03 November 2010

Reflections on Property Rights

I would like to suggest a different perspective on private property, our family is Christian and we believe that we have been purchased by Jesus for a great price so everything we have and are, including our children belongs to Him, since we own nothing we have no private property and we try to teach our kids to respect each other's boundaries- it applies to toys and space. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

-Commenter Julia
In response to this comment, I explained that such a discussion deserves a post of its own. I also told Julia that this exact thought was in my mind yesterday, for the children and I read a retelling of the story of Jean Valjean and the priest (from Les Miserables) in our Circle Time visit with The Book of Virtues. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Jean Valjean is recently released from prison. No one will take him in or help him. A priest allows him to stay in his house and eat at his table as an equal. In the night, Jean Valjean decides to steal the silver with which they had eaten the evening meal. He does so, and is caught by soldiers who, upon discovering the silver on his person, assume that he has stolen it. Meantime, the priest has already realized that his silver is missing, and his response is singularly Christian:
I have been thinking for a long time that I ought not to keep the silver. I should have given it to the poor, and certainly this man was poor.
When the soldiers bring Jean Valjean to the priest's door, the priest says this:
Oh, you are back again! I am glad to see you. I gave you the candlesticks, too, which are silver also, and will bring forty francs. Why did you not take them?
The soldiers are stunned, Jean Valjean is stunned, and, after the soldier leave, the priest tells Jean Valjean that he must use the proceeds to start a new life, that with this silver, the priest has purchased his soul from evil and given it to God.

Does God Believe in Property Rights?
If we're going to discuss property rights, we need to begin at the beginning: does God Himself support the concept of ownership? As Christians, this is the proper starting place for our discussion. The answer is unequivocally yes. We could search through a lot of various texts, but let's just head straight for the Ten Commandments and look at two of them:
You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:15
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:17
Stealing and covetousness are not possible unless God has first recognized ownership, physical boundaries (such as land rights), and relational boundaries (such as marriage rights). If everything is common property among men from the outset, then it is not stealing to take what I want or need from the stack of collective stuff. Likewise, it is not coveting to dream of how I might use the community's donkey in the community field.

In other words, I cannot steal something which belongs to us.

Right?

In the context of the story of Jean Valjean, we all acknowledge that he was stealing. Such a story does not rebel against property ownership, but rather give us an example of grace and mercy, a particular man's relationship with his own property, and how one might rightly relate to one's property in light of the forgiveness, grace, and provision of God.

The Problem is Not Ownership
In my post yesterday, I explained that there was a time in my motherhood journey where I essentially eliminated the property rights of my children because I thought this would teach them to share, to be generous, and so on. What I didn't realize at the time was that the problem was not ownership, but the heart of man.

Scripture tells us that the Law is our tutor, revealing our need for salvation. When property rights reveal theft or covetousness, jealousy, and envy in the family, this is our chance to discipline and disciple our children in the way of the Lord. Yes, this includes learning to be generous and to acknowledge that our belongings come from the Lord, ultimately belong to Him, are given to us as a stewardship, and are therefore to be used for His glory.

But at the same time, I have been amazed at how very often ownership in our home has revealed a need for Jesus. What I see upwards of 90% of the time is the clamoring, grasping heart--the heart that isn't happy with whatever God has given me, but rather wants what God gave that guy over there. This is envy, folks, plain and simple. And when a child walks up and grabs a toy belonging to another child, this is stealing.

When these sins rear their ugly heads in our home, it is usually not time to lecture the victim on how their things belong to the Lord and they ought to share, but rather to take the thieving heart to another room and bring them back to God, for a covetous spirit is a danger to the soul.

A False Dichotomy
We don't have to choose between ownership on the one hand, and generosity on the other--something which actually begs the question, "Is generosity possible when ownership is not accounted for?" God provides for and instructs us in both.

This is just another instance in which we parents need wisdom. I was weak on the property issue and so the teaching in the parenting class my husband and I took was corrective. If we had a child who was too grasping with his own property, I'm sure we'd need to focus almost entirely on teaching that child about Who ultimately owns his belongings, what is the meaning of biblical stewardship, etcetera.

In Summation
This morning during Circle Time, A.-age-five was playing with a toy that belongs to O.-age-two. (We do not, by the way, guard property so strictly that someone cannot pick up someone else's toy when they are not playing with it, in case you were imagining we did!) A battle over the toy began, and I was just about to intervene, when something fascinating happened.

Daughter A. self-corrected.

"I'm sorry," she said to O. "This is your toy. I forgot."

She handed him the toy and he smiled at her and jabbered in such a way that it was evident he was inviting her to play with him. So, for most of Circle Time, the two of them played quietly with O.'s castle. When I said yesterday that recognizing property rights has brought a measure of peace to our home, this was not in jest.

I'd like to end with GretchenJoanna's comment from yesterday:
It was pointed out to me many years ago that even in the earliest days of the church, when "they had all things in common," when Ananias and Sapphira kept back some of their wealth, it was not the keeping back, but the lying about it, that was their sin. The apostles said, "Was it not yours to use as you wanted?" implying that their sharing was not to be an imposed socialism, but a free decision. It can't be called giving unless it is, and children can't know the joy of giving unless they are free not to give.
Which reminds me of this:
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

II Corinthians 9:6-7

5 comments:

  1. Excellent thoughts.

    I want to know what children's version of Les Mis you are reading. :) I love the story, but the novel is somewhat tedious.

    And your new look is lovely. :)

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  2. Thank you for writing about property ownership. This is something I need to consider more seriously in my family.

    Sharlene

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  3. I like what you've written about property ownership in the family. It's been thought-provoking. I also like the new look.

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  4. Brandy, thank you for allowing for another post to explore this topic, what I was trying to say in my comment was that I believe there are actually two separate issues here- first is that everything we have- we, being the property of our King are being given to expand His Kingdom and do His work that includes our possessions and our talents and our very lives- that is stewardship.

    The issue of sharing among siblings had to do with respecting of boundaries- both physical and emotional, for example- when one child is using a toy (given that all the other conditions are met, such is it's age appropriate and he/she may use it- you get the idea) they should be allowed by their siblings to use that toy for a reasonable amount of time before they put it back/give it back.

    So it is with adults- there are social boundaries- such as we do not show up at our friend's house unannounced and emotional boundaries -neither do we ask questions that are too overreaching.

    I hope this makes sense, please forgive any ambiguity - English is not my first language :)

    The new layout of your blog is lovely!

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  5. Glad you all like the touch of autumn around here. This keeps me from spending money on decorations for my house! :)

    A couple things: that Les Mis story that we read was ONLY that particular story. It is featured in The Book of Virtues, and as far as I know it is the only story from Les Mis they retold.

    Julia, I know that English is your second language, but I must say I think you have mastered it more than some Americans I know. :) I think you and I agree, though we might use different terms on occasion.

    I use words like "own" and "belong" when we are discussing an item. I tend to not use the word "boundary" very often, because I tend to think of boundaries as being more psychological in nature, whereas I think of "property" as being more physical. If that makes sense.

    Thank YOU for giving us all the opportunity to think through things a bit more. :)

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I absolutely adore hearing your thoughts, but...*please* remember to play nicely!