CHAPTER 28, IN WHICH TWO WHITE GUYS SHARE THEIR MILD EXPERIENCE OF POVERTY
Last week, Vince and Lightning began a conversation about money. You can join that conversation here. They discussed how rich we are. Even if we are living below the poverty line in America, we are in the top 2.1% of wealth in the world. The end of the conversation last week was realizing that we are all rich, and that we all have a skewed perspective on our personal finances. This skewed view, fueled by the panic-inducing marketing messages of our culture, allows us to ignore Jesus’s warnings to the wealthy and to take no responsibility for the poor.
There is some teaching within the church today that God wants to bless us in every way. Though this is an appealing teaching–because I want to be blessed in every way–it seems to ignore the larger narrative of the bible, and even specific parables of Jesus. As a father, Lightning’s desire for his kids is not that they would have every new toy they want. Even if he had the money to buy them everything they wanted, he wouldn’t. What he wants for them is to receive healthy love and intimacy, and to grow and mature as is appropriate for people of their age and situation.
People who get everything they want, don’t often turn into loving people who are full of wisdom, character, or depth. A child who is spoiled becomes an adult that feels entitled. Being spoiled is not a phase that someone grows out of. Getting everything we want does not help us mature or become people who act, think or respond like Jesus. To become people who are like Jesus, maybe it would be helpful to be in a context like his. Jesus was not on the American conveyor belt; Jesus hung out with the poor and the socially marginalized. Jesus was a homeless vagrant street-preacher.
This week, the guys talk about money again…but from a different perspective. Both Vince and Lightning have lived below the poverty line in recent years, and this week they tell some stories and offer reflections from those difficult seasons. They share their experiences of state-sponsored health coverage, living without heat for 10 days, having wealthy house guests, and asking God for whatever “those” people have. We hear about Lightning’s friends who are living in foreclosure and enjoying the world’s finest wines.
By the end of the conversation, Lightning came to the conclusion that there are ways we can be transformed to be more like Jesus that can only occur below the poverty line. There are experiences that make us more like God that can only occur in poverty. When we don’t have enough money to meet our basic living expenses, there are ways that we become more quiet inside, and more compassionate in our lives. The guys shared some positive effects of their experiences of financial hardship. Lightning is much more grateful for the wonderful things in his life that cost nothing, like sunsets, night time stars, deep intimate conversations with friends, and great stories. Lightning feels thankful for work…even when he grumbles about having to go to work. Vince and Lightning agreed that living in community has been a wonderful gift. The appreciation and compassion they have gained for the poor has changed their hearts. They now have an appreciation for how the deck is stacked against the poor, and how the systems and structures of our society make it difficult to move out of poverty.
Vince and Lightning share several times during the conversation that their experience of poverty was very mild and controlled. They have not experienced systemic oppression or true poverty. They hope that their conversation is productive and not offensive on this topic.
Lightning closed the conversation by mentioning that he started a new full-time job last week. This is a big change for someone who has been a freelancer almost his entire adult life. He is now the operations manager for a national audio-visual rental company. In a few weeks he’ll let us know how it is going.
Vince shared this quote from our current Pope, Pope Francis: These days there is a lot of poverty in the world, and that’s a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.
STUFF THEY MENTIONED THAT IS WORTH CHECKING OUT
The church that Vince co-leads: Brown Line Vineyard