Neither a borrower nor a lender be

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The meaning of William Shakespeare's words above from his 1603 work "Hamlet," have been consigned to the dustbin of history. We are spiritually poorer for it.

There is a more insidious and ultimately more destructive social sin than the obvious one of our culture's preoccupation with sex. It is true that sexual mores have shifted considerably in my own lifetime. Space (and your own patience, dear reader) does not permit a fatiguing catalog of all the changes. OK, perhaps just one. I grew up watching Rob and Laura Petrie on the "Dick Van Dyke" show in the 1960s. The greatest intimacy shown on that program was a peck on the cheek. The show's producers even had the couple sleeping in separate beds.

Today? Four words: "Sex and the City." Certainly today's children are exposed to much more than their elders were at that age. But there's a greater danger out there than living in an oversexed culture.

Jesus, it seems evident from the Gospels, was not preoccupied with sexual issues. Certainly they were not ignored; he had strong words to say about divorce with unfaithfulness (read: extramarital sex) being the only legitimate cause to split. His intervention to save an apparently adulterous woman from stoning ended with a compassionate but unmistakable rebuke: "Go and do not sin again"? (John 8:11)

Whatever Jesus encountered in his travels through Galilee and Judea did not lead him to launch a crusade assailing the evils of sleeping around. Not that he didn't care; it's simply that he had larger themes.

It is surprising when you study the Bible to discover how little Jesus referred to sex and how often he referred to money. Other than hypocrisy and the coming kingdom of God, no other theme flowed from his lips (again, according to the Gospels) more than the faithful use of material resources. Hey, maybe that's a clue.

Financial mores, it seems to me, are disintegrating more quickly -- and with far more devastating consequences -- than sexual ones. Credit card debt, which is nothing less than immediate self-gratification, has exploded from $238 billion to $937 billion in 20 years. In other words, credit card debt has risen on a percentage basis as quickly as have gas prices at the pump.

New York Times columnist David Brooks claims that no fewer than 20 percent of Americans play the lottery, an institution he calls "a tax on stupidity." Gambling is a belief in magical thinking; it is a setting aside of rational thought. A person has a better chance of being struck and killed by lighting than making it to "Luckytown."

It's also disturbing to think that more than half of all university students finish their education with at least four credit cards. It takes a long time to climb out of the financial hole dug with the promise of easy credit.

I saved the most troubling statistic for last. Payday lenders offer quick money at laughably high interest rates to an estimated 15 million people every month.

Dads often take the lead on financial matters in the home. If that's true where you live, when your minor children bring you a card/gift tomorrow, tell them something. Tell them: "You'll honor me and protect yourself by staying out of debt. And I'll help you by not giving you everything you want, but providing all that you need."

Such a discussion, it seems to this writer, would earn an approving nod from Jesus.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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