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.

Growth and Biblical Wisdom

Everybody has a self-theory, some hypothesis or doctrine about what/who they are. Some of these theories are simple sentences like, “I’m an athlete.” Others are more fundamental, like, “I’m worthless.” According to Carol Dweck and Daniel Molden, our self-theories lead directly to our self-esteem maintenance/repair strategies after we fail at a task or to reach a goal. (Dweck, 130-131). They have distilled the various self-theories into two helpful categories.

The Self Theories:

  1. Entity theory:
    Entity theory is the theory that all of your personal traits are fixed in place.
  2. Incremental Theory:
    The incremental theory of the self is the theory that no matter who you are, your qualities and abilities can be improved upon.

Two strategies of self-esteem repair:

  1. Fixed/Static View
    It is often found that those who hold to the entity theory, because of the assumption that change is impossible, also have a static view of self-esteem repair. These people repair their self-esteem by avoidance of activities that are difficult. Adherents to this self-theory also utilize comparison of their performance to examples who performed even more poorly than themselves to bolster their sense of worth/skill.
  2. Growth View
    Those who hold to the incremental self-theory, because of the assumption that change is possible, adopt a growth perspective on self-esteem repair. These individuals use strategies like examination of deficits and practicing unattained skills.  They are also more likely to utilize comparison of personal performance to those who performed even better to understand why they succeeded.

Can you guess which self-theory and which strategies tend to be associated with success? If you guessed, “the incremental theory and the growth view,” you guessed correctly.

In the book of Proverbs, the self-theory assumed by the author is the incremental theory. The author assumes that people can change:

Pro 8:1-5 ESV  Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?  (2)  On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;  (3)  beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:  (4)  “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man.  (5)  O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense.

And as one would expect from somebody who holds the incremental view, the author of Proverbs recommends responding to personal failures and challenges with a growth strategy:

  1. Pro 9:8b-9a Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man, and he will grow wiser.
  2. Pro 15:5  A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
  3. Pro 15:12  A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.
  4. Pro 15:32  Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

The whole book basically indicates that one of the main differences between the wise and the unwise is that the wise are willing to face correction and improve. They admit their flaws and errors. They do so whether the flaws pertain to morality, character, knowledge, skill, or anything else.

Conclusion

Learning to change our perspective on failures and internal shame is very difficult. We often feel painfully ashamed of failures, mistakes, and sins. This shame can paralyze us into being unable to admit fault. It can even force us into hiding our flaws and dwelling only on our positive traits and thus can prevent change. It is all the better to admit personal failures of morals, knowledge, and skill. Fessing up to oneself, to God, and to other people is a liberating experience. In so doing, shame can become the sort of sorrow that leads to repentance and personal transformation. One good article on the subject can be found here: Why I Like When Other Men Make Me Feel Bad About Myself.

Works Cited:

Andrew J Elliot and Carol S Dweck, Handbook of Competence and Motivation (New York: Guilford Press, 2005).

Appendix:

Though the author of Proverbs assumes that you and I can change, he is a realist. You and I have all known people that we worry about because they keep making bad decisions. The fear is that eventually it might be too late to change. Proverbs does notice that some people will want to change their habits at the last minute before a calamity. They procrastinate. They hope to perhaps utilizing a montage strategy. “Oh, I messed around all year and have to make a 100 on the final and only have 8 hours to study…wisdom come save me with clips of fun, hard work, and sweet music!” Kind of like in Rocky, Revenge of the Nerds, the Muppets Movie, and Mulan:

Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, is personified as a cosmically powerful female prophet who represents the highest aspirations of human motherhood, the ultimate wife, and the most wise sister a young man could have. Young men typically love women, this is probably why the literary device is used. The book is written for young men, but it clearly applies to women as well. Anyway, here is what Lady Wisdom says after being ignored until the last minute before a disaster:

Pro 1:24-27  Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,  (25)  because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,  (26)  I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,  (27)  when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.

If you refuse to change your character long enough, you won’t be able to suddenly make the necessary repairs in order to succeed. I tried this in Hebrew as an undergrad. You cannot study at the last minute for Hebrew and succeed.

Intellectual Weakness

Nobody wants to be weak. Weakness leads to losing.

Weakness leads to resentment.[1]

Intellectual weakness is perhaps the most subtle weakness.

It compounds itself. Physical weakness makes us feel bad.

Intellectual weakness makes us feel smug or leaves us unable to see our weakness.

There are many ways to overcome this problem, but the first is to read.

The abysmal truth is that few read before or during college:

“The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works that are presumed to appeal to “book virgins” who will flee actual college-level reading. Since common reading programs are generally either voluntary or mandatory without an enforcement mechanism, such “book virgins” have to be wooed with simple, unchallenging works. This was our conclusion two years ago: the lay of the land is still much the same.”

If you want to get ahead in life, at least ahead of yourself, read.

Why Read?

If you read you can:

  1. Get inside the head of somebody smarter than you. (Have you written a whole book?)
  2. You can empathize more effectively.
  3. You can learn new skills.
  4. You can acquire great examples for action, thought, and virtue.
  5. You can avoid the brain rot of emotional eating or over watching television.
  6. You can understand the foundations of your culture and rescue you father from the underworld.

What to read?

  1. Try reading classic fiction. Start easy with the Chronicles of Narnia, then try the Hobbit, A Study in Scarlet, Tarzan of the Apes, etc. Then try some Umberto Eco. Then the Iliad or Beowulf.
  2. Read a self-help classic or two: The Slight Edge and How to Win Friends and Influence People are really helpful.
  3. Read some classic philosophy. Try the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Lectures and Sayings of Musonius Rufus. Then try The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.
  4. Try reading about interesting figures in history. I like reading about Teddy Roosevelt, Jim Bowie, and St. Paul.
  5. Think of a science topic you like (the launching of the moon rocket, invention of the light bulb, the discovery of gravity, etc), and read a popular book about it.

Footnote

[1] For the Christian, weakness can be a form of power, insofar as that weakness is one that the Christian has tried to overcome. In that sense, Paul the apostle can speak of his preference for weakness. This preference is not, even in context, an excuse for low-effort, shoddy thinking, or laziness in general.

Don’t Be Yourself

“Just be yourself.”

If “be yourself” means “be honest about yourself, your weaknesses, and your abilities, lie neither to yourself or others” then I agree. If it means do what you truly and really think is best, then I absolutely agree. 

But what it really means is something like this excuse your excesses, wink at your weaknesses, befriend your faults, and ignore your ignorance.

If I were to tell a struggling Greek student, “just be yourself,” then they would remain a non-Greek knowing person. 

If a new lifter goes to the gym and acts like themselves with the weight equipment they will either plateau at a non-optimal state, injure themselves or become a gymbecile.

How about a Christian who is addicted to various evil behaviors? Should he simply “be himself?” Or should he try really hard to discipline those habits out of himself?

Anyhow, I think the advice can be stated in a useful way, but in the romanticized way it is commonly used it is a bad and dangerous idea.

Marcus Aurelius’ Questions for a Strong Mindset

Marcus Aurelius - Project Gutenberg eText 15877.jpg

What am I doing with my soul? Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. A child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s? A tyrant’s soul? The soul of a predator— or its prey?[1] -Marcus Aurelius Med. Bk V, chap 11

One of the most valuable exercises we can perform is to determine the content of our thoughts and the state of our souls.

With the four questions above, one of the greatest mindset writers of all time, Marcus Aurelius, helps us to determine if our mindset is strong or weak. 

Remember, strength of mind is a virtue.

  1. What am I doing with my soul?
    For Aurelius, this question means am I cultivating virtue, learning to be tranquil, understanding nature, conforming to it, and achieving the goals I set?
  2. Do I have a child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s?
    In other words, “Is my soul adequately developed for who I am?” If a man, do I shirk responsibilities like a child? Aurelius would have believed in traditional gender arrangements. So, if a man, do I fear battle? If a woman, do I think as a man who is more willing to fight than to care for my children and home?
  3. A tyrant’s soul?
    A line in the gospels helps us understand this. Jesus said that his followers should not “Lord it over” one another as the leaders of the nations do. Do I require that I get my way from everybody? While this may make one feel very powerful when it works, the decisions of others are the worst of things upon which to rely. Can you have virtue and tranquility if you possess the soul of a tyrant? Can you even have strength?
  4. The soul of a predator or its prey?
    This is particularly helpful in a culture that seems to reward behaviors of submission and retreat.[2] People don’t want to be weak and often to mask weaknesses will engage in self-destructive rather than self-constructive behaviors. Are you a predator that overcomes obstacles to seek the good? Or are you the prey that waits for problems to come your way? Are you bold as a lion or do you refuse to move forward because you fear the lion in the streets?[3]

 

References

[1] Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 1357-1359). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2]

 

[3] See Proverbs 22:13 and 28:1.

How-To Even

Previously, in the formerly current year, many people expressed their inability to even.

Here are two examples pulled from a quick twitter search for the phrase:

In this tweet, we read about a woman who is having an eye-brow problem and cannot even because of it.

 

In this tweet, an anonymous wo/man, who appears to protest ‘man-spreading’, ‘can’t even’ at the prospect of a Trump presidency. It’s hard to imagine the hysterics this individual is currently experiencing.

But I submit to you that you can. You can even. And here’s how:

  1. Stop publicly emoting about your inability to even. Simply note the emotion and ask, “How can I even solve this problem?”
  2. Write down what you will even do fifteen times a day, “I, so and so, will even do ‘X’.”
  3. Actually, start to even do the thing.

In three easy steps even you can even.

All sarcasm aside, it is certainly the case that saying “I can’t even” does affect how you think and act by effecting in you a static mindset or an ‘entity identity’. With your mindset so enslaved to that identity, your perceptions are aligned to reality in a fashion that no longer allows you to change.

 

What is my calling?

Briefly, Jesus outlines the calling for every Christian here:

Mark 12:29-31 ESV Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (31) The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This isn’t a very specific answer, but it’s a very significant one.

It’s in response to Jesus being asked what the most important part of the law is. Why would somebody ask that? Because they’re hoping to trip Jesus up or they’re hoping for some sort of permission or endorsement of their current way of life. In the case of the Israelites of Jesus’ day, they were looking for laws connected to overthrowing the Romans or perhaps gaining public honor through religious ritual (Matthew 6:1-18).

But the most important thing, before you start looking to do some “world changing” or “personally enriching task” is to learn to appreciate God and to bring well-being to your neighbor.

Rebuilding the Foundations

Bruce Charlton has a good post about the nature of the spiritual battle in the west:

Modern Man is sabotaged by an evil metaphysics – in other words, it is our fundamental assumptions that undermine and subvert good living for us.

We therefore need to discover, first that we actually do have a metaphysics; secondly what it is; and thirdly we need to reconstruct it so as to become true – insofar as we can discover true assumptions (which is a matter of intuition, revelation, direct knowing).

What are some of our evil metaphysical assumptions?

  1. That matter is primary reality.
  2. That meaning is imposed on the world by our minds rather than intrinsic to it.
  3. That life is therefore meaningless.
  4. That the scientific method is the only source for the only kind of knowledge.
  5. That cause and effect is only material.
  6. Truth is real.
  7. Truth is desirable enough to lose something to find it or say it.

It will generally be found (at least at first) that even when we have revised and improved our metaphysical assumptions; we nonetheless tend (partly by sheer habit, partly because of past social training and the prevalent surrounding culture); we nonetheless continue to use the old/ wrong metaphysics.

What he says here is one of the fundamental problems of most protestant forms of Christian discipleship. The protestant view is typically that belief leads to gratitude which leads to sincerely good works. But in reality, we get beliefs right on the level of intellectual assent or at least, pseudo assent for social acceptance. But we skip the fact that beliefs of that sort must be experienced to be true in practice. In other words, belief in doctrines not only leads to, but comes from practicing Christian practices. As an aside, the word translated “doctrine” in the King James Bible means, as far as I can tell, something closer to “apprenticeship.” It’s training in a whole way of life, not just transfer of beliefs.

One might observe that the metaphysical assumptions I mentioned above are not explicitly Christian, and that’s okay. In one sense, every true thing is Christian. But one need not be a Christian to hold to true metaphysical ideas. The gospel entails and assumes all of these ideas and one will have a hard time practicing the gospel without something like them in their minds. But many who do believe and live like those assumptions hold are not Christians.

What have I left out?

To the Christian who Can’t

One of the saddest claims I hear from Christians struggling with suffering, sin, or bad circumstances is “I can’t do anything about it so I’ll just have to let God do it.”

It’s a claim that sneaks into so many contexts. Even questions like, “What are some helpful tips that could make us better listeners?” elicit responses like, “rely on God’s grace.” My guess is that churches have accidentally provided an environment where phrases with very little actionable content are considered wise.

There are several reasons this way of speaking has become popular. I’ve written about them here before.

But the ancient church simply did not see it that way, nor should we. Here are two passages from a wiser age:

The chief part then of our improvement and peace of mind must not be made to depend on another’s will, which cannot possibly be subject to our authority, but it lies rather in our own control. And so the fact that we are not angry ought not to result from another’s perfection, but from our own virtue, which is acquired, not by somebody else’s patience, but by our own long-suffering.[1] – John Cassian

 

And the consequence of this [the manner with which the demons became evil] is, that it lies within ourselves and in our own actions to possess either happiness or holiness; or by sloth and negligence to fall from happiness into wickedness and ruin, to such a degree that, through too great proficiency, so to speak, in wickedness (if a man be guilty of so great neglect), he may descend even to that state in which he will be changed into what is called an “opposing power.”[2] – Origen

Both of these men believed thoroughly in God’s grace and man’s moral weakness, but when it comes to Christians, they wrote that we are thoroughly morally responsible for our spiritual state. And this makes perfect sense. The Bible says that God’s grace enables us add virtue to our faith, it does not say or ever even imply that grace enables us to passively become virtuous:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]

Now this is not to imply that I’ve attained great virtue or learned to fully take responsibility for my own spiritual state. Like Cain I tend to wonder why circumstances don’t make it easier (which is an indictment of God) rather than wondering why I haven’t made myself more adept at managing myself. But I do strive to make such a practice my own. And if I have a central message or theme as a Christian educator other than, “believe the gospel about Jesus,” it’s “take full responsibility for yourself, sort your life out, and then take responsibility for the world around you.”

I don’t think any of that is opposed to God’s grace, any more than Jesus telling people to “go and sin no more” or “the greatest among you shall be the servant of all” is opposed to God’s grace.

References

[1] John Cassian, “The Twelve Books of John Cassian on the Institutes of the Cœnobia,” in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Edgar C. S. Gibson, vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 262.

[2] Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 260.

[3] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), 2 Pe 1:3–8.

Gary North on Training to Lose

Gary North wrote an article in 1980: Training to Lose, in which he observed:

The athlete has to train before he enters the race. He must discipline his body and his will, in order to be fully prepared for the exertion of the contest. The contest has winners and losers, and the Christian is not supposed to be a loser. This means that he must enter into the contest with self-confidence, enthusiasm, and a strategy for victory. He is not to spend time looking over his shoulder to see how far he has come from the starting- point, or how well his competitors are doing. He is to look straight ahead at the finish line, pacing himself so that at the end he will have spent all of his reserves. He should give the race everything he has– emotionally, physically, and strategically.

 

If we look at modern Christianity, we find very little of this sort of training for life’s race. Christians act as though victory is achieved passively, as it the race were not worth training tor, as if the hope of victory were not part of the motivating factors in running. If we were to regard modern Christianity as a training program, and it lite were viewed as a race, how would we judge the success of the program? Would we conclude that modern preaching has raised up a generation of skilled athletes who are ready for the competition? Or would we have to conclude that the program has produced a lot of overweight, under-motivated weekend joggers who would collapse half way to the finish line?

I fear that North’s criticisms are right on.