sower

Wealth, Pleasure, and Worry

It is not an uncommon theological discussion in American churches: is it money itself, or rather the love of money, which is the root of all evil? It is all the stuff he has, in and off itself, or is it the love of his stuff, that makes the rich young ruler turn away from Jesus? It is hard for us, in our current cultural climate, to question the idea of wealth as anything but an unqualified good. However, Joshua Becker over at Don Miller’s Storylineblog examines the Parable of the Sower and points out that Jesus’ parable does just that: it seems to suggest that wealth itself can be an obstacle, a thorn, in the life of a believer. His thoughts and their counter-cultural import are worth serious reflection, and the discussion below his post debates some of the nuances in the various New Testament treatments of wealth. It’s especially worthwhile  discussion for those of us who, having heard the gospel story so many times before, might need to hear Jesus’ words again for the first...

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They’ll probably just waste it, or use it on drugs…

  A constant concern I seem to hear about charitable giving is about what poor people will do with economic assistance once they receive it. Won’t poor people just waste the money or benefits? Won’t they use it to buy unworthy items like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs? A second line of criticism has more to do with self-sufficiency. Won’t receiving economic assistance just make people dependent? Won’t it show people that they don’t really need to have a job, or to strive to be self-sufficient? An organization called GiveDirectly (and others like it) have challenged these assumptions recently by giving what are called “unconditional cash transfers” to individuals living in poverty. Basically, they locate impoverished people and communities overseas in need of assistance, and then they give individuals large amounts of money with no strings attached; the recipient can use the money however they want, for whatever reason they see fit. This approach has received lots of criticism, for all the listed reasons above. Surely the recipients, not having to answer to anyone about their spending choices, will squander the money in all sorts of different ways! However, in October, researchers at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT published their findings on the effects and outcomes of unconditional cash transfers. Surprisingly, their findings suggest that very little of the money was...

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quicksand

The Uphill Battle of Escaping Poverty

A few weeks ago I posted a study discussing America’s low economic mobility – that is, why so many Americans born in poverty remain in poverty, despite working hard to escape it. Last week, the New York Times published an article examining the same issue. Utilizing both objective data and subjective personal narratives, Steven Greenhouse suggests that the face of America’s low wage earner has changed. Today’s low wage earner is older and better educated then their 1970s counterparts – both indications that workers today are finding it harder and harder to escape from poverty, despite finding employment, working hard, and earning educational credentials that ought to help them move up the socio-economic ladder. Recently, the conversation about work, the dignity of work, and the ability of workers to provide a better life for themselves has come to the forefront of the national conversation because of Paul Ryan’s recent comments about a culture of non-work existing in America’s inner cities. While his comments have received a lot of criticism concerning what exactly he meant by his comments and whose culture precisely he was indicting, to me the most troubling aspect of such debates in general is that they are built on the unquestioned assumption that if you just work hard, you can lift yourself out of poverty. Indeed, as Ryan contends,...

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inequality

Income Inequality and the American Dream

I think most Americans would agree that one aspect of the quintessential American dream is the ability to make something of yourself – whoever you are, whatever your circumstances. While we don’t expect everyone to get rich, we do believe that if someone works hard they should at least be able to improve their lot in life. However, a number of recent studies about the state of our economy reveal that poorer Americans are needing to work harder and harder if they want to move out of poverty. Two recent economic studies indicate that the places in our country with the highest income distribution gap are also the places with the lowest economic mobility – that is, individuals with rich parents are more likely to be rich, and individuals with poor parents more likely to remain poor – and that America is one of the least economically mobile countries in the developed world. This is an even more troubling revelation when we consider that our national income distribution gap is steadily on the rise. Additionally, the minimum wage debate seen from a historical perspective shows that today’s lowest paid workers are often working more hours for comparatively less pay than their historical counterparts. I believe there is dignity in work; people should, if they are able, work to provide for...

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Luxury and Christian Witness

I would argue that living humbly, spending wisely, and being good stewards of our resources are in and of themselves gospel values; though I often stumble, I attempt to put these things in to practice because I believe being a faithful follower of Jesus requires it of me. However, this recent article by David Cloutier at Commonweal also examines the way in which our spending practices are tied up in our practices of witness and evangelism. Cloutier contends that renunciation adds credibility to our Christian witness, and that for too long we have attempted to push aside  simple living  as something reserved for saints and the spiritual elect. If we want to be powerful witnesses, Cloutier contends, than we must live out our Christian calling in all the aspects of our lives – including our economics. While written primarily for a Catholic audience, I believe the point that he is making applies equally to any and all who are concerned with making sure their Christian testimony is a compelling...

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