Comedian Jack Benny loved to tell the story of a mugger who accosted him and said, “Your money or your life!” After an appreciable silence, the mugger says, “Well?” And Benny replies, “Don’t rush me. I’m thinking. I’m thinking.”
Of course, the more that money becomes our life, the harder the choice becomes.
I noticed in the Monday obituaries (no I haven’t begun to read the obituaries every day to see if I’m listed, as Mark Twain claimed he did in his old age), that theologian Langdon Gilkey died. Before he went to the University of Chicago Divinity School to teach, Gilkey went to China as a young man and taught at Yenching Univeristy, near Beijing. As World War II unfolded, he was rounded up by the invading Japanese and spent 2½ years at an internment camp. He later wrote a book called The Shantung Compound, based on the journal he kept there. (Incidentally, Henry Luce—founder of Time magazine—was born in the camp; and missionary doctor Eric Liddell, hero of Chariots of Fire, died during internment there).
As we come to the time of the year when many people do their only thinking about generosity and about others, Gilkey’s book is a good read, in its treatment of greed and sharing in the compressed community of a concentration camp.
Here’s a passage:
“I suddenly saw, as never so clearly before, the really dynamic factors in social conflict: how wealth compounded with greed and injustice leads inevitably to strife, and how such strife can threaten to kill the social organization. Correspondingly, it became evident that the only answer was not less wealth or material goods, but the development of moral character that might lead to sharing and so provide the sole foundation for social peace.”
The best guardian of that character, to be sure, is the understanding that all we have comes from the hand of God, and we must give it freely, as from His hand.
St. John Chrysostom, a bishop of the early Christian church (347-407), wrote: “For you too are stewards of your own possessions. . . For even though you have received an inheritance from your father, and have in this way come to possess everything you have, still everything belongs to God.”
A great homily for Thanksgiving eve.