Greed—Shame On You, Shame on Me

Let’s talk GREED.

I am convinced that greed is the greatest sin in the United States of America.

After watching a special report by Bill Moyers on the “non-profit” American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it seemed to me that money is the driving force behind every bill crafted by ALEC that legislators then bring back to Washington or their states to have passed into law.

Members of ALEC write laws that either help generate money (like the creation of a bill that encouraged home schooling—and ultimately the purchase of the products made by the ALEC affiliated companies) or save money (like bills that prevent consumers from suing the very companies that helped draft the law in the first place.)

Now, I’m probably not being entirely fair.

After all, corporations have the right to not just survive, but to thrive (They are “people” after all—or so I’ve  been told).  They have to generate a profit to pay workers, expand production or services, and reward leaders—handsomely.

But I doubt decisions are made on a spiritual level where board members deeply reflect on how their corporate decisions will impact the environment, the livelihood of employees or the economy or even how future generations may be affected.  From the outside looking in, the bottom line appears to be money.

But let’s be honest.

Greed doesn’t just exist in corporate America.

At General Synod this summer, the bi-annual gathering of representatives from the thousands of churches in the United Church of Christ, we were blessed to have Bernice Johnson Reagon and her daughter, Toshi Reagon perform.

Having been working on this post for months, I was especially engaged when they began singing Bernice’s song “Greed.”  She opens the song with these words:

“I been thinking about how to talk about greed

I been thinking about how to talk about greed

I been wondering if I could sing about greed

Trying to find a way to talk about greed”

Her lyrics throughout speak to how pervasive greed is in our country.  No. It is not just a phenomenon on Wall Street.  We can all fall prey to it.

“Greed is a strain in the American Dream

Having more than you need is the essential theme.

Everybody wanting more than they need to survive

Is a perfect indication, greed has settled inside.”

I started this post by judging corporations and finish with a personal confession. (The Spirit is sneaky like that!)

I too am a victim—no, a participant—in greed. While already owning one home, I went and bought another 2 years later.  An “investment” I considered it.  But as reality and hard luck would have it,  I have since lost one and have been on the verge of losing the other.

In 1 Timothy 6:6-10 we read:

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

One could argue that my desire for an investment property was simply smart.  It’s not like I knew that the housing market would crash and burn, right?

But I remember the urgency in purchasing the second home.  The market seemed as low as it could get.  Wanting in on the real estate game, I was experiencing that “eagerness to be rich” the scripture warns against. It couldn’t wait.  I had to buy a house then and there.

Temptation had lured me in.  I fell for the assurances the man gave me that he could “make the numbers work” in my loan application. You’ve only worked less than a month in your new job?  No problem. You already own a home but might have to carry two mortgages if renters can’t be kept in your first home?  No problem!

In the end, it was one problem after another.  I haven’t plunged “into ruin and destruction” because of my eagerness to be rich, but  I have had to painfully face my own distorted American understanding of having enough.

In this past month, as I agonized over the real possibility of losing yet another home, I have had to reflect.

Maybe this life and faith stuff isn’t about having more or being rich—rather it’s about learning to 1) be content and thankful for what I have, 2) live within my means, and 3) trust that my needs will be met.

Today I give thanks to God.  I have been humbled and gratitude has once again taken up residency in my heart leaving a little less room for greed.

May the corporate and individual greed of this nation

evolve into a much deeper kind of longing,

one in which contentment is not sought through the eagerness to be rich,

but is found instead in the gratitude of sufficiency–a much better kind of richness.

Do you want what it takes?

Do you want what it takes?

I was hammered with this question over and over again during my year in Clinical Pastoral Education in preparation for becoming a certified (and on some days I believe “certifiable”) chaplain.  Honestly, I’m a bit thick headed (and stubborn!!) and don’t recall exactly which of my many issues they were addressing with this question, but I will admit, I have contemplated those six words countless times in my life since.

I’ll give you an example.

Photo by Scott Griesel,

I am a disorganized individual.  My brain goes way too many directions at one time and has a painfully difficult time focusing.  I may be deeply compassionate, intuitive, and creative, but being organized is almost as easy and natural for me as breathing underwater.

Natural or not, there are times in my life when my very sanity depends on being organized. When work becomes overwhelming, when home life is frantic and an orderly life is the only sane way out, that is when I have to say, “Okay Kid—do you really want what it takes?”

“It’s going to take incredibly hard work to get organized.  You are going to have to begin making lists (again) and oh yeah, adhering to them.  You are going to have to get up early and go to bed on time.  You are going to have to prioritize (First things first). You will have to battle the tendency to procrastinate.  Are you willing to do these things to be organized and sane?  Do you want what it takes?”

For all you Type A people out there, those of you who don’t lack motivation, are quite driven and terrifically organized, do NOT be led to believe this post isn’t for you.  You may be reaching every goal you’ve ever set for yourself and methodically checking off everything on your to-do list, but there are areas in your life that need tending to.  I guarantee it.  For many of the motivated people I’ve known, often the questions are:

Are you willing to practice true self-care of your body, mind and spirit? Can you see the benefits of learning how to slow down?  Will you push yourself to build genuine, intimate relationships where you allow yourself to be truly vulnerable and fully present with that person? Are you open to listening to an individual without trying to fix his or her problems?

For any of us the real question is, Do we want what it takes to reach a balance in our lives?

One of my definitions of Spiritual Growth is the movement away from brokenness and chaos and into balance and serenity.  I won’t ever be a fine-tuned, organizing machine. Ever.  But there are times when I must push against that disorganized nature and tip the scales to where my life is more balanced.

You may be a very precise and orderly person, but are you willing to find a balance and gracefully accept the imperfection in your life—yours and other?

You may tend to seek and maintain power in your life, but can you allow yourself to let your guard down, trusting in someone else to take the reins or to see his or her shortcomings as something other than a direct assault on you?

Instead of working harder, are you willing instead to take time out to pray longer?  Rather than backing down all the time, will you challenge yourself to stand up for what you believe?

In other words, do you want what it takes to be a great parent or committed spouse, to be a compassionate friend, to be successful in your job, or to lose weight and get in shape? Do you want what it will take to reach those goals?

It is not easy to name the areas in our lives that are out of balance.  Often we are too spiritually blind and can’t see where the scales are tipped. Other times, we prefer denial.

I challenge you today (or as a friend would lovingly say, “I command you”) to spend time in prayer. 

Ask God to reveal the areas in your life that are out of balance. Seek guidance from someone who will speak the truths you may not want to hear. And courageously begin today balancing out your life.

May God bless you with all that you need to be whole and balanced.

With Understanding Comes Direction…

Today’s Spiritual Prescription:

Know Thyself!

I can’t help but wonder if I had truly known myself—that I am discouraged by sunny skies and long summers—would I have still accepted the job that brought my family and me to the desert?  If I had realized how much I enjoyed being outdoors (on cool and/or cloudy days) would I have even entertained the idea of applying for a position in this region of the United States where much of my time would have to be spent indoors?

Life’s is funny like that, isn’t it?  It always makes much more sense looking back…after we’ve come through that which has taught us about ourselves.  I do believe, however,  we must take advantage of these life lessons.

If we look upon our past—be that our childhood, young adulthood or even last year–and examine ourselves with open eyes, we will begin to realize: to whom we might best commit ourselves (employers, lovers, friends, spouses, hobbies), where we might choose to live, how we would best spend our time and even our money.

I trust if we take the necessary time to understand ourselves and see the patterns, we will have a clearer direction for our future wherever we are on our life’s journey.


In this Spiritual Prescription take a moment to consider these things:

(This is only a sampling of important questions and a small list of possible answers…)


What brings you joy?

Solitude? Being active? Shopping? Children? Gardening? Chillaxing? Hunting? Reading a good book? Sex?

What do you value?

Honesty? Security? Family? Diligence? Acceptance? Intimacy? Frugality? Loyalty? Spirituality? Love?

What time of year is your favorite? Your least favorite?

Fall? Winter? Spring? Summer? Fog Season? Rainy Season? Mud Season?

What are your deepest fears?

Being alone? Commitment? Failure? Getting old? Rejection? Authority? Dying? Dependence? Betrayal?


When I made the decision to accept the job here in the desert I knew that I valued being close to family and feared being rejected.  The position brought us back to the West closer to friends and family and seemed to be a place where I was accepted for whom I was as a minister.  It also appeared to be an area that could offer my family new opportunities.

The decision to move certainly wasn’t made in a vacuum and much discussion was had. I simply never considered  asking myself, or my family for that matter, what brought us joy in our lives (For me: gardening, hiking, being near water, snow, cloudy days, rain, drinking hot tea daily, baking, enjoying the outdoors with my family, walking into town, sleeping under heavy blankets–and many more things that don’t exist or are impossible or harder to do comfortably in the desert).

When we can honestly name our patterns (the good, the bad and the ugly) and understand what makes us tick—to whom we are drawn , to which situations we gravitate, that which we desire or fear, and that which we thrive on—we are better able to make the choices that uphold the good and reject the bad.

Don’t be shy!

Look upon your life, peel back the layers, ask the questions and discover more deeply who you are.  It is in truly knowing yourself that you will more clearly discern your life’s direction and God’s plan for your future.

Words of Wisdom…

My maternal grandfather sent this poem to my mom when she was a young mother and told her it was worth reading every day.  I couldn’t agree more.  I continue to be amazed at how timeless it is.  Read each line slowly, considering its place in your life right now. May these words, written nearly 100 years ago, bless your day.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,

be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant;

they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;

for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to the virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927