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
Attack and Kill Style Christianity
Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious, or Obedient?
What Does “Real” Church Look Like?
Interesting thoughts, Carolyn…and true Jesus was born into a poor family…but after the visit from the wise men when he was about 2 yrs old…you suppose they had a bit more pocket change?? Just saying… perhaps they gave most of it away. He also said the poor ye have with you always…and that puzzles me….but tis true a few on this planet hold most of its wealth and that is hard to understand. I do believe in giving to others…as you know…and I hope one day we will learn we have given all we were supposed to give…Heh, we do not have a great lot considering all the years hubby worked so hard…but all we need is food, clothes and some shelter…and tis enough.
Some of the moderate wealth holders also worked an incredible lot of hours…which I do not agree with. No one can do that their whole life and not fail in the relationship areas…cause those take time and lots of it. Everything is a trade off of some sort. My dad worked 18-20 hour days usually 6 days a week when I was young (he never got fabulously rich, but was later when a drunk driver took a lot of his health away, as well as my 20 yr old brother’s life)…when we were growing up however it would have been nice to have had a dad who was not so tired he could be nothing but rather mean. But he lived through the Depression and their family went hungry a lot…we are all marked by the circumstances we grow up under no doubt…good and bad. But just saying, if people work an abnormal lot of hours and are thrifty and have gobs of money…I do not begrudge them that either. I just feel it was not the best choice. It is sad that those with huge wealth cannot share it more too…seems we could make the earth a much nicer place if we were all as generous as we could be.
Some of my favorite essential oils are frankincense and myrrh, and I always think of the wise men and their gifts. In my mind, those gifts came in handy when Joseph took the family to Egypt, and they lived as expatriots — the move there, the move back, the resettling — based upon the budgeting I’ve done our entire life, I’m guessing it took up a lot of that windfall!
It’s difficult to talk about money without people objecting, and it’s difficult to address all the different sorts of money makers in a short essay. When I say Odd Ones requiring an egregious amount of money, it is just that — so much money and resources and power that it is at the level of playing God. These people are so beyond our sphere of existence that we are as beetles under their heels. These are not the moderate wealth makers you mention, although, as you observe, this driving pursuit to build that moderate wealth draws life and energy from that person, and from those around them.
Whether the person is seeking godhood or just a whole lot of money, it does boil down to that love of money taking up so much heart and soul space that there is little left for the freebies — the love, faith, hope, kindness, contentment that we post Facebook memes about, but truly have difficulty understanding their intrinsic worth. We are bombarded, constantly, in our culture with our “failure” to have created enough of a nest egg so that we can set back and play golf until we die, and if we have enough to eat, clothes to wear, and shelter, we are castigated for this. As more and more people struggle to make enough to just keep those basics, perhaps we should stop castigating them and others like them, and consider the Odd Ones whose rapacious appetite leaves less and less for others.
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Hi Carolyn. At one time I tried to become a copywriter. One way to make a tidy income as a writer–sometimes six digits. Eventually I decided against it. Nothing in the Bible condemns writing advertisements, but in our materialistic culture do people really need more ads craftily prompting them to buy more stuff, envying those with more and spending what they would give to the poor otherwise?
I decided this after taking a class prompting me to employ the 7 deadly sins in manipulating folks to buy. The whole thing felt wrong.
Rachel, this is fascinating. Years ago we had a close friend who was in advertising, and he battled with this: “My whole job, effectively, is persuading people to feel bad about themselves, their lives, their families, until they buy what it is that I am selling. And it never stops. They will never feel good or accepted by doing what I and other advertising people say, because our whole point is to keep them on edge so that they keep buying.”
It reminds me a bit of the church message: people will never find the freedom they’re looking for, because if they did, they would realize that they do not need to sit at the feet of a PhD guru, week after week, put their money in the offering plate, and volunteer for the jobs they are told to do.
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