I know that I am cared for by an abundant Provider

I choose to be grateful and trusting,

I believe I have enough and that what I need will always be provided.

I choose to be content and generous.

I know that my choices matter for myself, for others and for future generations.

Help me to live consciously and creatively,

celebrating signs of your new creation that is present and coming.

Creator, who made me to seek the greater good of Your kingdom,

Guide me to use my time, talents and resources to pursue what matters most.

Teach me to be free,

to live without worry, fear or greed in the freedom of Your abundance.

Give me my daily bread, as I share with those in need.

Thank You for the precious gift of life.

[From ‘Free’ by Mark Scandrette]

With this prayer of abundance, we [tbV and 11 friends, some who were girlfriends, fiances and wives we had not met before] launched into the dinner time on Friday, a most excellent meal of Butternut soup and Beer bread that Val and i had whipped up.

Last time a group of us met intentionally in this way it was with a focus on Race and more specifically Location in terms of where you choose [if you do] to live in Cape Town, already a challenging topic. But gather some people you don’t necessarily know all that well and invite them to speak about Money [you know, that thing we talk about in depth ALL the time] and things can get interesting.

We read through that prayer at the top again after the meal which took place in the middle of a four hour conversation of different aspects of money and things and how we spend and what generosity looks like… and this time invited our guests to share which line impacted them the most – either in terms of resonating or being a difficult one to embrace.

free

First up, as people arrived, we depossessed them of their phones by asking them to switch them on to silent and stick them in our phone basket. A most fantastic way of inviting people to engage more deeply and without distraction for an evening.

Val began the whole evening by reading a section of Mark Scandrette’s book ‘Free’ which we are going to be starting a book study on with a small group of people in a couple of weeks and which has deeply impacted us – the tagline ‘Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most’ sums up the book:

We live in one of the wealthiest economies on earth. Yet many of us feel crunched for time, stressed in our finances or perplexed about what makes life meaningful. Our culture is driven by a sense of scarcity, fear and an unquenchable quest for more. If we don’t make conscious choices to resist these impulses, the force of a materialistic and consumeristic society will make most of our decisions for us. The scripts we’ve inherited about material prosperity are wearing us out, robbing our joy and destroying our planet.

Wow, that would probably be enough for you to invite a bunch of friends round for a meal, read out and then invite them to discuss, yeah? but there’s more:

Our challenge is to pursue a standard of living that can be shared by all. to love our neighbour as ourselves we have to consider how our individual actions affect our sister across the street and our brother on another continent. We might not be able to fully grasp the scope of the problem or offer a complete solution but we can wrestle with the weight of our relative privilege and disproportionate consumption. For the sake of our global neighbours, the planet and future generations we’ve got to find a way to be less wasteful and consumptive, discovering a more sustainable version of the American Dream.

We are encouraged by the growing awareness among people of faith that the gospel of Jesus is holistic and touches every aspect of our lives. We see Christians of every variety desiring a life of faith that includes being a good neighbour. valuing relationships, cultivating an inner life, caring about people affected by poverty and consciously becoming better stewards of creation. However, this good vision for the church will remain largely unrealised unless practical realities and competencies are addressed. Many of us are too busy or too distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We live lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities. Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all – the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equality and sustainability. To realise these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions. 

Few things shape us more than our choices about how we earn, spend, save and invest. Most of us will spend a third of our time at income-producing jobs. How we choose to manage those earnings largely determines whether we are free to serve the greater good. Yet, rarely have religious communities, in particular, done well at addressing money and work as areas for discipleship – other than the occasional sermon about giving. Perhaps we unconsciously tend to seperate money and work from the centre of our religious lives, making an artificial and unhelpful distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, and thereby less important. In a holistic understanding of the gospel every part of life is sacred and integral to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This means we must learn to talk more honestly and openly about the details of our financial lives as an essential aspect of Christian discipleship.

And that was literally just the introduction. Wow.

Take a moment to digest the prayer at the top – go and read it again, line by line. One of the things someone pointed out when we read it the second time, was how interesting it was how many times it prefaced big statements with the words ‘I choose…’

And this passage i just shared. What jumps out at you? Is it strange that money that plays such an integral part in most of our lives is something we don’t talk about much? Why do you think that is? Why does it feel so hard to share with someone else [even someone you know well] how much you earn and say how much you spend on entertainment every month, or holidays, or coffee? 

SHARING STORIES

The rest of the first half of the dinner was us going around the circle and each person pulled a random unfinished statement from a bowl [also from Mark’s book] and were invited to share their answer with the group:

# In my family, money was a source of…

# I got the impression that we were…

# For my dad, money was…

# For my mom, money was…

# Something I learned from my parents about money that I now appreciate is…

# One thing I wished I’d learned about money earlier in life is…

# The messages I received about money, success and happiness from my culture were…

# A sense of abundance challenges or subverts the messages I received about money by…

# I believe that money…

# I would like to teach my children, grandchildren or younger people that I know in my life that money and provision…

Why don’t you take a few minutes and randomly pick one of those statements and answer it for yourself. If there is someone nearby why not invite them to do it with you and each take one and share it with each other. What came up for you?

FOOD AND LAUGHTER AND DESSERT AND MORE

After finishing those statements, we had the meal in the middle of the evening and later shared in the dessert and drinks and treats people had brought with them. One of the biggest aspects of these Deep Dive Conversation Dinners is the dinner part. We want to wrestle with important things with people we know and some we don’t, but we want to do it around a meal, breaking bread together, looking each other in the eyes, not necessarily going easy on each other, but working in a relatively safe place so that hopefully everyone leaves with something to think about, except us of course. [i mean we don’t leave, cos where would we go? But we definitely have a lot to think about.]

So we went through the prayer again and people shared aspects that stood out for them which generated some more conversation and then we decided to go a step deeper. Slash a dive deeper. Up to that point it had been really great and helpful and health conversation but it had felt somewhat reserved or safe or contained to both Val and myself. So i asked a question of the idea of money being something we often view in the context of myself or me and my wife or our family or maybe even our extended family. What does ‘How we view and deal with our money’ look like when we broaden the picture and see ourselves as one person in South Africa? We looked at the story of Jesus taking quite a subvertive stance when redefining His family as those who do the will of God, of Him redefining neighbour as everyone around us [including and maybe especially our enemy]. How does/should that change the way we view money?

And that is when things started to get really real.

Conversation firelighters such as ‘my response to beggars on the street’ and ‘this is what i want to do with my money’ and suddenly we are on a whole different level of conversation where some remarks got pointed, there was some strong [although gentle] push-back, but there was a sense that we were talking about real and important and bigger picture significant things.

Is it possible to attend a Deep Dive Conversation Dinner and not have your metaphorical toes stepped on at least once? i hope not. It’s often in our rush to defend something, or our rise to challenge someone else’s idea or comment, that what we believe is really brought to the fore, for us. To hopefully reflect on and consider. Is this belief i hold, right? Is it helpful? Does it work for everyone? Is there something i need to change? Is there something in the way i live that doesn’t back up what i say i believe? Can i learn something from that person’s story? And more.

Just KNOW that this blog piece [which i am specifically keeping general so as to protect and honour the safety of the conversations we had on Friday and the stories that were shared and the amount of themselves that people gave simply by coming and being a part of the conversation] does NO REAL SENSE OF JUSTICE to what happened on Friday. You REALLY had to be there. And we will likely be doing another one soon, probably sometime in August. And in all likelihood it is going to be around the topic of food. What we eat, how we eat, how what we eat is treated, what impact our personal diet has on the world and more. i know that this excellent series where a number of my friends shared about their journey to and from Vegetarianism and Veganism challenged a lot of people who read it, including me and Val, and so that is more than likely where we will go next. If you’re interested in being a part of it, let us know…

i AM HOPING that some of our guests from Friday night might write some words to share their experiences – good or bad – with us this next week… so keep an eye out for that…

The question that remains is, When are you going to host your first Deep Dive Conversation Dinner? i hope you’ll let us know how it goes…

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