Money Mindset

The Bible seems to say two things about money. That it’s all good or it’s all bad. Of course, what it really says is that money, like all good things, can be worshiped as an idol. Samson worships a woman as an idol (he tells her how to released him from his vow to God), Israel worships the Torah as an idol (see the New Testament), and Adam and Eve treat food as an idol, trusting it for wisdom rather than God. Yet none of these is bad. I suspect that Christians are more suspicious of money because theologians, who are notoriously bad at being creative, industrious, and good with people (all skills that help one make money), then to teach that money (which they cannot make easily) is almost entirely bad, rather than hitting the balance appropriately.

Here’s my attempt at a brief mindset shift to help Christians deal with money in a fashion that is neither idolatrous or irresponsible. Here’s the mindset shift:

Money is a metric.

What do I mean:

  1. Money is a measure of positive spiritual health
    1. If you have a positive bank balance and observe that you feel joy because it is a result of virtues you would choose to obtain even without money (industriousness, creativity, charisma, frugality, and generosity) is a sign of spiritual health. In other words, you know how to make money and be rich or to lose it all and be poor without anxiety because Christ gives you strength (Phil 4:11-13).
    2. If you have nice things that you can use to care for your family, this may be a sign of wisdom (Proverbs 21:20).
  2. Money is a measure of negative spiritual health
    1. Having a negative bank balance, severe anxiety, an obsession with financial status, or a resentment of those more successful than you is a sign that you may need to repent of your laziness, pay off your debts, learn some new skills, and manage your own life rather than hating everybody else.
    2. Having a large bank balance because you never give alms, help the church, show hospitality, take breaks for family, or choose health over work is a sign that you worship money.

Learning to view money as a metric, one tool among many for assessing my spiritual health has been very useful. I hope that it is helpful to you as well.

Hildebrand on The Power of an Orderly Life

In, Transformation in Christ, Dietrich von Hildebrand explains the power of an orderly life to help us transform ourselves:


To ordain our daily lives according to some definite rule constitutes a further method in the service of our inner transformation. Apart from the specific importance which the single provisions of that rule may possess for our progress in virtue, a certain wholesome effect proceeds from order as such. It pervades life with a certain rhythm of composure and continuity, which makes it easier for us to collect ourselves; it protects us from being absorbed by the succession of varying events and impressions, so apt to interfere with our concentration upon essentials.
An orderly regulation of our lives relieves us from the temptation to let our attention to prayer, contemplation, and work, our avoidance of peripheral concerns, depend on chance and circumstance; it enables us to provide systematically for the meaningfulness and depth of our existence. It makes it possible for us to acquire constancy without which all good endeavors are condemned to sterility.
Finally, an established outward order also raises us above our dependence on our own arbitrary whims and momentary dispositions; it commits us from the outset, and enduringly, to our direction towards God. The last-named advantage is more perfectly attained, of course, in the case of a rule followed—as in monastic life—from holy obedience, as contrasted to merely self-devised and self-imposed regulations.
In any event, however, we must keep aware of the fact that all technical regulation of life is but a means, not an end in itself; its observance must not be allowed to become a matter of rigid mechanical routine. We should not erect the rule into an absolute, nor abandon ourselves to its automatism as to a supreme law. Otherwise it may easily blunt, rather than sharpen, our perception of the call of God, and harden our hearts rather than open them to Christ.

Burning off dead wood

What is a human being and how does it grow? Two men offer helpful and constructive answers can be found below. To be human is to be the sort of creature whose mind can incorporate struggles and trials into itself to become more. Marcus is commenting on the Stoic concept that human beings are rational animals, Peterson is commenting on Scripture in the first quote and on Jung’s understanding of Solve et Coagula[1] in the second. I hope what follows is helpful and encouraging:

Marcus Aurelius

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces— to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it— and makes it burn still higher. (Aurelius Meditations, Hays Translation 4:1)


Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. (Aurelius 5:20)

Jordan Peterson

It’s not just a little linear, it’s step-wise, right? It’s that the you that emerges as a consequence of your latest catastrophe is everything that you were before plus something more. And that actually constitutes what you might describe as measurable progress, right? And that’s another argument against moral relativism, because if you can do everything that you could do before, and you can do some more things we could just define that as better. It’s not a bad definition. And then we have enough. It’s like, what you’re trying to do is to differentiate the world and differentiate yourself and every time you undergo one of these revolutions then hopefully both of those things happen. And then there’s a moral to that story, too, which is do it voluntarily and maybe do it don’t wait for it to happen catastrophically. Keep your eyes open and when something goes a little bit wrong that you could fix it. Don’t say, “No, that doesn’t matter.” Maybe it does matter. Maybe it is matter. Maybe it’s exactly the matter out of which you should be built.[2] 


[confronting the unexpected and undesired good is…] It’s a forest fire that allows for new growth, and that’s how those things are put together and, and it’s useful to know too because if you burn something off you might think well there’s nothing left. That’s not true! If it’s dead wood, then you have room for new growth. And you want to be doing that on a fairly regular basis. That’s the snake that sheds its skin and transforms itself, right? That’s the death and resurrection, from a psychological perspective. It’s exactly the same idea! Now, we don’t know the upper limit to that, right? Because we don’t know what a person would be like if they let everything that they could let go let go and only let in what was seemly, let’s say. But you can see, that’s funny we know that to some degree you can see people vary from you can see people start to do that, it’s not a rare experience. And people improve very rapidly. They can improve their lives very rapidly, a lot of it is low-hanging fruit. If you just stop doing really stupid things that you know are stupid your life improves a lot so and it frees you up. It also means there’s a there’s an element there that’s also associated with pride because people tend to take pride in who they are, and that’s a bad idea because that stops you from becoming who you could be because if you’re proud of who you are you won’t let that go when it’s necessary you won’t step away from it you know and then you end up being your own parody That’s also a very bad idea. You want to be continually stepping away from your previous. Part of that too is that you have to decide, are you order, or are you chaos, or you the process that mediates between them? If you’re the process that mediates between them you are the thing that transforms. And that’s the right attitude for human beings because that’s what we are. The thing that voluntarily confronts chaos and transforms. That’s what we are. And so, for better or worse, you know, that’s our deepest biological essence, you might say. So, you can let things go if you know that there’s more growth to come.[3] 



Aurelius’ meditations and Peterson’s broader argument provide a helpful rationale for learning the dialectical arts, adopting asceticism, and a more positive approach to life’s trials.


[1] One of my dear friends was deeply interested in Jung and before his tragic death wrote the song linked above.


Don’t Pray When Tempted?

We all know that prayer is a great tool for spiritual growth and in some ways it is the method and even the goal of the Christian life. But is there ever a time in the Christian life in which prayer is not the go-to tool? In a book on Greek Orthodox spirituality, the author recounted a conversation that was shocked me:

“There is a detail we must keep in mind in reference to the repetition of the Prayer as a method of overcoming the logismoi, [word for spiritually disturbing thought]” Father Maximos said softly as we turned back to where the car was parked. “A person should not resort directly to the Prayer immediately after being assaulted by troublesome logismoi.” “Why not?” I asked puzzled. “I know that what I am about to say may sound paradoxical. But an automatic recourse to the Prayer could have the opposite effects. It may lead a person to extreme psychic turmoil and to a loss of self-mastery. Old Paisios used to tell us that when confronted with a logismos, whoever resorts to repeating the Prayer very rapidly resembles a terrified soldier in the heat of battle. He holds his rifle tight to his chest, paralyzed with fear. To reassure himself that he is not afraid he repeats ’Holy Virgin help me, Holy Virgin help me.’ And he shakes from head to toe, sitting there completely immobilized and unable to fight or even to breathe.” Father Maximos laughed. “That reminds me,” he mused, “of the dentist we had on Mount Athos. The moment he would take a look into our mouths he would sigh, start crossing himself, and begin lamenting. ’Holy Virgin! May you help us. May God place His hand here.’ “Before a person begins to pray, when confronted with a troublesome logismos, a rational mastery over the situation must be developed. Again, if at all possible, the best way is to employ the strategy of complete indifference.1

When I first read this I was taken aback. But then it hit me, Jesus says to pray for God to protect us from temptations when we go to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). But his instruction to his disciples when it comes to sin is to ‘deny yourself.’ Not only so, but St. Peter’s instruction to disciples is to “be sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). Later in the same letter, being sober-minded is connected with resisting Satan’s temptations! Sober-minded, rational mastery over temptation is what we do for our prayers.

It would seem that having rational mastery over your emotions, your deepest desires, and the things which tempt you to sin is precisely the remedy to temptation in the moment. And one of the chief strategies of overcoming self-defeating thoughts is to distract yourself. The same, it seems, applies sinful thoughts in general.

It makes sense. While we should pray for God’s help in all things, asking God to help us overcome a temptation when we’re not trying to remove ourselves from its presence, master its cause in our hearts, or arrange our lives to exclude sin is like praying for good health while eating donuts. It seems doubtful that the Lord would help us to do anything we don’t care to accomplish. Overcoming sin is no different, we cannot simply pray for repentance, we must obey the command to repent.


1. Markides, Kyriacos. The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (p. 139). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Do we need asceticism?

Asceticism is a maligned concept, but it’s cross culturally universal. At its essence, asceticism is exercising to optimize your life for some goal. Everybody is, in this sense, an ascetic practitioner. The problem is that we may not have chosen the goal toward which we are heading or we may be doing exercises improper to the goal.

For instance, in Fight Club men are being shaped into consumerist nobodies whose souls were as empty as their closets and refrigerators were full, but they keep buying things and accepting advice from unfulfilled individuals (advertisers or women who hate men) for designing their lives. They seek meaning, but use the tools of nihilism to achieve it.

In this sense, many people engage in quite severe exercises toward goals they’ve never chosen! People will work at jobs they hate, miss out on their children’s lives, eat food that hurts them over and over to save time, all the while wishing desperately to not make those choices. But the more ancient sense of asceticism is choosing certain severe practices to escape such deadening life paths to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.

Margaret Miles observed that if we find ourselves attracted to any of the goals of historic asceticism (virtue, happiness, personal power, spiritual growth, a persistent sense of meaning, etc), then we should “take seriously the claim of the historical authors that ascetic practices are the best means toward them.[1]

What were the goals of ancient asceticism?

  1. The acquisition of happiness and virtue.
  2. Control over one’s desires.
  3. Control over one’s thoughts.
  4. Control over one’s body.
  5. A clear vision of God and a deep compassion for the downtrodden.
  6. Partial escape from the symbolic world provided to us by others.

There were others, but these are the ones that are most appealing to me.

A modern asceticism would have to include:

  1. Fasting
  2. Solitude
  3. Physical exercise
  4. Strict attention to money and how it is used
  5. Escape to nature in some form
  6. Various forms of meditation (on Scripture, introspection, mindfulness to learn to control your thoughts/moods, etc)



[1] Margaret R Miles, Fullness of Life: Historical Foundations for a New Asceticism (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981).


Self-Mastery and Physical Pain

In Xenophon’s book on Socrates, he describes the great man like this:

In the first place, apart from what I have said, in control of his own passions and appetites he was the strictest of men; further, in endurance of cold and heat and every kind of toil he was most resolute; and besides, his needs were so schooled to moderation that having very little he was yet very content.[1]

The Greek word for “control” can also be translated as “mastery.” I prefer this translation, but I used the work on another in the quote above because translating classical Greek takes me longer than I care to spend. But back to the main idea. At a young age, I wished to learn the virtue of self-mastery or enkrateia. Here is my experience with this virtue in relationship to physical and emotional distress:

When I was a kid, I often experienced extreme physical pain.

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