Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wallstreet Envy: Egalitarianism Gone Wild

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that, with God, ingratitude is a capital offense.  This truth is at the heart of the Christian faith.  It's why globally, countless Christians wake every Sunday to render thanks to God.  This general principle also applies to the countless Jews and Muslims around the globe. It is an evil to accept gifts from the hand of God without so much as a thank you in reply.
But it is easy for us to take good gifts for granted.  Narcissism comes naturally. Nowhere is this decadence more evident than in the rabble of whiners loitering on Wallstreet right now. These people who have spent their lives living off of corporate production now lashing out in covetousness and ingratitude demanding a share of other’s wealth [by posting google blogs on iPhones, while clothed in corporate textile fabrics, etc] .

I remember once hearing Sam Walton sum up his business philosophy with the old adage, “Sell to the classes, live with the masses; sell to the masses, live with the classes.” Walmart has been wildly successful not because they sell caviar, yachts, or Gulfstream interior packages. They sell Rubbermaid storage bins, fabric by the yard, and Doritos at a discount. Walmart booms because it reaches so many ordinary people in helpful ways. It provides a first job for many high school students, night shift stock work to other young adults who need the second income, and employment for elderly and handicapped workers who might otherwise not be able to find work. The managers of our local branch make a competitive wage and the supervisors are afforded regular opportunities for training and internal advancement. For all its flaws, Walmart makes my town a better place and as proof, I merely submit the thousands of people who shop there every week.

The problem is that Walmart also makes a big target [lower-case “t”] and people love to hate successful businesses like the one Sam Walton started. This is what I teach my kids to call envy. God calls it covetousness and also idolatry [see: Ex 20.17 and Col 3.5]. And this is what the Occupy Wallstreet Protests are all about. The fact that some people have a lot of money and the rest of us don’t. But the fact of the matter is that the really large corporations of the world are as successful as they are because they have found the best ways to serve the largest number of clients. Walmart, Apple, Microsoft, Exxon, BP, GE, GM, AT&T, Citigroup, Verizon, CVS, the Home Depot, State Farm Insurance, Best Buy … these are some of the largest corporations in the world. How many of them have you turned to in the last month? Yeah, I’m asking this to my fellow 99%ers. These companies are successful because they help normal people [us] and normal people [we] give them regular business.

I was born into a working-middle class home. My mom and dad both worked. They bought a small rancher on a postage-stamp lot, and slowly filled it with matchstick furniture, sometimes used. My mom bought many of our clothes second-hand, except for our shoes. They both drove used cars until they didn’t work, then bought more used cars. My dad did a lot of the maintenance himself. I remember once that he used his leather belt to repair our Volkswagen Beetle enough to limp it home after breaking down on the way home from church. Speaking of church, they faithfully gave 10% and not infrequently more than that in offering and charity giving. Dad carpooled to work off and on. He spent several years working the midnight shift and sleeping through the day. We never had cable. I remember the first time dad brought home a VCR. We rented Star Wars and invited some friends over for the big show.

Until I was in high school, our dinner table was actually a large six-foot diameter wooden cable spool my dad salvaged from a construction site and refinished. It wasn’t until something like 15 years after they bought the house that my parents had saved enough money to have a deck built on the back of the house, even though the rear sliding door was about three feet in the air and the design clearly called for a back deck or patio. My dad finished the basement, himself, one room at a time. He installed a wood-burning stove and every year would get a cord of wood delivered, which he split with an axe and burned to supplement our small electric heat pump. Until I was in high school, the kitchen had the original wallpaper. When we were young, we bought a used Atari that came w/ a few games. My folks splurged and bought us a new Nintendo later on. When I was in high school, my brother and I bought a used Sega Genesis which I grew to hate because he was a whiz and beat me every time. They saved up enough money to take my brother and I to Disneyworld once. We drove the whole way overnight. Every other vacation was to see and stay with our family members in the next state above us. Sometimes birthday parties were at Chuck E Cheeses. My Mom packed a brown bag lunch for my dad almost every day and cooked dinner for us almost every night. We rarely ate out, even at McDonalds. We had no pets. We had chores every Saturday morning with the rest of the day to ride our bikes and play or explore in the woods. Some of my best memories growing up were of playing in the woods with my little brother.

When I wanted nice tennis shoes, I had to make and save my own money to buy them. When I was in Jr high, I had to do the same to get a CD stereo in my room. I got my first job before I could drive and most days road my bike or caught the bus to work. I worked every summer after that and regularly through the year too. I had saved up enough money to buy an old used car [carburetor and stick shift] that I could also afford to insure the year after I graduated High School. My parents helped me with the first year or two of college and then I had to pay. Even when they were paying tuition, I found part time jobs in the morning or at night. I dropped out and ended up finishing much later on my own dime.

I cancelled my telephone landline years ago to save a few bucks each month; Craigslist, Ebay, and the Goodwill are my friends; almost all of my clothes are purchased second-hand. I have sold things at the pawn shop to make extra money. There was a Christmas where the only present I bought my firstborn was a 99 cent toy from a thrift store [he reallllllllllllly wanted it … what would you do in a situation like that?!?!] I cannot afford a mortgage, new car payment, iPhone, video game system, cruises or foreign vacations. I had to drop out of grad school because I just can't afford it right now. I am working on paying off a few thousand in medical bills.  I have worked in the mud and rain and snow at jobs I found out of the paper or picked up through the grape vine just to have some sort of cash flow during the dry times. Now that I’ve been blessed in a stable position, I look back on all these things without regret [at least as far as they are concerned]. I sincerely think we have been immeasurably blessed to share this comfortable, but mindfully frugal, life together. We have received some charity and tons of help from my family, but I refuse to vote money out of my neighbor’s pocket into my own. Whether he is a millionaire or billionaire is irrelevant.

This is what life was like for a middle class kid in the 80s. These people had to work hard for long hours and save a portion of what they made. They thought in frugal terms and lived thrifty lives. They expected to pay their way. They expected to have to save for hard times, retirement, and large expenditures along the way. In fact, I dare say that in a general sense, every generation of young people have had to work for what they had. If they wanted to improve their lot in life they expected to sacrifice and scrape to get there. If they wanted education, they expected to pay for it by the sweat of their own brow. So the $74,000 question is, why should this generation be different? What makes us so special that we think we deserve “free” college, “free” healthcare, government-provided jobs and mortgage loans?

One of the books I love to read my sons is the Chinese children’s book Jichang Learns to Shoot Arrows. I love it because it tells the simple story of a young man who wants to become a master archer. So he apprentices under the greatest bowman and subjects himself to a rigorous practice regimen for years in order become an archer. He patiently disciplines himself for years and years. This quality is at the heart of every traditional Asian families’ culture. Sacrifice, saving, and hard work is a given. Life has been this way for almost every human being who has ever lived. But there seems to be precious little of it in the US.

Only this generation, the ones who have been catechized according to the mantras of self-esteem psychology, for whom entitlement has replaced industry and freedom, virtue; who have not been taught to recognize, honor, or thank their earthly or heavenly Fathers; only this generation could produce and condone the shame that is the Occupy Wallstreet Movement. From the perspective of humanity, if you do not grow up expecting to work and save every day for your own keep, you are part of a very spoiled, lucky, coddled, and posh few. From the vantage point of the history, you are the 1%.

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