In 1986, Wham! issued a track that is surely on everyone’s Christmas playlist: “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away…” Young people nowadays seem to lack confidence in promising life-long partnerships even when convinced that they are in love. Not surprising. So many such partnerships go wrong. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed the separation of two former lovers who share bank accounts, house purchase or, worst of all, children, will know how all-consumingly painful and illusion-shattering that can be. Hell indeed hath no fury like a lover spurned.
This raises an issue in today’s lectionary, in Acts 4, where Luke describes how the members of the early church shared everything in common, those who owned houses sold them and brought the money to the disciples. Presumably, they thought that the disciples would spend it in ways that were so much better? The phase did not last for long; no-one who has seen the treasures in the Vatican or inspected the investment portfolio of any church can remain under the illusion that the Church is about sharing wealth.
We tell small children to share what they have with others providing, of course, that there are not too many “others” and providing, of course, that the “others” do their share of sharing too. Our welfare state (remember that?) was founded on the idea of the wealthy supporting the disadvantaged, but the wealthy have moved on from thinking that people make poor decisions when they are poor, to believing once again with the Victorians, that the poor are poor because they make poor decisions. Once more, we have reverted to the division between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. We must be choosy because there are so many of the “Poor”.
The question that haunts me is this: Why give money to someone else to spend? Why not spend it yourself? The act of giving your heart, your bank balance, your accumulated assets, to someone else is surely a bit of a cop-out? They will know better than me how to spend this? Well, one or two answers occur. First, if two or more people contribute together to a cause which they support, more can be achieved than any one person can achieve. Wikipedia would not survive if it were up to one donor, it needs millions. The same is true of 38 Degrees or Avaaz. The United Nations or OXFAM offer nations and people the chance to be part of relief and development far away in places that one person can neither economically visit nor help. A productive marriage is so much more than the sum of the parts. We give our money and our time to causes that we support, whose aims we believe to be laudable, where more can be achieved by pooling resources.
The same is true of personal partnerships. A young lady, contemplating an arranged marriage, said to me recently: “All my life I have been told not to talk to strangers, now they are telling me to sleep with one.” Us lucky ones find someone whom we trust and have reason to believe that we will be able to trust until one of us dies. We pool our love, our lives, our finances; we make decisions about where we shall live, how much we shall spend and on what, when if at all to have children and when those children will be allowed to have their own mobile phones and facebook accounts.
But how can we know? Well, the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour, so indication sadly-ignored in modern courtship. Just as we interrogate charities that ask for our money (What is your track record? What have you done with donated money so far?), so single people should be gently probing the previous lives of potential partners to see just how closely their values and principles align. Only give it away if, by doing so, you can create something better than you could do alone. Examine, decide, commit, work at it. Then, “Next Christmas, to save you from tears” you won’t have to give it to anyone else, because you have created something “special”.