“The Indian … was as a rule prepared to volunteer his services at any time in behalf of his fellows, at any cost of inconvenience and real hardship, and thus to grow in personality and soul-culture. Generous to the last mouthful of food, fearless of hunger, suffering, and death, he was surely something of a hero. Not ‘to have,’ but ‘to be,’ was his national motto.”
–Charles Alexander Eastman
Reading the above quote, I am forced to examine my own life and experiences. How many of us could say we were “generous to the last mouthful?” That’s pretty generous; and when I look at our culture and myself, I see a people obsessed with “to have” instead of “to be.”
Eastman talks about another practice of the Sioux where they believed that “the love of possessions [was] a weakness to be overcome.” To overcome the attachment to possessions, and maintain a minimal lifestyle, public giving was a prominent part of weddings, births, and funerals, and any other occasion in which a member of the tribe was especially honored. During such ceremonies, the Sioux often gave “to the point of utter impoverishment”:
“The Indian in his simplicity literally gives away all that he has, to relatives, to guests of another tribe or clan, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom he can hope for no return. Finally, the gift to the ‘Great Mystery,’ the religious offering, may be of little value in itself, but to the giver’s own thought it should carry the meaning and reward of true sacrifice.”
As Christians, we are called to be like Christ. We are even taught that “to have” is not the point of our time on Earth. During the sermon on the mount, Jesus himself said:
Matthew 6: 19-21:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And yet, how many of us successfully live out our lives this way? We spend a lot of time and energy focused on the acquiring of resources. While it is necessary to support ourselves so we don’t become a burden on others, do we spend the “proper” amount of time and energy on connecting with our fellow man and “storing up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven”? We can understand the principle but to put it into practice is much harder.
From time to time I have to ask: “Am I so focused on self and things that I miss the opportunity to build my relationships with others? Am I showing the love of Christ to the world? Am I even showing it to my own family?” Or am I more focused on my personal tasks and missions all oriented around my desires? You know what; it’s not my stuff anyway. It’s not my life, my money, or even my skills and abilities. They were all given to me by God with the expectation that I would steward them for his glory.
So, when I catch myself feeling greedy or selfish or too focused on material things, I find it helps me put things in perspective to reflect on the ridiculousness of our world/nation/culture. You could wake up tomorrow and pretend you’re an African prince who has to drive backwards to work or else the mafia will come and steal your haircut. And that would make only marginally less sense than people driving to the same workplace every day to get money to pay for a piece of the planet they were born on which can be taken away by a group of people in a big building with giant metal rooms full of green paper.
Once I am able to see how “silly” life can be, it helps me to see how real God’s purpose is. What is the point of all this? Again, Jesus himself gives us the answer:
Matt 22: 37-39
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
So remember this, life is not about things. Live your life for God. Live your life for others.
If you’ve never read about the Sioux culture, I encourage you to read about the life of Charles Eastman and to read some of the many books he wrote on his native people. My first introduction was this article at http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/09/30/lessons-from-the-sioux-in-how-to-turn-a-boy-into-a-man/ where you’ll see some of the ideas and material for this post came from.