I had a crazy dream about the pope two nights ago. The scene: a huge cathedral, which was also an enormous, well-stocked supermarket. Crowds sat in stadium-style seats around the perimeter. Pope Francis (and helpers) were stripping the shelves and throwing food out to the masses in the seats. I was watching, very upset. I wanted to know (loudly) how this giveaway would be sustainable. How could the markets keep the shelves stocked when everything was being given away? In my dream, this seemed to border on communism.
So what was that all about?
I'm both a Francis fan and a supporter of the poor. At least, so I like to think. And I also take dreams seriously, especially ones that challenge my self-image. Am I worried that Francis is "giving away the store"? And if so, how?
Francis has certainly challenged the world's economic powers to rethink their cultural assumptions about their self-serving trickle-down theories. And he is "throwing around" grace and kindness to communities (gays, Muslims, women, the sick and imprisoned) that have long dwelt in deserts of the church's love. Am I worried that Francis will empty the world's storehouses in order to feed the poor, and the world's (and God's) stores of love by distributing it too freely?
Maybe I am more stingy stingy (with my dollars and my love) than I should be.
Ten years ago, I visited South Africa. It has bugged me since then that I haven't found some way to directly assist the people I met there. There are the familiar reasons. I have kids to raise. A mortgage and house remodeling to pay for. College costs. Commuting. Utilities. Internet. Restaurants. Dry Cleaning. Christmas. By the time I have totaled my expenses, I live pretty close to the edge -- at least the edge defined by living a comfortable life in a first world country.
But the truth is that I don't know where to cut back. Taking five percent of my income and diverting it the poor would mean giving up something that I consider bedrock to my lifestyle. That I might in some sense need to survive in a high-paced world. Even the ten bucks I spend each month on the gym, a very modest amount, seems essential to maintaining a health weight.
I don't know whether my dream is a critique within a critique (criticizing me for criticizing the pope) or even whether it addresses economic concerns or spiritual ones. For all I know, the pope's approach to economics is naive and unsustainable. The fact is that I am not happy with the merry-go-round I am on, and that I feel hypocritical about it.
Pray for the stingy, imprisoned in a cocoon of "necessary" expenses.