Archive for Saturday, July 24, 2004

Faith forum

July 24, 2004


Can you be materialistic and a spiritual person at the same time?

People must keep priorities in check

The Rev. Paul Gray, senior pastor, Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt., and acting director of the Leo Center, Suite 100, 1 Riverfront Plaza:

If "materialistic" means loving things more than God or getting our self-worth from what we own rather than from him, then Jesus would answer the above question, "no." He said in the Sermon on the Mount, "You cannot serve both God and money." But the Bible never says that having money is evil, or that you cannot serve God if you have wealth.

The key is our priority. If a person's priorities are simply the acquisition of material things, not only will one never be satisfied, but the Bible has many warnings about the consequences of being too enamored with money and the things it can buy. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, "People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows."

I believe that everything we have is from God, and that gives Christians the freedom to enjoy the material things that we have, as well as to share them with others. A materialistic attitude suggests loving money and using people (when necessary to gain money). Jesus commands us to use money and love people. A simple glance at our daytimer and calendar can be a good indicator of which attitude we may have.

The apostle Paul has great advice for us in 1 Timothy 6:17-18: "Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works, and give generously to those in need."

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Material desires shouldn't define us

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

We are born empty-handed and we die empty-handed. In between, we want stuff we like and don't want stuff we don't like -- even a Buddhist monk in his begging rounds appreciates it when the food put in his bowl tastes good. Our bodies are material, so of course we are to some extent materialistic.

But we also have questions. What am I? What is this world? Why is there suffering? How can I help? Everybody has these questions at some time. These are the great spiritual questions, so we are all -- regardless of how we define our faith or lack of it -- spiritual.

If our lives are ruled by our material desires, if we define ourselves by our what we own, then we are living in a dream. Everybody knows this, even Donald Trump. And everybody forgets this at times.

The notion of nonattachment is useful here. Emphasized in Buddhism, it's a deeply human notion. Every faith has some version of it. It means complete acceptance that we don't own anything. And not just material things, but everything -- our work, our relationships, even our lives. Related to this is the notion of impermanence: Everything changes. Everything changes, so how can you own anything?

Everything changes, we can't own anything, but there is one thing we can own completely, and that's our life in this moment. Not yesterday's life, not tomorrow's life, not what we think we want or wish we had done, but our life right here, right now, exactly as it is.

So I am a little uncomfortable with the terms of the question. It's not whether we are materialistic or spiritual -- everybody is both. The real questions are: Right now, are we awake or asleep? Conscious or dreaming? Are we living life, or inhabiting a dream?

Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at

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