(1) God always provides more than you need.
(2) Use well what you’ve got now; only then will you get more.
(3) What you abuse, you lose.
(4) Absent a disease process, chronic poverty is not a natural condition.
I write as a man with next to nothing, concerned principally for others who have next to nothing. God put me in this position for a reason.
I am strongly tempted to want to rename it “The Parable of the Bootstraps.”
Next to nothing isn’t nothing. Next to nothing means we have bootstraps. What we do with our bootstraps is crucial.
In one servant, the master invested five bootstraps. This servant chose to honor his bootstraps, used them rightly, and gained five bootstraps more.
In another servant, the master invested two bootstraps. This servant likewise chose to honor his bootstraps, used them rightly, and gained two bootstraps more.
In a third servant, the master invested one bootstrap.
He trashed it.
First lessons, basic principles of wealth creation:
– To get more, first use rightly what you’ve got now.
– What you abuse, you lose.
Stewardship is the Christian term naming the role of the “steward,” a servant who has been given responsibility to manage or care for some or all of the master’s resources. The teaching is that God is the master, and everything any one of us has is not, in fact, one’s own; it all belongs to God, who has merely invested, or entrusted, it in our care. We are stewards.
It applies to almost every area of life — not just money. Examples:
a) Time. I don’t think that needs any explanation.
b) Freedom. Abuse your freedom, and you may lose it. You may go to jail. Abuse what freedom you have in jail, and you’ll lose that. Been there, seen that.
c) Relationships. How one treats one’s spouse or mate, one’s kin and one’s acquaintances, has a powerful effect on one’s quality of life.
d) Attention and emotional energies. Life’s inevitable difficulties meet each of us from day to day — here and now. For example, at this writing my foremost job prospect just went sour. I can face this; I can overcome. It is much more difficult for one to get back on one’s feet, who drains all one’s joy in grievances over events of long ago and far away — the Middle Passage, Jim Crow, the Shoah, the abuses of Mao or Stalin, or even the petty injustices that confront me at the shelter day to day. The Serenity Prayer is instructive.
e) Power. It boggles me that some insist that certain categories of people have o power — and thus no agency, no choices, and no responsibility. The trials in Arnesha Bowers‘ murder are current as I write. The three young men involved engaged in lots of agency, innumerable choices and many exercises of power. They chose to plan the crime. They chose to pick up a meat tenderizer. They chose to beat her with it. They chose to rape her. They chose to strangle her to death. They chose to set her corpse, and the house, on fire.
They trashed a human being.
Replacing others’ bootstraps is a vain quest in which, as it happens, liberals tirelessly engage. The issue: in a classic dis-acceptance of What Is, they regard the poor person’s bootstraps with contempt and insist that they must be more, or “better,” than they in fact are.
After Rachel Jenteal disgraced herself herself for several hours on national TV, a number of young black professionals from around the country descended upon her, determined to transform her life and guarantee she’d graduate from college. Problem: she doesn’t want a college degree. She wants to work as a beautician. That‘s her bootstrap.
A supporter recently admonished me at length that I ought to be doing more to secure my own, independent residence. As it happens, at the time, such a goal as that was completely off my radar. The only desire I had in life was to sleep indoors that night. That desire was God’s gift to me, in that moment.
Jesus referred to poverty as a disease (Mark 2:17).
Butch and Brenda were two young adults who became involved with my church circa 1983. He had epilepsy, and she had cerebral palsy; but I became convinced that these were merely physical manifestations of spiritual dysfunctions, the mismanagement of the life force. He was unable to abide calm: no situation could be at peace too long before he felt compelled to create confusion. She nickle-and-dimed me to death, not only with constant requests for cash (In those days, I was prosperous.), but with demands that I attend to incidents of drama that never should have occurred among adults to start with.
My patience with her ran out the day she phoned me asking for cash for a pack of smokes. She lived two miles away from me. Who is going to travel two miles to pick up or deliver cash for a pack of smokes?
I’d never dealt with such people before. These were the first of whom I said, “They’ll bleed you dry.”
Lessons I presumed to take from this:
– God always provides more than you need. (This is a basic tenet of the theory of healing.) The more-than is what we rightly use to give away or invest, for charity or healing. Rightly used, we obtain still more. If something’s going on in your life that gobbles up all you’ve got, including the more-than and still more — something’s wrong.
– Absent a disease process, chronic poverty is not a natural condition.
I have been candid about the disease processes in my life.
Attracting investment. Let’s face it: there are some people in whom you’ll happily invest, and others not. There’s a reason the master invested five bootstraps in one servant, but only two in another, and yet only one in the third.
If and when I find my way back into prosperity, I will not be able to say I got there wholly on my own. Others have substantially invested in me over they years; some continue to, very substantially, on an ongoing basis today. Others invest far less, but I honor every one.
Something’s going on here.
It gives me goosebumps to say this, but I must somehow be manifesting “light” to these people. They perceive a probability, and perhaps a track record, that I will use my bootstraps rightly, and honor rather than trash their investments, and possibly even gain the desired “return.” This must relate, I can only think, to my determination to choose hope over resentment, to seek to see the child of God in every one I meet, to put the best light on every situation.
On the one hand, there are practical advantages to being a nice guy. On the other hand, I’m not doing any of this out of any quid pro quo.
Some months ago, I arrived at the shelter exhausted and somewhat downcast after a difficult day of job search. I stood in the line for check-in, and looked around me. All these homeless men. I thought:
I’ve got a job right now.
My job is to love these men.
That’s what God is paying me to do.
Related: “Do the Right Thing,” part 2