Is it bad to be wealthy? The question sounds simple enough, almost as if there should just be a “yes” or “no” answer. But in truth it’s a bit more complicated than that. And because it is, by far, our main currency when dealing with material things and human needs; it naturally becomes one of the main focus points when trying to figure out how to be a true community.
Who is this for?
Everyone, because everyone’s experience is valid. Everyone has usable information. Everyone has a responsibility for the welfare of not just ourselves, but our local and global communities. Therefore both the lives of those who are wealthy and those who are not, should be respected. And yet on Earth, in this place we often call reality, the images of both poverty and wealth seep into every day life.
Those images bring up some of the most immediate and snap judgements we will ever see. Why? Because those who are well off financially, have virtually no issues with basic human rights like food, shelter, transportation, clothing and medical care. Those who live in financial struggle always have questions on their minds that none of us ever want to ask; like “how will I feed myself and my family?” and “Will this illness kill me simply because I don’t have a place to rest and recover?”
Money, a universal trigger
Generally, as soon as someone drives by in an expensive car or leaves an expensive restaurant; their image is one of excessive comfort. While the man in tattered clothing digging a piece of pizza out of the trash, clearly depicts excessive hardship. And when the starving, homeless woman sits 30 feet away from that person eating the expensive meal; it’s clear that in some way, imbalance is present.
The achievement of wealth
People live with financial wealth for different reasons. Some are born into it. Some continue wealth by building their own after growing up with it. Some come from nothing and build into it. I’ve known a lot of wealthy people and, in my experience, it’s just a small percentage who don’t work hard for what they have. These are graphic designers, architects, engineers, doctors, investment brokers and the like.
The onset of poverty
Like wealth, some people are born into poverty. Some come from money and break the bank with bad choices. But also as with the wealthy, I’ve known a lot of poor people. And, in contrast to the rich people I've known, I’ve seen a lot of people work incredibly hard and still end up with almost nothing financial to show for it.
Most common jobs don’t pay a living wage. These are often held by people who also do important work; ministers, teachers, social workers, certain health care professionals and community service professionals.
Wealth generally doesn’t just “happen”. But poverty usually does. And often times it’s not just because someone chooses to buy a game console instead of paying their rent (a common misconception). Often times it’s because of circumstances beyond immediate control.
You don’t have a lot of choice if suddenly you’re ill or injured, have to take excessive time off of work and rack up huge amounts of medical bills. A child doesn’t have a choice if they’re born into a family that doesn’t understand how to efficiently manage money. A single parent doesn’t have a choice after losing a spouse and getting left with a low paying job and children.
Grace and I have learned though our own experience that serious financial damage is a side effect of many different scenarios. No human is immune. No human is safe from one day being fine and the next day dealing with an empty wallet, sitting with hands in the air, asking “what just happened?”
It was about 2.5 years that Grace and I spent in one of our most challenging times. My health was trashed. She worked in child care. We lived in Seattle. There were two major components to the point of this story:
1. I could not work and was often so disabled I could barely take care of myself.
2. For much of those 2.5 years, we could barely feed ourselves or afford basic needs like transportation and clothing.
It’s so hard to describe this to someone who’s never lived this way. How do I convey what it feels like to have a constant rumbling in the belly, to be weakened further in a state of physical disrepair, then to open the fridge each day and see maybe a head of lettuce, a partial jar of mayo and a bit of cheese. In the pantry; half a loaf of bread, a box of cereal and a few crackers.
I’d get extremely hungry, then stand around in the kitchen moving back and forth between the pantry and the fridge, asking questions like: "Do I eat cereal for my third meal of the day? For much of each week, after the tiny load of groceries ran low, we were chronically hungry.
How it feels
Again, it’s hard to convey the feeling of living in squalor. It’s sort of like chronic pain. When you have normal pain or hunger, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rough sometimes, but you can reason with yourself by watching the solution get closer. You take a few pills or eat a sandwich, problem solved. The mind resets itself and forward you go. But the thing about chronic issues like this is; you naturally start to look for that end moment, then begin to reach for it. You eat that small snack or take a couple of pain pills then tell yourself it will end soon. But it doesn’t, and that’s when the true torture begins.
In the first stages comes a strong, nagging need. As time passes; reasoning with yourself no longer takes the edge off. You move into a phase of questions and confusion: “what’s going on here?”, “when will this pass?”, “will this ever pass?”. It begins to play games with the mind as you start to realize that there should be an end to it, but that end is nowhere in sight. Doors start opening to panic, anger and depression. There is no personal precedent because most people are never taught how to prepare for chronic illness or hunger. So there is no set of skills you have tucked away to deal with it.
After a while, you begin to feel like a caged animal. Your connections to the world around you break down. The social pieces of the puzzle start failing as you take each step in applying for help, trying to pay rent and get decent transportation. You learn that the support systems you believe will hold you up; they do not. All of those payments you made into 'insurance'; they don’t bring quick relief, if any at all. By the time you get enough help from the social 'safety net' around you, if you get any help at all, it’s virtually too late. Now you’re not just hungry, tired, broken down, etc; you feel alone and you’ve likely lost much of what you’ve worked for.
The biggest anger
The worst feeling in all of my experience with poverty and hunger is the judgement.
You can’t see starvation at its source. People don’t see you laying in your bed in pain, dreading the moment when you have to somehow get to the bathroom without passing out. They don’t know how it feels to hold your bills in one hand and a virtually useless bank statement in the other. And so there often ends up being more injustice than anything. People you once thought were friends; when their judgemental speech didn’t hit you before, now you can’t ignore certain statements, like social media posts that say “People on food stamps should not be allowed to buy anything but rice and potatoes.”
By many, you get treated differently when you pay at the grocery store with an EBT card. You see heads shake when they look at you buying healthy foods instead of those rice and potatoes. Passive-Aggressive comments come out of the woodwork. You feel black listed out of a system that used to make you feel safe and accepted.
Through all of it, the most frustrating thought is that the people who judge; they don't know or care about how you got where you are. The worst part is that the wall is thin, yet terribly damaging and deceptive; that if anyone, anyone would be forced to spend even a short period of time in these situations; they would never, never judge, speak against or pass up a needy person again.
Eye of the needle
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
Matthew 19:24 KJV
I believe the reason why Christ made that statement is because excessive money does a few main things to us:
It buys us out of consequences we should have. When God puts discipline in our lives for the purpose of strengthening our faith and our character, excessive money allows us to buy our way out of them.
It buys us into things we don’t belong in. God weaves the webs of who and what go where. Money allows us to get somewhere even if we're not right for that situation.
Money can easily become a false idol, a false God. It's something that is often worshiped. It's something we can sense and use without question and therefore, God's presence can not always compete with it, as humans often look for the easiest way.
It's deceptive and misleading. Constant and consistent prayer is a hugely important part of Christianity. God often wants us in positions where we have to turn to him and pray. We're much less likely to pray for a rewarding resolution if we can buy a quick one.
Being rich means having excessive money and resources beyond what you actually need. As long as you have excess and the next person doesn't have enough, there's a danger even when making considerable donations.
Specifically, why money is a wall
Money is often a wall between us because it protects people from ever feeling what I and so many others have felt. It protects us from the torture and desperation of things like hunger and homelessness. Because that kind of hardship is not a feeling you can hand out, it’s never known or understood by those who’ve not felt it.
While excessive income and ownership do deepen the walls between us, it’s not necessary to build them in the first place. Even a non-excessive income can protect someone from such severe hardship. So while it’s easy to pick on the wealthy for an excessive lifestyle, the responsibility of evening the field does not just belong to them. It belongs to all of us; anyone who has enough to hand some back out and be a conduit.
Money is also an addiction. I’m not saying everyone who has money is addicted to it, but I believe money is the most addictive substance on earth. Yes, people will often do crazy things for their personal addictions like drugs and alcohol, but all bad behaviors are amplified when it come to cash flow.
Someone addicted to a drug might steal from their own family; but for money, there are huge companies that steal from the entire world.
One person might hide a porn addiction, while an entire corporation hides truths about the health risks of their products.
There are worldwide business models that are built on “get it out even if it doesn’t work right, then let the customer deal with it”.
I’ve quit companies in the technical industry because I saw people getting ripped off. Bosses telling me to put parts in devices that weren't needed; telling me to purposefully do shoddy work when installing automotive parts. It's only addiction that leads to that kind of behavior.
How to break down this wall
Right now, we live under constant financial threat. We still give to the church and to the needy. Why? Firstly, it's in the manual to life. Secondly, we've tried it both ways:
Being ultra protective of our resources to the point of being selfish. That one didn't work. No matter how much we've saved away from those we could help, we never had enough.
Giving no matter how much we considered ourselves poor. Doing this has woken us up to the statement "God provides". In being conduits, we've become blessed with so many ways to get around being poor that it's blown us away.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:41-44, NIV
Quite simply, we have to face an uncomfortable reality; that our own comfort and excessive living come at the cost of suffering for others. If we can achieve a fair balance, the spectrum of need VS excessive lifestyle would even out and the afflictions on either end would cease.
We all have rough spots. And when it comes to money and the sharing of resources, this broken world has many of us feeling like we can’t share more than the occasional good deed. So we have to look past that feeling, past our comfort zones and become the conduit rather than the keeper. If we can do this, we get one step closer to where we need to be; the community that God meant us to be.
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Proverbs 14:31, NIV
Links mentioned above
God's Webs (video) - God has a mind-blowing way of weaving webs of both resources and people.
Being a Conduit (article) - It is my personal witness to the incredible events that happen when we give up the idea that what I have belongs to me.
The Bible - What is it and how do I Read? (article) - The manual to life tells us to be generous, and it works!
Porn is Okay, Right? (article) - Like holding back excessive money, porn has to convince us it's okay to gain comfort from someone else's pain.
Walls, (1/7) - Filling in the Blanks (and Series Intro) (article) - Series intro. We feel the need to understand our situation to move on, but often times that need backfires.
Walls (2/7) - Technology (article) - We can end a relationship during a TV commercial break, or eat a meal with others while almost never looking up from our phones.
Walls (3/7) - Self Talk (article) - If the influence was as innocent and ineffective as it seems, it would have died off before we ever knew it as everyday life.
Walls (4/7) - Anger and Hate (article) - None of it makes any sense or benefits anyone. And the glue that holds it all together is deception, the kind the Devil uses every day.
Walls (5/7) - Deception (article) - If you can convince your opponent the real you doesn’t exist, you can stand right next to them with a smile on your face and hand on the controls and no one will say no.
Walls (7/7) - The Investments That get us Out (article) - would you want to set up a fort every time you go #2? It takes an initial investment, but it works.
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