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.

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Second Sin: Worshiping My Own Efforts (Repenting in Sackcloth and Ashes, Part 2)

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Bonifacio de Pitati, c. 1504s

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Bonifacio de Pitati, c. 1504s

Lord, I come before you now to repent of the sins I have participated in, specifically the corporate sins of American Evangelicalism. Forgive us, for we have desecrated your name in the eyes of the world. Forgive us, for we have made a mockery of your salvation.

Those outside our faith say we are immoral, and, Lord forgive us, they are often right.

I come before you again to repent of my sins. Today, I repent of worshiping the works of my own hands. Not idols of gold and silver, but my own efforts, my own achievements.

I repent of every stereotypical word I’ve said about the poor, of complaining about people who aren’t disabled, but who don’t work, live on welfare, etc., etc.

Like almost everyone else who says those things, I was raised in a very solid family, went to decent schools, and was instilled with a work ethic and a sense of hope from a young age.

I was not raised in a tenement, with extended family shoved into a small house or apartment, with “father figures” coming and going.

I was not raised by people with no job skills, no understanding of how credit or money worked, and no understanding of the basic etiquette and work ethic required to succeed in any job.

I was not raised in a crime zone, where murders, drug raids, and beatings were a regular part of life.

I was not schooled in a failing, de facto segregated school with a culture that lionized teen pregnancy and demonized academic achievement.

The American dream worked for me, and I thought, cruelly and stupidly, that it worked for everyone else who wasn’t lazy or crooked.

I repent that I ever said or even thought to complain about my taxes going to these “leeches.”

I repent of every time I offered up private charity as an option, and then failed to give sacrificially to actually help the poor.  As a symbol of my penitence, I’m giving $500 of my personal spending money to World Vision (and trying to raise some additional money by matching donations).

I repent of tithing to churches that put 95% of their offerings toward administrative expenses, new high-tech buildings, or worse,  investments, so they can trust their savings accounts instead of trusting God to provide.

I doubly repent of tithing to those churches and then thinking I’d done enough.

I repent of ever thinking I was worth more than any life on this planet.

I repent of ever thinking I own any of my accomplishments. Had I been born in Biafra or Cambodia in 1975, would I be here now? Had I been born in Ethiopia or Somalia in 1975, would I be here now? Had I been born to a fourteen year old single mother, whose own mother had not yet turned thirty, just down the road from where I was born in Mississippi, would I be here now?

God forbid I ever boast. God forbid any of us ever boast.