Sell your crap.
Pay your debt.
Do what you love.
This was the title of Adam Baker’s TED TALK in 2011—the story of how his family moved away from being the “typical” debt-laden U.S. family trapped by the next thing to buy to a family that envisioned freedom from that debt and then took the necessary steps to truly be free.
Let’s listen to a bit.
Adam argues that most of us live a life based on a script.
And we did not write that script—someone else did, or perhaps even a government, or a company, or an institution wrote that script for us.
The script, sadly, can become our life.
And that script involves debt.
Financially, many people in the world are born into debt. Those who are fortunate enough to be born into a family without debt have a better chance, but even so, they often accumulate debt of their own. It piles up, because we follow the script of what we are supposed to buy, what is the next “logical” step in our relationships, when to get the house with the yard, the new car, and where to send our kids to college.
But is this really freedom?
I don’t think so—not if we’re following someone else’s script.
Not if we’re buying things because we think we need them or because that celebrity or that commercial told us to.
Not if we’re moving from one life decision to the next without actually reflecting on those decisions because…
We’re just following someone else’s script for our lives.
So I want to talk about debt; obviously, so far we have been talking about the financial kind of debt, because that will help us in the rest of this discussion.
In order to understand relationship debt, we first have to understand financial debt.
I include two Bible passages—one from Matthew [words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth] and the other from Romans [Paul’s letter to the Roman church] to help us honestly reflect and hopefully act.
First, Matthew’s Gospel.
Matthew’s discussion about debt is based on human relationships and Torah Law. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. In Matthew’s debt discussion, the author includes references to Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The Jesus of Matthew is concerned about how people treat each other. There was [and is] conflict between humans. How do we deal with such conflict?
The root of said human conflicts is a problem—which happens to be a problematic word—and that word is sin.
Not enough time to break down just how misunderstood this word is. So let’s just stick to Matthew’s view.
Sin isn’t about morality but more about missing the mark. Sin is a failure to be human—as we are created to be.
So when two people fight about something, talk behind each other’s back, hurt one another—this is sin or missing the mark showing itself. And there is no prayer, or physical offering at the altar, or religious duty that one can do to solve such conflicts. Notice here that it is completely up to the humans themselves to work this out. There is no mediator-priest.
The first step is to confront the other person directly. Honesty and direct communication come first. The goal of the confrontation, however, is to prove who is “right” or “wrong” but to reconcile. The goal is reconciliation and thus the direct confrontation is motivated by love.
Jesus concludes the relationship debt teaching with this:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Just in case we weren’t paying attention, we have the ball in our court.
Whatever we hold onto, we carry with us.
Any debts we have weigh us down.
If we keep others in debt to us, they are weighed down.
But if we choose to lose our own personal debts and release the debts of others, there is great freedom for all.
But clearly, Jesus leaves it up to us.
If two or more of us AGREE on earth, it will be done.
Do we agree to forgive the debts of others?
Do we agree to clear our lives of the debt that weighs us down?
And now to Paul and his letter to the Roman church—a church under an empire and in great debt.
Time to WAKE UP!
Paul flips things around: owe no one [including Rome] any THING.
But love one another.
Loving fulfills the law.
Then he lists some of the commandments [back to the Torah again, like in Matthew] but adds an emphasis that was Jesus’ teaching:
Any can be summed up in this word,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does not harm another person.
So love does indeed fulfill all the law.
If you don’t harm people, you won’t break commandments.
You only owe one thing this to the world and all its creatures—love.
And we are invited to wake up to this reality every day.
It’s not a script; it’s not predictable; it’s not popular; it’s not mainstream; it won’t be easy; it will be risky; love is like that when it’s actually lived out.
It’s like theologian Karl Barth once wrote:
Love of one another ought to be undertaken as the protest against the course of this world.
Friends, owe nothing to empires, institutions, companies, things, and even people! Don’t allow debt of any kind to weigh down your life and your humanity.
True freedom is letting go of any debts that exist.
And in true freedom you will learn how to love.