It is not easy to live life on this planet.
Most normal, ordinary human beings simply want to live — to love their family, feed that family, have time to be with and enjoy that family and their friends.
But there are always the Odd Ones — in our society we call them successful, canny, smart, businesslike, and accomplished — whose satisfaction, and lifestyle, depend upon depleting the resources of others: these people need more money, bigger houses, numerous cars, extra food to such an egregious degree that, in order to secure more, somebody else must have less. Much, much less.
So the ordinary people, in order to make enough to live, work harder while the Odd Ones luxuriate in kingly splendor; we the people struggle under laws and rules and regulations and taxes and fees that purport to benefit all, but in reality enslave the many so that the few, the Odd Ones, can freely do what they wish.
It’s not that the Odd Ones work harder and deserve what they get, which is what the ordinary people are told. Many ordinary people work very hard, and still struggle, simply because 1) they don’t start out with a well-connected, multi-generational inheritance and 2) there are so many factors working against them. One of those factors is a factotum of ordinary people, church Christians who thrive on laws and rules to the point that one wonders what difference Jesus makes in their lives at all.
Cold, Harsh Christianity
Within the United States, the country in which I live, there is an attitude that one wholeheartedly merits one’s circumstances — “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied,” (Proverbs 13:4) is an adequate representation of this belief, exacerbated by our mega-church philosophy of prosperity for all those who are faithful enough. Indeed, those who follow this philosophy are unwitting agents for the Odd Ones, spreading their gospel that obscene wealth is realistically available only to those who are deserving enough to get it.
And while we give lip service to kindness, charity, mercy, grace, and love, waxing eloquent on the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we too frequently do so with the same attitude that visiting missionaries assure us about prayer being the most meaningful gift we can give them: yes, it’s sort of true, but please put something in the offering basket.
And so, within our Americanized Christianity, we acknowledge that the good things in life — faith, hope, and love — are free, but they’re not enough. Yes, we concede, we need faith, hope, and love, concurrent with the need to work hard, get ahead, think smarter, stay longer, be positive, and make more. But is that attitude — the American Way — conducive to the gentler traits: can one be ruthless and kind, deceptive and truthful, inflexible and merciful, dog-eat-dog yet innocent as a dove?
Yes, we’re told — be pitiless kindly; there’s no contradiction.
And indeed, for many church Christians, there really isn’t, because the God in which they believe, the merciful Father who is not willing that any should perish, is also a draconian disciplinarian, and when any step out of line, including those who call themselves His children, they are swiftly, inexorably, unmercifully punished, since this is no less than what they deserve. These particular Christians will fight to the point of bloodying their noses over the concept of hell, and how people who don’t “acknowledge the name of Jesus,” warrant going there, while, oddly, the Odd Ones who craftily know the right things to say and how to say them, smugly look forward to an eternity that is an extension of their life on earth. If they say they’re Christians, then words and actions don’t have to mesh.
It’s only when you’re ordinary, and poor.
Jesus Was Poor
Jesus was born into the home of poor, ordinary people, and thankfully for us, He had an affinity for the ordinary, unimportant, disenfranchised, powerless, and weak.
“I have compassion for these people,” He told His disciples in Matthew 15:32, prior to the feeding of the four thousand. “They have already been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
There is no mention of the people’s foolishness in not providing for themselves, an outrage against a sense of entitlement that someone will take care of them, chastisement over their laziness in not picking up a little work on the side so that they could provide for themselves. There is compassion, something unsurprisingly absent in the disciples’ initial, pragmatic, logical, businesslike reaction:
“Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
One chapter earlier, prior to Jesus feeding five thousand, their solution was, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
It’s a purposeful, matter-of-fact, sensible, and efficient attitude. It is not, however, kind.
Christians enamored of the latest celebrity fare — whether it’s a book or a pastor — rhapsodize over living radically for Jesus, but the type of radical that Jesus did, on the surface, looks ineffective, and boring:
Treat people with grace and mercy, similar to the way that you want to be treated. If you do not want to be fooled, and deceived, then do not fool and deceive others, regardless of whether or not you lose the sale.
It’s not the American Way, I know.
But then again, Jesus does not walk the American Way. Do we?
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I try to reach, one by one, people who wonder why Christianity and business look and sound so much the same. Posts complementing this one are