value possessions?

    I guess it comes down to your willingness to follow and to be a disciple, to examine your life, to not evaluate yourself on standards of this world, prayer and strength from God, relationship/support from other believers who are strong here… way easier said than done.

  3. beth says:

    Honestly, I think the pursuit of Simplicity is not possible. My goal is simply – “simpler.”

    How do I make small decisions to live a simpler life from where last year? Last week? And in addition, what choices do I make with the savings of living simpler. This is why I love what you and Minhee are doing with the non-profit organization. I’m not sure if all of your readers know but I’m aware (since you wrote about it months ago) of your decision to sell away stuff to make this happen. It has made me think about doing small things that are nevertheless, “big sacrifices” in my mind. So, yes, my CD collection is slowly being sold off…

  4. rk says:

    on the contrary, i don’t find those responses cliche or grey at all. i agree with all of them. what jesus said to the rich young ruler, i don’t think is meant to be black and white and interpreted literally. which among us can say that we have sold everything and given all to the poor? are we being responsible parents to our kids if we do that? the man wanted to know what he must do to inherit internal life. he was probably confident that eternal life is within his reach since he has kept most of the commandments. jesus was simply trying to drive in the point that eternal life can’t be bought through keeping the law. by asking the ruler to give up everything he has he showed that if we’re depending on your “keeping the law” to earn a place in heaven, we will always come short because there will always be something that we could not “do”.

    i don’t agree with giving till it hurts. god says to give cheerfully. can we give cheerfully knowing that we probably won’t have enough to sustain our own family? being responsible towards our family is not selfish. we can’t assume that it’s because they want so much stuff for themselves that they’re hurting. it could simply mean they’re giving beyond their means. i don’t think god intended for us to give till we’re suffering. he is more than able to bless us with enough leftover to be a blessing to others. the tricky part is in determining how much is enough.

    like what Shane Clairborne says, all giving should be rooted in love for God and his people (our neighbors). let that be the guiding force and we should not go wrong. Suze Orman says, people first, then things, then money. For us christians, god first, then people, then things, then money.

  5. Tyler says:

    great stuff eugene. i’ve really been enjoying relevant’s series with the panelists. everytime i read something by shane i am more thankful for his mindset and his heart on these issues. i liked what you added as well.

  6. Samuel says:

    May I suggest a book entitled “Christianity Incorporated” written by Michael L. Budde & Robert Brimlow, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002? Michael is professor of political science and Robert is associate professor of philosophy at St. John Fisher College.

    This book will be a helpful guide to see the “bigger picture” of our current situation whether they be conflicting allegiances individuals experience or competing economic interests nations try to secure.

    According to the book, as long as we have this pragmatic, what’s-in-it-for-me view of religion, the money will always have upper hand over everything.

    Another helpful guide would be a book written by Peter Leithart entitled, “Against Christianity” Moscow: Canon Press, 2003.

    Unless Christians are willing to evaluate the foundations and legacy of Constantinian Christianity or the imperial Christianity (whether it be Roman, British, American, or the Corporate), the issue of money will continue to be a monster that would haunt the church like the monster, Grendel, that had to be destroyed by Beowulf, who interestingly in Robert Zemeckis’ adaption makes union with pleasurable and bewitching Grendel’s mother, becomes the creator of a bigger monster in the movie.

    It’s surreal to imagine such a story so close to the story of Christianity in history that has found its union with a powerful emperor and his empire and the dire consequences of such union have brought.

    “The sins of the fathers” have to be acknolwedged and repented before resolving to follow Christ as the true master over all.

    Captitalism and church don’t mix. Of course, no one lives in a purely capitalistic society or perfect church. Nonetheless, the key is understanding the danger and deceptive nature and allures of materials or the visible world. Material world in and of itself is not evil but what makes it evil is placing our trust and security in what is temporary and provisionary at best over against the eternity and the consummatory.

    In closing, another book comes to mind, an excellent book that would challenge any Christian with regards to the issue of money and its social, economic and spiritual implications, “Ministries of Mercy” written by Tim Keller, Grand Rapids: Presbyterian and Reformed Publshing, 1997.

    Compassion is the answer to the issue of money. I believe that by having our focus on others and having a broken heart is the key to unlock the vast wealth of spiritual blessings in Christ that certainly include contentment and confidence that so many people try to procure with money.

    Come Jubilee…

  7. Marco says:

    i am the true consumer. no kidding. money to me is supposed to be spent and when i’m making some away it goes. i do not save much and through consuming it is all gone by the end of the month. like this post implies, our market economy and society constantly encouraging consuming is i guess partly to blaim. but then again i never like to push the responsibility onto someone or something else. in the end it is my responsibility to create principles and a character strong enough to stand ground when the shit hits the fan rather than comprimising as soon as shit gets tough. it is a daily struggle but it is again onluy you and you alone that can decide what u think is ok and not. i can’t say i dislike people that consume a lot. that’s their choice and i am in no condition to judge what other people do.

    i don’t like spending money, but know nothing else.

  8. Tracy says:

    Lets talk fact here:

    Fact one: money equals respect. People who appear together finanically are more respected. Its sad but true, and that is called FAVORITISM. The reason why Christians/the Church has fallen prey to the same standard of favoritism is because what the Bible teaches in James 2: 1-9 – “have you not discriminated among yourselves and have revealed you are a evil thinker?”

    Fact two: The Bible talks more about money more than any other topic in God’s love letter. And it teaches us how to be a good steward of money AND what alot of social guru/Christians misses – the Bible also talks about how people who loan money have to FORGIVE the debt especially if it is proven the money can’t be repaid. But no no no, no one wants to talk about this, they just want to talk about credit scores and the management of money.

    Fact three: Materialism is a sign of a conceited people who fear losing. Meaning as Prov 21:24 states: “Show me a conceited person and I will show you someone who is arrogant, proud, and inconsiderate.”

    Its okay to have comfortable life…but a comfortable life is not the big and better home, the big or better car, the big or better schools for our children, or an easier life blah blah etc etc…

    Materialism is in a church is never a good sign. No matter how cute it is dressed up.

  9. Sue says:

    Tracy,

    Money DOES NOT equal Respect. I can tell list you hundreds of people who have millions of dollars that I DO NOT respect. It may be how we initially judge a person but not how we respect a person.

    Your other two facts don’t make sense to me personally but they seem to be personal facts for you and that’s okay.

  10. modestypress says:

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  11. a sister in Christ says:

    How do you spell LOVE? Jesus spelled love like this: SACRIFICE.

    Jesus talked a lot about money, He knew it is so important to us! When we spell LOVE it means sacrifice, also when it comes money. Right after we sacrificed, it may hurt our comfortable self a bit, but afterwards there is JOY and BLESSING! The blessings do not necessarily come in dollars, but are often of greater value: eternal value! Try it, it works.

    I am a practical person. Try this one:

    1. Whenever you want to buy something, ask yourself: DO I REALLY NEED THIS or COULD I DO WITHOUT IT? (And right here is the test of being WILLING to make a sacrifice! It is often a matter of discipline regarding earthly comforts and gratification of our human appetites)

    2. If you can do without it, go without it, but look at the price tag, then take the amount of money that the purchase would have cost, OUT of your wallet and place it into a big box, with the name JESUS written on it.

    3. Make this a habitual behavior for 3 months. You will be surprised how much ends up in the JESUS box! Then give the saved up money to Jesus (whatever He tells you to)

    I have tried it and my heart swelled with joy!!!! I confess, bringing sacrifices for Jesus in such a way is great joy and utterly rewarding.

  12. Tracy says:

    …try to do without a car, and see how hurt some of your pride will be. Try to do without buying coffee everyday or eating out or XBOX or Comcast cable or even a cell phone …when mostly you have a main line at home, or that expensive wedding or high mortage, or taking a nice long weekend off in the wild or at the beach…Yeah see how that “fear” of being without and feeling ODD settle into the mind or not having with others have creep into your mind – then you begin to think yep got have this yep gotta, because we equate materialism/money with worth and respect…when WORTH is neither of those things.

    And Sue:

    This(materialism) is not about me! If you going to attack, attack what is being said instead of the person. That’s basic Blog etiquettes.

    And just because YOU may not respect “a person” with money doesn’t mean the statement: money equals respect isn’t true. Its a SAD truth but it is what it is.

    You don’t have to like what I said…I didn’t say to please anyone.

  13. Kacie says:

    The issue at the heart of this is not how much money or stuff we have or how rich or poor we are, because in the end we will always be rich in comparison to some and poor in comparison to others. I think we immediately start analyzing and categorizing ourselves, becuase that comforts us.

    But really, it’s a distraction from the real issue – the state of our hearts. Does everything that is ours belong to Christ? Do we consider all of our belongings and wealth to be His, and we as stewards? If we are stewards, are we going to Him to see what He wants us to do with it?

    My church has some great resources on these issues and I just went to two presentations about it all. It was good, but I must say it was difficult to listen to people talk about money while in their MASSIVE houses filled with antiques. They criticized the “affluenza” of Dallas, and I thought… are you really one that can criticize? They give a lot of money away but I still find it difficult to not be critical of their lifestyle.

  14. Sandy Dobbins says:

    check out this Francis Chan video Eugene; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R3F8cQ2LJI. It speaks volumes to what you are expressing.

  15. chad m says:

    enough…this is a concept i believe we need to explore more and more as Christians. i’ve often wondered, as i get older and gain experience in ministry, when will i say i am receiving “enough” compensation from the church? in my opinion, there needs to be more reflection on the concepts of “abundance” and “enough” in western christianity, particularly in the United States.

    my biggest struggle is not naming this problem, it’s changing the way i actually live and make purchases…Shane Claiborne’s life and writings has been a big, needed challenge for me…

  16. ripplegirl says:

    I believe our greatest problem is the ‘love of things’ Things that no one really needs. I can tell you how to lead a simpler life- but it is not easy and it is not painless. Go bankrupt.

    Okay I am not seriously suggesting anyone go bankrupt, but I lost everything not too long ago and it puts things in perspective.

    You find you don’t need most of what you have. You wish you just had bread instead of stuff. So now I just buy bread instead of stuff. I don’t watch TV, I don’t go to the mall, I buy tthe things that keep me alive when I need it. How many pairs of shoes do you really need? How many pairs of clothes do you really need? Do you need to protect your feet or look cool? Do you need to keep warm and covered up or look cool? What is cool anyway? I live in a room now, I am single, why do I need a whole flat just for me? Why do you need three cars? Why do you need the biggest car you can find? Isn’t the point to get from a-b? Any old piece of scrap with a decent engine will do…

    And then we can really start making a difference. Imagine the funds you’ll have available to make a difference!

    Sorry, harsh comment. But true.

  17. Of all the “professional” responses, I think Claiborne’s was the most comprehensive.

    I would add that it might help if Christian leaders began speaking of wealth the way Jesus spoke of wealth. If it really is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, perhaps we should be more careful of labeling material things as “blessings” from God. For evangelicals in particular, I’d like to see a move away from an emphasis on sexual sins to an emphasis on the sins of greed and materialism, which would hit much closer to home for those of us sitting in the pews.

    Imagine if we started talking about materialism the way conservative evangelicals like to talk about homosexuality. What if we started referring to the “materialistic lifestyle” or the “capitalistic agenda.” It would be like living in some kind of alternate universe!

  18. Melissa says:

    My response to consumerism: I aim to live on half of my actual income. For real. As a single person with minimal responsibilities this is completely possible for me, and it gives me an enormous amount of freedom. I can give away as much as I want, and can also save money for the future.

    I think a lot of people forget about the importance of the future when they are thinking about money. We need to give to others in need right now, but we also need to be solid for the people who are or will be depending on us. Part of what God has given to me is a responsibility to be a support for people around me. Having resources ($$) available to support more than just myself is important.

    I like what Shane Claiborne said about using your money to love your neighbor. It is the true test of how we should live.

  19. Ben says:

    It’d be a tough lesson for sure if we’re to speak at all about materialism since I’d have my Porsche parked right outside to take me back home after service. lol

    It’s less about show and more about go for me and even then it’s tough to spit a number out of that mix to say what level above this “line” is too much materialism or below that which is acceptable.

    It’s definitely a struggle and refreshing to hear that my Pastor shares in the struggle along with me. I’d like to learn/hear more about other people’s thoughts on the matter so that I may hopefully be edified.

  20. axinia says:

    we are living in a system that IS about metherialism. The porblem is, most of us can not imagine anything else…

    my be youcan see it under this angle: http://1000petals.wordpress.com/2008/02/23/what-is-really-wrong-with-capitalism-or-why-i-believe-in-communism/

  21. Jennifer says:

    I’m always curious about the relationship between materialism and Gnosticism. If you’re a Christian with a somewhat Gnostic view you may run into a rather schizoid position toward physical stuff. The problem isn’t necessarily that you’re a materialist(in the consumerist sense)…the problem is that you are not enough of a materialist (in the philosophical sense.) Everyone needs stuff, and yet, sometimes Christians feel ambivalent about physical stuff (or desired relationships, or beauty, or art…etc) because they say “God should be enough for me.” The ambivalence can cause an odd, compulsive-detached relationship with anything that isnt God. The answer to materialism (consumerism) is usually presented as asceticism, and that is part of it. But I wonder if we’re not missing the Incarnational / anti-Gnostic piece which may even be more foundational.

  22. Jenny says:

    thank you for giving us something to really think about today. i really appreciate your blog.

    i have struggled for years with our materialism/consumerism mentality. it became even more of a struggle after several mission trips out of the country. i have a new tradition: go on a mission trip, come home, have a yard sale to get rid of stuff i don’t need, put that money towards the next mission trip or give to charity. it has honestly helped our family to “pare down.”

    i hold every purchase and every expenditure up in the light of what is necessary, could i live without it, could the money be better spent to meet needs, etc. we have learned to live on much less and are only more blessed because of it.

    i agree with the above comments that this needs to be taught in our churches, exampled by our leaders and encouraged at every opportunity. ours is a glutonous society…and something HAS to change…

  23. eugenecho says:

    i wonder how peoples’ responses would have changed if i asked, “what does simplicity look like for YOU.”

    while i appreciate many of the responses here, they seem to be focused on the collective or on what others should do.

    what will or can you do if you feel inclined towards that direction. i find that i need small tangible steps towards the goal because the issue is so overwhelming.

  24. Tracy says:

    Is eating too much a trait of materialistic behavior? Our dependence on bottled water, is that a materialistic trait?

  25. beth says:

    @Tracy:

    So are you speaking about respect you receive from someone else or self-respect that you have regardless what others may think of you. Are you blaming the system of materialism for one’s lack of self esteem? I’m trying to understand. I suppose that they’re both connected on sme level.

  26. Tracy says:

    Beth

    Why blame? Why not own up to the responsibility? Is there really a “system” of materialism, when it seems clear that it could just be a ‘heart’ issue?

  27. beattieblog says:

    More simplicity for me would begin with cutting out the extra $5 to $10 expenses – I’m not a big purchase person, I think and do research and buy used for anything from my kid’s bicycle to a refrigerator. But the little expenses get me. I remember a mentor said it’s the little victories that win the war.

    On getting started…It seems like Jesus always talked about vision and senses – what do you see and what do you hear, i.e. what’s right in front of you. I think as Christians we think we have to do big things if God’s involved. I appreciate the neo-Monastic movement and folks like Shane Claiborne saying we need a “simple way”. I encourage folks to just start the day asking God to show them what’s right in front of them – not what’s on TV or radio, but in their neigborhood, work, schools, etc. – “eyes to see and ears to hear”.

  28. gar says:

    Interesting to see the responses of the people interviewed by Relevant.

    You might be interested in this article from “JesusManifesto”:

    http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/2008/06/26/embracing-downward-mobility/

    It’s a bit more personal, but it resonated with me in that for myself, I often feel convicted by the materialism that comes with technology ownership these days. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of geek-tastic stuff like a new computer, a fast laptop, an iPod, the latest cellphone, a huge external HD, loud speakers, etc… but how much is really essential to our lives?

  29. beth says:

    Tracy,

    Thanks for clarifying. For some reasons, I thought you were blaming others for the issue of respect.

  30. […] having this conversation (while in the beach on vacation in San Diego, no less), I stumble across Eugene Cho’s post with all these varying perspectives on money and poverty and love and response.  At […]

  31. maleesha says:

    I think it can really be as easy as “choose to simplify.” This year, our family decided to sell the house and become renters in a place where we were happier. I left a very high paying job and took a job in the same field, but due to the location I’m making a LOT less. But this does not matter, because the people we are surrounding ourself with now do not spend their time in fancy restaurants or take expensive vacations or drive status symbols. I no longer feel compelled to drink fancy coffee, I make my own. Today I got rid of my cell phone. We decided very conciously to cancel satellite TV, and we went out and got a nice pair of rabbit ears and one of those digital converter boxes. We had a huge garage sale and got rid of absolutely everything we did not need, or even want, and when we really thought about it that was most of our things. This may sound like it was born out of desperation or need, but it was not. We felt burdened with so much excess. And part of me was afraid that we would regret it, but we are loving our new lifestyle and we keep finding ways to cut back and live more simply, the way it was intended. And that in itself helps rid materialism. We have never been happier.

  32. Aaron says:

    Some specific things I have done and/or need to do–
    – Get rid of the waste I have: go through and clean out all extra clothes, books, blankets and other clutter… donate what can be used
    – Constantly ask myself before making a purchase, “why do I need X?” or “do i already have something that is close to X?” if i have something similar or can not answer why i need soemthing its probably a waste. Obviously there is room for discretionary purchases.
    -More carefully budgeting non-durable purchases (i.e. food, coffee, etc.)
    -Removing sources of marketing… there are way too many people trying to sell you stuff you dont need… so less magazines, TV, ebay surfing, etc.
    -Find entertainment in free things ( for me anything outside like running or going to the river)
    -not spending more than you make (i.e. credit)… once you have a lot of credit your stuff begins to own you and you probably still want more stuff.

    I know that you also must be careful that simplicity itself does not become the goal. For a while I got pretty good at “simple living” and my savings grew a lot! I kind of realized that if its not flowing out to others you really are not doing any good…. goes back to what Claiborne said about love.

  33. Jennifer says:

    We live in a really small apartment and let the size of our space disciple us into thinking through buying decisions very carefully…the first question is always, “do we even have room for this?” And the answer is often No, so we dont buy it.

  34. david says:

    shane hits it right on the head for me. simplicity (for me) is about being in relationship with the marginalized so that i can better understand love of neighbor, something only birthed out of community. those who want to embrace simplicity without any relational context with those in real need will always define simplicity on their own terms, and more often than not it will reflect a “lifestyle” just slightly modified from their own comfortable class homogeneity, like selling their ipod and giving the money to charity.

    the tricky thing for me about downward mobility (which is the trajectory of the cross in case we’ve forgotten) is that there’s always some place lower i can go, and that gets messy when my idealism confronts reality. richard foster talks about how the outward expression of simplicity without the inward reality of simplicity is pharisaic self-righteousness, and the inward reality without the outward expression is hypocrisy.

    practically speaking, for me, simplicity begins with where i live because it cultivates in me both the inward and outward dynamics of simplicity. when i see the conditions my neighbors live in and the challenges they face everyday because of their socioeconomic status, it fosters a sense of compassion that should in turn help me to understand how my time and resources can work towards equity and solidarity.

    i’m completely sold on the idea that the perkins model of christian community development (relocation, reconciliation, redistribution) is the most tangible and effective way for the church to engage the culture of the city with the simplicity, compassion, and justice of the gospel.

  35. eugenecho says:

    @aaron: i love that. simplicity in itself shouldn’t be the goal. we begin and end with our love for God and love for neighbor and simplicity should be part of that process.

    @david: amen. i appreciate esp. the words about our our OUT and IN really needing to converge becuase of the possiblity and inclination towards “pharisaic self-righteousness.”

    one question: your values for simplicity seem spot on for engaging the city as a christian or church. how do you transpose that to large world? do we move to sudan?

  36. badwriter says:

    First time reading (nice blog!).

    Those who think they should live less materialistic lives (I guess that is all the comment-leavers here)…you just need to start taking steps from whereever you are. And I bet it is not hard to find steps to take. Even though God loves a cheerful giver, I do believe Christians should try to give “till it hurts” or “simplify till it hurts”. Think of it as training or a toughening up. When you find your suffering threshold, you can always let up a little. You might be surprised to find that even if you are suffering, you can be cheerful. Paul showed that in his letters. Millions of poor people show that everyday. Now I don’t mean you risk your health or your child’s health, but we can all achieve a lot more than we think if we put our mind — scratch that — put our passion into it.

    How we save money as well as how we make, invest, and distribute that wealth should be approached with the goal of how to passionately glorify our God. This should be approached like creating art or remodeling your kitchen or even strategizing a coup in a small Latin American country. Dream it, plan it, execute it. Hard to do when for most of us work is drudgery. But “live is Christ and to die is gain”, right.
    I remember seeing a 20/20 show on philantrophy. I hear Ted Turner just gives a large percentage of his income every year. Other philanthropists would rather give a smaller percentage, but invest more so the money can grow and they can give more in the end. An ex-Microsoft exec gave up his high paying job to start a organization to raise literacy in Tibet, I think. Three very different strategies, but all are approached with gusto and purpose. And God wants his people to show gusto for him.

    I am pretty good at living simply, (embarrassingly so) but alas i have no strategy for what to do with the money I save. And I’ve discovered saving money just for saving money’s sake is no fun and doesn’t really glorify God.

  37. […] Cho posted a link to a Relevant Magazine article on materialism where seven Christian leaders respond to the question […]

  38. david says:

    we can’t all move to sudan (or zimbabwe, or burma, or palestine…), but some (or many) may feel convicted to. anything that moves us (downwardly) closer into a community of relationships where common needs are shared can’t be a bad thing.

    there are so many layers and levels to this type of cross-cultural community development that i think people have to ultimately evaluate their calling & conviction in terms of a “home culture.” some may be called & gifted to relocate across the ocean, others across the city, but both have the same goal: to cultivate, equip, and empower indigenous leadership to a holistic transformation through a holistic gospel.

  39. eugenecho says:

    @david – right. good stuff. i wonder if we can also give props to people who choose to live holistically wherever they choose to live and give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re ultimately “evaluating their calling and conviction.” e.g. – do we always need to slam the surbanites?

    @tracy: good to hear from you. i trust you’re well on the other side of the land. you wrote:

    “Fact two: The Bible talks more about money more than any other topic in God’s love letter. And it teaches us how to be a good steward of money AND what alot of social guru/Christians misses – the Bible also talks about how people who loan money have to FORGIVE the debt especially if it is proven the money can’t be repaid. But no no no, no one wants to talk about this, they just want to talk about credit scores and the management of money.”

    do you feel like this is a big issue in our society? in the states, most folks do their borrowing from banks. i rarely discuss this because the cultural context is so different from that of the scriptures where borrowing money happened people to people. while i do believe in the concept of forgiving debt, i also believe in preaching the necessity of trying to honor one’s debts. in my ministry context, i’ve had to deal more with people borrowing some money but choosing not to pay back for whatever reason. i can talk about forgiving that debt but shouldn’t we also encourage the borrower to consider attempting to pay back if that was the agreement and if they can’t, to simply ask. maybe your experience with christians and the local church have been entirely different.

  40. david says:

    i think the problem with “giving props to people wherever they live” is that it doesn’t require them to think critically at all about the inherent socioeconomic/theological value of place, and hence, place becomes irrelevant and value-neutral, which is what creates sprawl, urban fragmentation, social stratification, commuter culture, and unsustainable urban infrastructure (think of how much capital could be redistributed in the economy if average commute times were cut in half).

    ultimately, yes- christians should live in every geographic context- rural, urban, suburban, village, ghetto, and so on, but they should do so with a holistic sense of understanding where they’ve chosen to live. if christians truly understood how the urban system (take residential segregation, for example) favors those with privilege and perpetuates injustice through its structure, and yet they prayerfully consider that gated communities are where they are “called & gifted,” then great. we need christians in gated communities who can still be committed to working for change within the system.

    but unfortunately, giving people the benefit of the doubt- in my opinion- is more often than not an excuse to not rock the boat or ruffle any feathers about the economic implications of the gospel and how it challenges upward mobility. in my experience, left to our own devices, we will choose a place to live based on comfort every time, and the distance this places between us and our neighbors in need doesn’t necessarily make us “less christian,” but it doesn’t help make us “more christian,” either.

    granted, i say all of this as an idealist, with a heavy bias towards reform based on my research that has naturally influenced my urban worldview. in my own process of discovery, it would be difficult to overstate how shocked i’ve been at the depth of the problems and how relatively little the church commits to righting them. i know it’s my pet project so to speak, but until i feel like tides are shifting (or until i can be convinced otherwise), i’m staying on this soapbox!

  41. […] I have been following with much interest a recent discussion on Eugene Cho’s blog about materialism, mammon and simplicity. We live in an increasingly materialistic society where people hardly give much thought to what […]

  42. eugenecho says:

    david: what i am proposing is a synthesis of what you propose and what i am suggesting.

    we can’t let the defining answer be: “where you live” but rather that and more importantly, “how you live.”

    i wouldn’t want you, i, or others to simply grow in our righteousness because we live in the city, in s. seattle, in a more diverse area, etc…without giving full weight to the bigger question of how we are seeking to love and honor god and neighbor.

  43. david says:

    i completely agree that both WHERE and HOW are critical- i just wish we could emphasize how they are interdependent as opposed to unrelated, because ultimately, HOW i live really does depend on WHERE i live.

    i do think there are some exceptions- i’m quite confident that you would be critically evaluating the HOW regardless of WHERE you lived, but sadly, i think the vast majority of folks are not inclined to do so, mostly because the distraction and insulation of the conventional WHERE obscures the HOW of downward mobility. really, downward mobility (in some form, in any context) is all i’m advocating- i just happen to think that geography is a great place to start- a large wooden plank, if you will, sticking out of all of our eyes.

    anyway, i’m glad we’re able to approach the bigger question from both angles because i’m not convinced there is just one right way to address the issue.

  44. Leroy Glinchy says:

    The best way to stay away from materialism is not look at ads. There is adblock for browsers. You can purchase tv shows and watch as much or as little as you want without ads.

    Also, I think it is who you hang out with. I have eaten with people who would only talk about what car they wished to purchase. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was disgusted mostly because people were playing a game. They were pretending that their value came from their selection of a vehicle model.

    This upset me because it was inauthentic. They did not design the vehicle. They did not do anything special to get it. Anyone can sign a car loan and make car payments.

    There is so much that is wonderful about life besides pretending you are a material thing.

  45. Grant Smith says:

    One of the best books I have read on this topic is Randy Alcorns “Money, Finances and Eternity” It covers very well some of the important topics talked about here concerning money and what we chose to do with it.

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One Day’s Wages

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It appears I brought a little Seattle to the NYC. Drizzle fest. 24 hour gathering with a small group of leaders from around the country. Learning. Listening. Asking hard questions. Head exploding. Heart trying to have hope. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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