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Unity 2.0 – Economic January 25, 2006

Posted by fajita in Uncategorized.
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Begin Unity 2.0 here
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I want to speak about this topic on 2 levels – micro and macro.

First of all, on the micro level. I grew up the son of a janitor/newspaper route drive. So, we were not exaclty loaded. I remember feeling guilty as a kid for wanting three pair of JC Penney plain pocket pants at the beginning of the school year. I was only allowed two pair. I know that I didn’t feel worse than my mother did that she had to limit me to two pair of pants for school. These two pair of pants needed to last until Christmas when my grandmother would buy me clothes (what a lousy Christmas gift for a kid – but a great one for my parents).

I had a tremendous awareness of who made how much at the church of my youth. I felt second class because we were poor. No, I felt second class because people who had enough money made sure they felt first class. OK, it was a combination. My parents maintained a blue collar resentment for white collar “rich people” and it rubbed off on me. At the same itme, you could tell by what people wore, what they drove, what status positions they were given at church, and where they sat during worship how much money they made. The preacher was the one exception. He was poor, but had some level of power – until they fired him that is.

Within our churches there is an economic divide that does cut deeper than income. There are biases and assumptions the rich have about the poor and vice versa that are divisive and damaging. Each congregation (for the most part) has an acceptable level of income at the lower end and the upper end. Few people within the congregation fall outside this window. The reason is that the assumptions about people outside the window are so strong and so pervasive that words do not even need to be spoken in order to create so much discomfort that people outside the window don’t even show up, or show up only once if they do.

Why do homeless people attend the Salvation Army and people with 6 figure incomes show up at my church? We would like to blame it all on geographical location (which is still economic), but it is more than that. It is about comfort. The path of least resistence is a sociological reality, but it is not a theological value. Without even knowing it we let economics determine out friendships and thereby limit our investment in the Kingdom of God.

On the macro level. Everytime I hear about African children dying of Malaria (a totally treatable sickness) and a 5 million dollar Capital Campaign for American Churches to build bigger barns, I can’t think about it as justice. Yes, God owns everything!!!!! But He gave a whole bunch of it to us and we refuse to heal the sick and feed the hungry with it. OK, we heal some of he sick and feed some of the hungry. But then we get mad at them if they get hungry or sick again. We say, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a life time.” We fail to believe that there are no lakes in the desert. There are some people on this planet who just need a whole bunch of fish served to them. Americans resent anyone who is not self-sufficient. We do little to bring more capable, but challenged, people to a level of self-sufficiency.

I am going to make this statement without reservation: “No one has ever pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.” Go ahead, try to lift yourelf up off the ground pulling only your bootstraps. Folks, who even has bootstraps theses days?

No one, no matter how successful in any way of measuring success, did it themselves? Everyone relies heavily on a context for success. The “self made man” who created such and such business only capped on a context that made it possible for this or that to happen. For some people it is easy and for others it is impossible. Amount of efort put into saomething is not as big a factor as we individualistic Americans would like to believe it is. It’s important, but not the biggest piece, buy far.

Unity 2.0 is the kind of unity that intentioally recognizes economic barriers and then rips them to shreds. Without intentionality, division is inevitible.

Go to Unity 2.0 – Art

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Comments»

1. David U - January 25, 2006

Very good thoughts and perspective, Chris. Keep em coming.

DU

2. DJG - January 25, 2006

But, what do we DO about it?

What do WE do?

3. Greg Brooks - January 25, 2006

Good, good good. I think this is good.

Did Jesus teach anybody except his apostles how to fish?

4. Justin - January 25, 2006

Chris, I know first hand that the bias lies not only with the rich against the poor, but the other way around.

I interned at a church in memphis (where I’m from, but not my home church) for the youth group, and got to know many of the kids there. My church probably has a higher average income than the church I worked for, though not everyone at my church was wealthy. We’re close to some very poor areas of Memphis and do have people who are not white upper middle class. Kids at the church I interned at were hostile towards me, and towards the church that I attended. It was always comments that were supposed to be in a joking way, but weren’t exactly. Who cares how involved with the inner city my church is, its rich people, they have “too much”. “who needs a 50,000 dollar car? thats just wasteful” But their 20,000 dollar car isn’t wasteful. Its what they “need”. People even made comments around me about me like “why don’t we get justin’s dad to pay for it, he’s loaded” and they made comments about my house being big and it just hurt me. I know how my dad doesn’t live on near the income that he makes. I know that those kids probably are given more from their parents than I am because my folks wanna make sure I’m not spoiled. I know how much money my dad gives away to HOPEWORKS and other charitable organizations, and yet people make character judgements on my father and use the bible to justify.

In truth, we all have too much. Wealth is relative. There is always someone with more, and always someone with less. When I drive around Murfreesboro and Nashville, and see what people here call the ghetto… I almost scoff. A large number of people in memphis would love to have the life that poor people in middle tennessee have. Its a much better life here than in memphis. And, after spending a week in the philippines, I can see that the poorest of the poor in memphis are living much better lives than the poor in the philippines and other third world countries.

I’m not really sure what I’m saying. This post just kinda got me on a tangent. I guess when we realize that wealth is relative and we stop justifying what we have by looking at others, and instead just focus on helping people whenever we can and not letting our money become our God, we will be better off.

5. Matt - January 27, 2006

Awesome post, Chris! This is hard stuff for those of us who are entrenched in a comfortable, Republichristian lifestyle, but I think you’re hitting on a topic that needs to become a conversation in our faith communities.


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