About some things you just don’t talk – the Swedish sin

Per Gudmundson in today’s leader in Svenska Dagbladet stated it clearly: “About some things you just don’t talk” with as sub title: “the Swedish sin”.

In his column he addresses the Swedish view on money, earning and riches. He quotes a couple of people working within the “entertainment industry” who have made “becoming rich” one of their major goals in life. One of them actually says that he throughout his career never has paid taxes and lived on “black money” (non-taxed). (Hello Skattekontoret where are you?!)

The Swedish taboo!

Anyway, the fact is that talking about money and income is literally a taboo in Sweden, even yesterday as I was meeting with a group of sixteen people (from 9 nations, including 5 Swedes) who are considering to become members of our church we spoke about their right as members to ask any questions about the economy in our church. They have the right to know exactly how much I earn and, for that sake, also about the other employees in the church.

The fact is that I have never ever heard a member ask that question to our board… Why? Because it is a taboo! I believe deeply in accountability and believe therefore also that if we are serious about our responsibility that we need to practice accountability in this area as well. How can members in a church take responsibility without knowing (asking)?

I believe in openness and transparency also in those matters and I believe that we as Christians have an even greater responsibility to live lives in transparency, not only for the sake of our legal and tax system. I believe that we are to fight the spirit of Mammon and consumerism to be able to be a Church which is trust-worthy!

Do I condemn everyone who has something? NO! The fact is that my wife and I own a house ourselves… the question goes much deeper that that. It was Pope John II who said: “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.”

The problem so well articulated in the article which I mentioned comes down to: It’s never enough!

The problem of consumerism as a lifestyle means that we must keep raising the stakes and the investments. Enough is never enough, and soon we are possessed by our possessions. Shopping is the number one cultural activity in our country.

Accumulation of unnecessary goods has become a habit, even an addiction, as we wring our hands over lack of storage space. What we once considered luxuries we come to regard as necessities, and eventually we become dependent upon the things we acquire. Consumerism as a way of life demands competition, workaholism, and individualism.

What to say more about these things? You know, I came together with my wife as missionaries to this nation and were being financially supported by our friends to be able to do our work here. I remember the day that I, from having worked as a volunteer (no employement), to becoming employed by the church which my wife and I and fifteen others had started. My first salary was an reason of thanksgiving. Why did I thank God? Believe it or not, I thanked Him that from then on I was able to pay taxes and start supporting this society which I had learned to love and appreciate so much also financially! (To avoid any misunderstandings; I was NOT impressed by our social welfare system, but by you, the Swedish citizens! – and therefore I wanted to be part by paying taxes).

Maybe this is another approach to the matter… what do YOU think? How do you look at life, lifestyle, money and spending?



5 responses to “About some things you just don’t talk – the Swedish sin

  1. John. I am not sure what you mean by your suggested fight against “the spirit of Mammon”. This isn´t what Jesus actually says. He tells his disciples that they should avoid Mammon (not “the spirit of”), meaning simply (in aramaic) riches/wealth. Since I don´t know you, I am not sure how to interpret your words above, but the usual interpretation of Jesus teachings is (despite textual evidence..) that he talks (only) about “our attitude”. As I read the gospels, Jesus actually condemns holding on to material abundance, wealth and riches. We should avoid storing up things on earth, and instead follow in his footsteps, selling our stuff and giving in to the poor etc. Therefore, I think it is simply not ok to stay rich (as we are, seen globally) and claim to be a follower of our poor rabbi-leader. We should give away our abundance and live as humble and simple pilgrims in this age, walking towards the coming kingdom on earth.

  2. John, I really whant to thank you for this article and for sharing your thoughts. I think it would be good to translate it into Swedish since it really addresses the Swedish attitude to money and to talking about money (and of course to sharing money, asking for help when you have a need and being accountable for how you handle money). I am glad to hear about churches and fellowships that try to develop a New Testament financial practice based on the teachings of Jesus and the practice of the early church. We really have a lot to learn and it is good if we can tailk about this with each other as Christians in Sweden.

  3. Jonas, thanks for your reply… If you want to translate it: go ahead… 🙂

    God bless you! I am reading and enjoying your blog! John

  4. I’ll have to share some poetry on Mammon I wrote last fall, when I am back in the NL office, soon!

  5. I know at least two persons quite well that have turned their back on ‘the rest of the world’ and that enjoy their money/riches here in Sweden. Neither of them is greedy (on the contrary), but they spend on themselves, their family and their friends. They are cynical about the idea that you can actually help others. I recognise the tendency to become cynical about world poverty which at times can be an abstract idea. However, it seems to easy to isolate yourself in a materially rich world. I want to give away my abundance as Jonas L. writes. I usually stick to ‘local’ things (people I know, local organisations I know) though.

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