Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (1 Timothy 6:6-19) transorts me to London’s Rainbow Theatre, February 17, 1972, when a group of press reporters assembled to hear the first rendition of some of the most iconic songs in rock history. Pink Floyd debuted Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics that night, to near universal praise and acclaim. The concept album was, among many other things, a way for the group to process the downwardly spiraling mental health of former member Syd Barrett, one of the groups founders and the one to coin its name. Among the lunacies covered in the album is our culture’s insane relationship with money, heard in the seventh song of the set list that night. I can just see the reporters awkwardly trying to tap their toes to Money, which as far as I know is the only rock and roll song that keeps would-be dancers off-beat by switching back and forth between 7/8 time and 4/4 time. Another interesting component is the song’s (incorrect) reference to one of the Bible’s most famous maxims: money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.
I grew up learning the standard Protestant-work-ethic-capitalist-Christianity interpretation of this verse. Time and time again I heard preachers and teachers correct the mistake made by Pink Floyd and many others – money is not the root of all evil, it’s the love of money. The teaching was always in the context of justifying the pursuit of money, as long as we didn’t cross the line and love it as it accumulated. This was an interpretive dance as awkward as trying to tango to 7/8 time. We rarely looked at the whole chapter to see the weight of Paul’s warning to young Timothy. It was enough for our preachers to assure us that money was not evil in itself and to secure the place of the profit motive within Christian ethics. But now, when I do look at the whole of Paul’s advice, the absolute lunacy of the profit motive is as clear as can be: Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Timothy’s mentor goes on to warn him that coveting money, which is to say, being motivated by the desire for money, which is to say, the profit motive, will pierce you through with many sorrows. So what’s the young mentee to do if he really wants to become a man of God? Run away! Flee these things, Paul said. Instead of pursuing wealth, follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. And remember Paul’s qualification for godliness at the beginning of the advice – godliness with contentment; that is great gain. That is profit. Paul adds a specific word of advice to those people who are born with the Midas touch, who can’t avoid getting rich if they try. Let go of it, he says, and distribute the wealth.
In this mammon-mad world we live in, I’m fairly certain that following Paul’s advice to flee the trappings of money and find contentment outside its system will place you on the lunatic fringe. For the profit motive is more than an economic theory; capitalism is the dominant world religion of our times and there is enormous pressure from every corner to adhere to the creed. Acquisition of stuff is what offers meaning and purpose to people’s lives across the political spectrum – practitioners of the faith include liberals and conservatives, union members and corporate executives alike. The arguments are all about how to get there and the role of government in getting us there. But “there” is a given – a better life. What this religion doesn’t provide is contentment, no matter how many good things it brings to life. In fact, contentment would undermine the very foundation of capitalism, if people suddenly quit desiring more stuff. All this leads me to another “loony” connection in our culture. I can’t write about Pink Floyd and Money without referencing The Dark Side of Oz, which is the experience of listening to the Dark Side of the Moon while watching a muted Wizard of Oz. As synchronicity would have it, Money starts playing just as the movie turns technicolor with a discontented Dorothy finding herself in the land of Oz, and the song finishes with her walking that yellow brick road. I don’t know if Paul or Timothy would fully appreciate the symbolism there, but I think they would resonate with the movie’s final scene and the lesson Dorothy learned from her crazy experience (as heard in the original soundtrack, not Pink Floyd). If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.