39 Million Reasons to Hate the Culture War

In the last ten years, various conservative and Christian political groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to fighting against the legalization of gay marriage.Over $39 million was given to promote just one initiative, California’s Proposition 8.

What does $39 million buy?

World Vision lists a deep well (which can provide clean water for an entire village, preventing cholera and other outbreaks that kill many infants and children every year) at $13,700, a home for orphaned children at $5,100, a school at $22,000, and a health clinic at $39,000.  You could have one of each for $79,800. So you could transform 488 towns in developing nations for $39 million, touching literally millions of lives over many generations.

With $39 million, you could set up a foundation and use the interest and dividends from the principal to help people. That would give you, conservatively, $429,000 million a year (anyone who can’t get 1.1% on $39 million needs to find a new financial advisor). That sum would sponsor over 1,000 children through World Vision, forever.

Instead, we spend our $39 million making sure two men and two women can’t get married in one state. And we spend more fighting it in the courts.

Even if we ignore the emotional costs to our gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual neighbors.

Even if we ignore the spiritual costs of getting in bed with a money-and-power driven government in order to continue pressing down an already subordinate class of people.

Even if this culture war can be justified in theory, its opportunity costs cannot be justified, because they are paid in the sickness, pain and death of others.

We pay for our traditional, 1950’s-inspired lifestyle in the blood of the world’s poor.

Tell me how this follows Jesus’s example?

Tell me how this fulfills the Greatest Commandment?

Tell me how this honors Christ’s name?

 

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I Didn’t Build This

During the campaign, the President made a lot of people mad by pointing out that every business owed its success to factors beyond its founders’ brains and hard work. He used the ill-worded (and frankly insulting) phrase, “You didn’t build this.”

Thanks to the wide availability of video-editing software, we got to hear that clip again and again and again. Well, once more won’t kill you.

Okay, now that you’ve watched it, let me ask a question. I promise it’s related.

We have so much. So why do we begrudge every tax dollar that goes to the poor? Why do we cling so tightly to the idea that we have earned all we have?

Maybe it reminds us that all we have comes from God, that we could just as easily have been born in Sri Lanka, in a village with no clean water, and helplessly watched our siblings, and later our children, die of cholera or dysentery.

We could have been born in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, and been caught in the genocide of their civil wars.

We could have been born in North Korea, and been crushed under the boot of a multi-generational dictatorship.

We could have been born to a fourteen year old single mother in an inner city, a girl who might read at a fourth grade level. To a mother that will never finish high school, will have no support from the father, and who may or may not have support from her family.

We could have been that young mother. A mother who will have to live on welfare and what little she can earn without a degree, and who will forever earn the scorn of respectable middle-class American Evangelicals as a “welfare queen.”

But we weren’t. We were born to families that didn’t have to worry about contaminated water, or genocide, or secret police, or grinding poverty and alienation. We were born in a country with the rule of law, modern infrastructure, and functioning social safety nets.

We didn’t choose to be born in the developed world, nor did we build it prior to our birth. And we didn’t build our parents, or choose them. Heh, maybe John Calvin isn’t 100% wrong, after all. We didn’t build these things in our home countries, but we can help build them in the developing world, through organizations like World Vision.

So, yeah, the President’s right (as much as I like to criticize him).

I didn’t build this. God did.

No matter how much hard work I put into, well, anything, I would have had no chance if I’d been born just one continent away. And the ugly truth is, neither would you.

Coming up on Christmas…

So much sadness, so much to do.

Building a nursery, welcoming a new life into this world

Saying goodbye to so many children I never knew

So much sadness, so many questions

Why?

Why did they have to die?

Why do I mourn them so?

Why do I mourn them so much more

Than the ones who die everyday,

Killed in my name by Predator Drones,

Weakened by hunger, claimed by disease,

Poisoned by foul water and dysentery?

Why?

And how do I move on, knowing it could be my daughter someday?

How do I wrap presents and decorate the tree?

How do I cook and eat and feast?

How do I put it all behind me and laugh and love and share?

Should I even want to?

Sometimes I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

Matching Gifts (Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is)

Wordle: Double
Okay, here’s the deal. I recently came into a little money, and I feel called to give $500 of it to World Vision (in the form of one-time gifts like medicine, livestock, school supplies, etc.).

I’m not 100% sure what I should spend the money on, though. The last time I had some money to spend, I bought a donkey. I’m not as clear right now.

Then it came to me. I should let you decide. So I’m going to put my money where my (virtual) mouth is. I’m going to match the first $500 in gifts to World Vision that y’all give. Just comment or message me and tell me what you gave, and I’ll match it.

For example, if you go to “Gifts the Multiply” where big sponsors have already multiple-matched gifts (up to 12X), and  give $420 worth of medicine for $35, I will duplicate that, giving $35 to buy another $420 worth of medicine.

And yes, if you buy a donkey, I’ll buy a second donkey.

I’ve got $500 to do this with, so if you ‘go over the top’ (say, I’ve given $450 and have only $50 left, and someone buys a $225 donkey), I won’t be able to match your whole gift, but you’ll get to tell me what to do with the remaining money.

I Bought a Donkey!

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

For those of you who don’t know, I love donkeys. Specifically the short-legged, fat-bellied burros folks around here keep in their horse pens to scare the coyotes away. I have been teasing Katherine that we need to buy a burro (“I will call him ‘Burrito’”) for four or five years now.

Her responses have been, to date, negative. I guess one of us has to be the responsible adult.

Well, I’ve finally done it. I went behind her back and bought a donkey! I had a decent sum of mad money[1] put together, so I went online and bought one. It was only $225.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, you live in the city! It isn’t even legal for you to keep a donkey on your property.  And besides, donkeys are not known to get along well with wild dogs, and your dogs are badly-trained enough to almost qualify.”

Donkey Eating

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

True, true, but herein lies the genius of my plan! Not only did I finally get to buy my donkey, I don’t even have to take care of it!

I don’t have to corral the donkey, feed the donkey, or clean up after the donkey. This is a 100% responsibility-free donkey!

You see, I bought this donkey through World Vision. They will deliver the donkey to a family in a  lesser-developed nation who will feed the donkey, care for the donkey, cherish the donkey, and use the donkey for meaningful work. This donkey will help a family beat cycles of poverty. It will help the parents do the work so the children can go to school.

And Katherine? She was actually quite pleased that I bought the donkey. Go figure.

Donkey grazing

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

1) Mad money has been a great key to our marriage. We each get a certain amount per month, which accumulates. We add to this sum any birthday or Christmas gift money we receive. We make unnecessary purchases from this fund: books, music, video games, leisure-type clothes, guns, DVD’s, etc.

This is perfect if one of the couple has a hobby that includes infrequent, relatively-expensive purchases (like video game systems, musical instruments, antiques, reproduction weapons, hunting guns, artwork, etc.).

This way, that partner never has to beg for permission to buy that new ____. If s/he has the mad money, s/he can buy whatever it is. If not, s/he keeps saving until s/he does.

Our Mad Money system has kept unnecessary spending under control, and kept either of us from feeling resentful about what is and isn’t being spent. I’m not sure where we got the idea for this.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it.

We don’t usually do our charitable giving out of Mad Money, but I had $400, and I sort of got a ‘word’ from God that I wasn’t supposed to keep it. I looked around for a high-impact local opportunity, but I didn’t find one that felt right. World Vision did.

I guess $400 isn’t a life-changing amount of money here in America, with only my contact network. But in a developing nation, a dollar goes farther, and World Vision can really stretch those donations. I encourage you to check them out, if you haven’t.

Sold! (Wrestling the Angel of Consumerism)

X-Box 260

This is my X-Box. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My longtime friend Paul, a preacher, responded to my last post, and I think what he had to say was important.  He pointed out that it’s not just the ministers that are responsible for consumerism and massive spending in American churches.  In my experience, he’s right.  Sure, there are the occasional music ministers who spend $10,000 in lighting for a Christmas musical for a church with 250 members.  But most of the time, it’s actually the congregation that controls the purse strings.

It’s the congregation that votes “yes” on gaudy church palaces.  It’s the congregation that says “yeah, let’s spend $5 million to move from the city center to the ritzy suburb.”  They’re not saying “we have no responsibility to this city or to the poor,” well, not out loud, but their actions sure look like it.

[I hadn’t actually meant to imply that it was the preachers’ fault, but I can certainly see how it looks that way.  Using the term “ecclesiastical bling” was probably my main mistake.  It serves me right for putting an attempt at wit above accuracy:  that path leads to Ann Coulter territory.]

The truth is, we’ve all been soaking in consumerism our entire lives.  Even the 116 year old woman can’t remember a time when producers sought to fill needs, rather than manufacture wants.  Newspaper ads as far back as the 1890’s sold health and beauty aids of various types, using loaded language to make people feel insufficient without the products.

Of course, the media of transmission and frequency of contact have increased.  With smart phones advertisements can reach us even when we’re not in front of a television.  And their message is, uniformly, you are not good enough without our products.

The truth is, we’re all so deeply permeated by consumerism we don’t even realize it.  I’m thirty-seven years old, and I only recently realized how much I let piddling earthly wants pull me around.  And I think most people don’t even bother to consider it.  We may tithe, but we don’t push the church to use the tithe wisely.

Thunder may strike with me quoting John Piper, but he’s right: for most middle-class American Christians, giving only the tithe is robbing God.  I’d add that giving the tithe and encouraging the church use it selfishly is also robbing God.

But we’re so sucked-under by consumerism that we don’t even see our own selfishness.  My wants are so often so piddly – a new video game, a new movie, a new (or more accurately, an old and interesting) gun for my collection, a nice meal out.  And all of those are fine, until I count up how much I spend per year on stuff I won’t even care about in a few years’ time, and how little of my income goes to things that are, in some way, eternal.  I get mad at myself. And then I think that our churches are doing basically the same things, and I get mad at everyone.

It’s stunning to think of people in countries who live on $2000 a year, who don’t have clean water, whose children have no opportunity to go to school and improve their material situation.  Many times we turn away, because the images are too graphic, the damage too gruesome, and that’s understandable.  I have to praise World Vision for accentuating the good that can be done, rather than manipulating people’s sympathy with pictures of dying infants.  They tend to take the long view anyway, and guilt isn’t a long-term motivator.

I can’t ask anyone else to go where I won’t, so I’m going to take a first step.  Like many people in my generation, I have multiple video game systems, some quite old, some relatively new.  I’m going to put one of them (my Xbox 360) on Craigslist, and donate whatever money it brings to World Vision.  It’s a relatively small amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but the act of sacrificing one of my luxuries may be healing.

Growing up in this consumerist haze, we get addicted to so many things before we’re even old enough to know it.  We’re all like bulls with rings in our noses, led around by small men, by peddlers who sap our strength and freedom.  But like bulls, we are strong enough to break free, if we can bear the pain.

Things I Don’t Understand: When America Was Righteous (Part 3 of 3)

Homeless Child

In Part One, I broke down how no era, no decade in American history could really be referred to as “righteous.”  In Part Two, I spoke about the information overload that destroys our ability to not know about the evil the world, and how it pushes us to yearn for a simpler, more sheltered time.

I really think that’s the main emotional and psychological driver behind the “return to a more righteous time” meme.  But I’m being charitable here.  If I were being cynical, I’d say it’s just that people are angry at cussing on TV, and at “the gays.”  Kids these days!  Get off my lawn!

The truth is, even yearning for a simpler time is callous an inhumane. I can’t condone yearning for a simpler time, when respectable white people could be sheltered from the suffering of the brown folk.  Suffering that was often caused by  the respectable white folk.  “Eat your food: there are children starving in Africa.”  And African-Americans like Emmett Till getting lynched in America.

If our national morality rests on Mayberry RFD and stopping gay marriage, then we’ve already failed.   If our hope rests on  turning back the clock to a time when we could pretend we weren’t living in a fallen, broken, needy world, we’ve really failed. There’s a world out there that’s crying out in need.

For the price of dinner for two at Olive Garden, you could provide mosquito netting or school supplies that could mean everything to a child in Sri Lanka or sub-Saharan Africa.

If you want to make America a moral nation again, think of someone other than yourself .  Go to Worldvision and donate – sponsor a child or give a one-time gift to buy seeds, mosquito netting, school supplies, medical help, whatever.  Then go to Kiva and make micro-loans to help build businesses in the poorest countries, to build up their wealth and infrastructure so (in time) they won’t need our donations.

Your vote won’t make America a righteous nation again.  It can’t.  America has never been a righteous nation.  We’ve never been the hope of the world, the city on the hill.  Jesus is the hope of the world.

At our best, America has been an example to the world.  Our constitution with its bill of rights, freedom of conscience, and representative government gave birth to the modern democracy.  Nations across the world have followed in our footsteps, and been much better for it.  But remember, when the revolution was won and the constitution written, it only applied to white men.

 

It’s true that America’s been the world’s police officer, stopping rogue states and defending weaker nations from aggression.  Stepping up to fight the Nazis during WW2 was not only necessary, it was virtuous.  But even then, our soldiers were segregated, and thousands of Japanese were imprisoned without trial or charges, just because of their race.  We may do righteous things as a nation, but we are not a righteous nation.

America is and has been a great nation, an exceptional nation, but we’ve never been a righteous nation.  No nation ever has.  Even ancient Israel wasn’t.  They failed God time and time again, turning to pagan gods that demanded terrible sacrifices.  Solomon, that great wise king, enslaved foreigners to built God’s temple [2 Chron 2:17-18].  He sank to the level of the Pharaohs who’d enslaved Israel just a few centuries earlier.

Our nation runs on money and power, like every other nation in history.  The kingdom of God runs on faith, hope, and active, self-sacrificing love.  The best we can hope for is – as Christians, individually, and together – to be instruments of God’s grace and mercy within our nation, and beyond.

We can use our unearned favor, the wealth and power we have as Americans, to help those who suffer in abject poverty every day.  Whole families’ lives could be radically changed for the price of our cable TV fees.  We can use our time to reach out to our neighbors – our literal neighbors, not the circle of friends we have because they’re just like us.  We can take risks and build relationships with people who think differently than we do, look different, vote for the other side, are different ages, religions, and races.  We can try to love the world as Jesus loves us.

Maybe, just maybe, if we do all that, the world will look at us and say, “Hey, those Americans, they’re not so bad.  They actually take care of each other.  They even help the poorest of the poor, people who can’t pay them back.  I guess those Starbucks-drinking, McDonalds-eating, Wal-Mart-shopping folks maybe they are onto something.”

If we’re really lucky, they’ll say that about us as Christians.  No matter who you vote for, your vote won’t glorify God.  But your actions can.  Where your treasure is, there your heart is also [Matthew 6:21].  Will you put your treasure in the ballot box?  Will you store it in an idealized and inaccurate view of the past? Or will you give it to those who need it most?

The choice is yours.