Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Bare Feet are Happy Feet (poverty is not contagious)
What is it about poverty that scares people? Really? I have been poor my entire life. Most people don't know how poor. You see, unlike most people from the wrong side of the tracks, I have developed a little camouflage. Mine involves the fact that I am well read and articulate. I also have something of a sense of style that sets me apart, that, and I brush my teeth and shave occasionally, but I assure you, I am a card carrying poor person. For some of you, this will cause you to look at me differently. There is something about me that is unique. I don't give a damn about money. Never have. You couldn't buy me with all of the gold that the federal reserve may or may not have. I am not for sale.
That is not to say that I don't do things for a paycheck that I would not do for free, of course there are, but what I mean to say is that I refuse to change who I am so I can have more of the stuff, and I'm okay with it. I would like at some point to be comfortable, to not have every storm or breakdown become a major crisis. Nobody likes to live like that, and I work hard to make that happen.
In our modern society, and sad to say, even more so in the Church, sometimes, the having of things is seen as a sure sign that the universe is smiling on you, that you are doing life the way it was meant to be. How can we say this, or even believe it? I just read a short article in which the author describes a scene in Africa, when he and a group of mission minded believers arrived at an orphanage to the smiling faces of shoeless orphans who had nothing. It was my experience as well , in my one trip outside the borders of this country into the third world, that the people, especially the children, were happier.
Here in the good old USA we have just the opposite problem, too many shoes. A friend of mine was describing the other day a conversation in which he told his stepson that he would not be getting the latest and greatest sneakers this time around, because my friend is being forced to reconsider what his life is worth, and he has decided not to measure it in money.
We are told from the time that we are small that it is important. Children are encouraged to cram their heads full of a very specific set of facts, a very narrow wedge of information, which we mistakenly call “education”, all based on the monetary benefits that are thought will be derived from knowing the right things. Never mind, will it make the world a better place, just pass the test, get the grade, take the right classes. Never mind what you want to learn, where your passion lies, where your curiosity compels you to.
I think this comes from a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept of stewardship. A few weeks back I issued this challenge on my Facebook page: Bragging rights to the first person to quote chapter and verse where Jesus has anything good to say about wealth or the wealthy. It sat for several days, with a couple of likes, but no replies. Then a young man, who was one of my acting students years ago replied with: Luke chapter 16:1-13. Read it. At the end of this parable about a steward who had been squandering his bosses money and got caught, we find this statement by Jesus: “ You cannot serve both God and money” this is the point of the story.
I assume, having not asked, that the positive angle this young man was pointing out was when Jesus told his listeners to follow the steward's example and use worldly wealth to “buy friends for yourselves”. All-in-all, not quite the answer I was looking for, and there may well be an answer that I have not thought of.
I fear that we, like the children of Israel, have formed a calf to worship in the form of the almighty dollar and all that it affords. We have bought into the idea of owning things, planning for retirement, saving for emergencies, and the like. These are not bad things on their faces, but let me ask you this. Have you ever said to your neighbor, which remember, Jesus defines as anyone who needs you, go, be filled, and done nothing when it was within your power to do so? Have you funded your 401k while your neighbor lost their house for want of a single payment? Have you saved for next Summer's vacation while there are those in your community praying for a single sack of groceries?
I know there are a couple of verses that indicate that people should be better managers than to end up in a tight spot, but honestly, have you never made a bad decision and ended up somewhere other than where you intended? And do you honestly believe that God is calling you to set aside for your own future comfort while not aiding those who are fighting for survival? Have you even asked him?
I know that we are all taught to tithe, to give 10% to our local churches, that that is sacred, well, I got news for you. When the prophet Malachi told the people to bring the tithe into the storehouse, he was not referring to a local church with a 5 million dollar budget, that spends more than 50% of that in salaries and benefits for employees. (that is a real statistic from OKC) He was talking about a system, outlined in Deutoronomy that was set up as a tax. That money went to feed the needy, (widows and orphans) to take care of travelers (illegal aliens?) and to provide for the care of the Levites.
Now, before you compare the tribe of Levi to modern pastors, let me 'splain something. It isn't an entirely accurate analogy. The tribe of Levi was given this offering to make up for the fact that they had no physical inheritance in the land of Canaan, look it up. God wanted them to stay out of business. They didn't own property and were limited in their options to make a living. Now, many pastors are limited by their schedules and salaries and I do not begrudge them their salaries, but many of them are some of the wealthiest among us, and I question the validity of that.
Add this to the fact that the bar was lifted in every other regard when it comes to comparing the old and new covenants and you may come to the conclusion, that 10% should only be a starting point.
Here is what we have done. We have assumed that scripture applies to people in need when it says: “if a man will not work, neither let him eat” and “if a man cares not for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever” but we do not recall that Jesus, in describing the criteria for inclusion in the sheep, instead of the goats, on the day of judgment, states that anything done for the least among us was done for him.
I am poor, have been all of my life. Do not pity me. I look around at my eight children and am very aware of my blessings. When I see them worship and hear their kind words for each other, I know that I, like Martha's sister Mary, have chosen the better part. Another friend and I were having this very conversation. He was fretting over whether God was calling him to have another (4th) child, or if it was selfish of him to want this when he hadn't fully funded the other three college funds yet. I asked him to think about the families that had everything and to pick out one that he knows that is content. He could not.
If you find yourself afraid of reaching out to the poor, or even just the down-and-out think about this.
Poverty is not contagious. Success, can be. Infect someone.