On Mammon, Babylon, and the Kingdom

Since August or so I’ve had the new ideas of Mustachianism rattling around in my head, and they have slowly changed the way I view the world.

The term, in case you’re just joining us, is taken from Mr. Money Mustache (MMM). That’s just the the pen name of one blogger who’s at the head of a growing subculture devoted to such notions as early retirement; financial independence; prioritizing saving and reducing spending; or as another author puts it, acquiring so-called Eff-You Money. The term Mustachianism is half-jest, but a useful shorthand to refer to this whole sphere.

So I’ve been exploring this new world for the better part of the last year. For a young man just beginning to carve his way into the grown-up world, all this offbeat monetary wisdom is enticing, alluring, even seductive. I have taken the bait, drunk the kool-aid, at least tentatively. These new insights into the interplay between money and life have been sufficient to even change the motivation of my blog entirely.

But today, before we continue on, I want to lay out a sort of manifesto. This will take the shape of two perspectives. The first: how Mustachianism can derail the Kingdom at work in our lives. The second: how Mustachianism can lead us into the Kingdom, at least perhaps some of us.

Let’s proceed.

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Point 1: Beware the lure of Mammon

The Great Maxim here in the Mustache realm is to take note of what truly makes us happy. Generally, it is NOT money or possessions. This is a *great* tenet for our future explorations, which we’ll continue later with much reveling.

What develops from The Great Maxim is an unfolding series of strategies for everyday life, intended to hack and bypass the normal patterns of our culture, and cut right to the chase of what makes us happy. Reduce expenses, save aggressively, invest intelligently, maximize money-making opportunities … and a few years later, one may arrive at the Golden Moment, when suddenly these choices have yielded a life that can be sustained passively, either from investment interest or dividends, income from rental properties, etc. At this point one is free to retire and hang out, pursue independent projects, or actually go back to work part-time in the field you always wanted to try. Whatever you want.

It’s a beautiful vision. No question about it. Hack the system and be free for the rest of your life! It’s seductive. And don’t misunderstand me here — these are not snake-oil salesmen peddling their books or marketing schemes. They’re ordinary people that have actually already done this, and are offering the wisdom for free. MMM himself retired with his wife at around 30 years old, right around the time they had their first child.

… but …

… There’s a trap lurking here for the average follower of Jesus. I am one of those, and so are you. We believe, I will presume, that financial independence and freedom from (the need to) work are secondary treasures, appropriate for this life only. The chief treasure of our life, we have to remind ourselves, is The Kingdom. It is the Great Stash hidden in the field, which when discovered compels us to sell out completely just to get our hands on it. It cannot quite be tasted, touched, or purchased, and yet it is all around us, begging to break into this present reality, through our hands and our eyes.

This is all true, yes?

If this is true, we must all be careful. I need to be careful. Mustachianism is a gateway drug, with psychedelic effects sufficient to realign your reality. We have already been warned about the temptation to worship money. It is serious. After few weeks spent browsing through MMM’s blogs and checking out the wisdom of hundreds of like-minded helpful folks on the forums, you may come out thinking that this is it! the key to life and happiness and freedom and fulfillment. Remember, it is not.

So — there is Point #1. Beware that the Mustache world can be a trap to those who are, like me, extremely teachable and enthusiastic about new ideas. Remember as we go down this path, this Mustache thing is all just one means to a great End. Our own financial success is.not.the.end. It is just a tool. One way among many for us to enter, and offer to others, the abundance of our inheritance.

We must remember ultimately that the resources with which we are entrusted have been *lent* to us, not given.

If you don’t believe that’s true, I’m just not sure what to tell you. Go away. 

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Point #2: Resist the lure of Babylon

As long as we are on the same page regarding Point #1 above, let’s proceed thus:

The modern-day kingdom of the United States, or even North America if you will, or all of Western Industrialized Civilization, can be taken as the modern equivalent of ancient Babylon. All I mean here is that I, and I presume you as well, live in a land overflowing with abundance, endless wealth, diversity, and consequently a great degree of indulgence, decadence, and wastefulness. We are at the center of our world, as was ancient Babylon — and we surely know it.

This is not a complaint, just a description. We live in the most powerful and abundant civilization in the history of humanity. In a lot of ways, it’s quite awesome to live here. No whining.

But, if this is true, we must certainly recognize that we are in a kind of exile here. Like our Hebraic forebears of the faith, away in Babylon, we are surrounded and suffused in a realm where dependence on God is a foreign idea. And moreover, a rather unnecessary one, in most people’s eyes.

And we too, mostly being products of this place, raised and nurtured here … we struggle with this same illusion:

That with our ordinary lives being full of provision and direction and distraction and no desperation at all, somehow we are NOT dependent on Jesus.

Sensical as it is, we know this to be false. We just don’t believe it, down in our bones.

And anyone, *anyone* who has tried doing real life in this country, and believe in Jesus at the same time, knows that the default of our souls is to just coast into a kind of materialistic acquiescence. We are lulled into a pervasive concern for the Not-Kingdom, which is composed chiefly of television and movies, parties, commutes, mortgages, apartment furnishings, personal improvement projects, new clothes, sports, professional development, yoga, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and so on.

This is not to say that one can’t find the Kingdom interwoven through all those things — surely it is there — but those things are meant to be only the instruments and skin wrapped around a red beating heart of life: the Gospel of Jesus.

The ancient Jews surely wrestled with this conundrum every day of their exiled lives — even while their Babylonian neighbors went entirely untroubled by the same problem. Is this any different from our present existence? I think it is not.

So, at the bottom line I find there looms a challenge for us, waiting to be borne up: how do we continue to exist in this kingdom of wealth, and yet not be of it? How do we disrobe the mental and material trappings of this culture, and instead put the abundance of this earthly kingdom to work in a way that expands the reach of the heavenly Kingdom?

That, in my eyes, is the excellent question worth answering. That is why this blog is called Return From Exile, and that’s why I’m going to continue writing here.

And, this is where I think the Way of the Mustache may be of some use to us. So, moving forward here we’ll be concerned with answering that one great question.

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