Greed and Charity (Vice and Virtue Series, Part 3)

Part 3 of a series of posts reflecting on the Vice and Virtue series of sermons at UUCF.

Nobody expresses unconditional love better than the Sufi poets. (Image by Mara from Flicker)

Nobody expresses unconditional love better than the Sufi poets. (Image by Mara from Flicker)

The third in a series of sermons on Vice and Virtue explored greed. While, as Rev. Alex Riegel pointed out, the root of lust and gluttony is pleasure-seeking, the root of greed is different. Over the last third of his sermon, Alex builds an argument I’d summarize as follows. Greed, the need to accumulate things, money, and even approval, stems from fear that one’s needs will not be met another way. It is “a compensation for a sense of scarcity in (one’s)self.” Secondly, charity, or unconditional love, the balancing virtue to greed, is the state of not needing, not having conditions on love. This virtue occurs when others are not a means to our ends and when our attachment to getting from another isn’t present.

As I’ve explored the part greed place in my life, I’ve felt a bit embarrassed, which is likely why it’s taken me a few weeks to get this post completed. As way of partial explanation but not at all as excuse, I’m a worrier. I’m a free-range worrier, shifting my focus of concern as life proceeds. As a student, I worried about getting good grades to the point of avoiding classes that I wasn’t certain in which I’d earn an A. As an adult, my worries shifted to money, and I worried about having enough in the bank to survive some disaster I couldn’t even imagine, such as disability making my then-husband and I unable to work; then about disease or special needs of a child that would require deep pockets; and more recently about taking care of myself and my children after divorce. Now I worry about retirement and my later years, although at 41 those are ages. I will stand by fiscal planning as prudent and responsible, but it is small step from careful to greed, and I am not certain I know where that line lies.

Charity may be that line, however fuzzy, between responsibly planning for the family and hoarding. Giving to others in time, goods, or money, without expecting anything in return:  that’s charity.  It’s a short bridge from charity to another way to look at this virtue — unconditional love.  Soon into Alex’s discussion of greed, he moves his focus to unconditional love, love without conditions.  Love of a child that doesn’t rely on needing the child to behave in a certain way or of a spouse that doesn’t rely on specific feedback from that spouse are two examples.

I interrupt these musings to supply some context.  I missed the live delivery of this sermon and was grateful to have a pair of 20 minute car trips during which to listen to this sermon in relative peace.  Both boys read the drive away, but then we came close to their Dad’s house.  It was dusk, and my younger needed to pick up his piano books at his Dad’s so he could practice at home.  Only he didn’t see why he should get out of the car to get them (his shoes were off, for reasons I don’t understand).  He thought either his brother or I should get out.  For his books.  That he left.

I blew up.

I blew up right in the middle of blissfully listening about the virtue of unconditional love. I was there, listening and nodding away.  Then I was gone, yelling at my younger guy who (it turned out) was afraid to walk outside in the dark alone, even just the 15 feet from the well-lit car to the well-lit door.  All I wanted was to listen about love and lack of need from others, and he had to ruin it with his big stink, darn it.  How dare reality intrude upon my mind like that.

It’s not like I recovered right away.  As he finally made his way up the walkway (his dad came to the door of the house, likely drawn by the noise of my yelling, so my younger felt safe to scurry up and get his books), my older said something that irked me the wrong way.  Honestly, he could have told me he loved me at that moment, and I’d have likely bitten off his head.   I recall what I took as a criticism of my parenting and snapped away at him, too.  Nice job, Mom.  Way to unconditionally love.

Okay, so I have some work to do here.  I know most of my rants at the kids have to do with me not feeling they’ve met my expectations, and a few are overflow from leftover emotion that has nothing to do with them.  I don’t have a goal to be all sugar to my kids all the time.  I’m their mom, not their best friends.  Sometimes the best way to love them is to tell them what isn’t helping them live in community with me and each other.  After all, unconditional love isn’t meant to be exhausting, and it’s not about folks walking all over you.  But I’d like to keep a better watch on the way I remind them of their responsibilities, leaning toward more charitable language and less, well, of the other stuff.  Even when it means missing part of a great sermon.

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