My Prejudice

I’m in a season of gearshifting this spring and summer.

Since I’ve stepped down from serving the Korean church, I’ve taken the time to fly under the radar and visit a Filipino church and some other small, but vibrant community churches. For a change, and at least for this season, it’s been great to relax and rest on Sundays and not have to worry about the details of service and preparation. It makes me understand both clergy and laity a bit more and that has been refreshing.

My employment (in the traditional corporate setting) is also going to change soon, which as it draws closer, is bringing new issues of my heart. I can see how in some ways, how the work of my hands has lulled me into a sense that I can provide security and (the most curious) sense of pride in who I am and what I do. While I’m doing this to pursue deeper passions, I find myself with a strange hesitation to leaving. I imagine my uncomfortable answer to the ubiquitous question “What do you do for a living?” takes on something that is increasingly unorthodox. It appears that my job title will no longer hide the fact that I’m not “normal” and that’s one particular mask that I wish I could keep.

In epilogue to the story of crime in my neighborhood, my wife and I decided to go forth with our original plans to move in-town. So we’re selling our house and buying another which has brought up all kinds of interesting issues — the demographics around us are changing in every which way. It’s brought up all kinds of conversations that have revealed something I had never verbalized before. That is, I’m prejudiced against rich people.

I don’t think it consciously, but now that I’ve recognized this in me, I’m really beginning to wrestle with it. But just as some people might feel uncomfortable walking in a certain part of town or being examined by a male nurse or whatever, I feel with people in a higher income tax bracket. My mind races with assumptions about those people — I imagine a subtle pretentiousness in them; a characteristic ignorance to the “real world” (I have a couple of ‘amigos’ working for me now. if they can walk, they can get a job.”) ; a snobbish disapproval to dollar stores and (beautiful) dreadlocks; and this sterile, private, insincere, self-righteous, and calculating person who votes the party line and worries more about interior decoration and property zoning than anything on the heart of God.

I know this is a caricature, I know this is not true, I know not all wealthy people think nor behave this way. I know that. But when I go to these fancy shmancy dinners with my wife’s colleagues, literally, I start to suffocate because it’s so damn stuffy.

What is wrong with me? Why do I cringe when I see the newest Lexus SUV with a fish sticker on it? That’s not fair, is it? People can be rich and Christian too. And yes, I know, in the global scheme of things, I am un-freaking-believably rich and overweight while proclaiming to be Christian! I know that! I didn’t say I wasn’t a hypocrite, I didn’t say I don’t hold myself in contempt! I hate it! I hate me! I hate it in me! But with the very real prospect that my wife and I are going to be leapfrogging into a new income tax bracket, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that God is giving us more “talents” to be responsible for. It makes me want to hand them back or bury them in the ground — I don’t want to be rich! If the guy with ten talents had buried them it would have made more sense to me, not the guy with one. What does he have to lose?

I don’t want the affliction of prosperity. I don’t want to be that caricature that is in my mind. As my friend Melvin said to me this morning, “it’s easy to rail against excess when one has none”. I know that! That’s what I want!

You’re not funny, God — not funny at all. This is going to cost me big-time, and now you’re saying I have the funds to do that. I’m terrified of this, terrified of my new prospective neighbors, terrified of my new taxes, just terrified. What was all that “eye of the needle” talk? Am I your camel? This is going to hurt like hell, isn’t it? Don’t I need an epidural for this? Not funny at all.

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Comments

  1. MrPages says:

    I think it’s a similar awakening when the “university rebels” age and become the predominant market force, or when a long-time opposition party suddenly gets voted in to power.

    What happens when we become what we have railed against for so long? What happens when we become the object of our own disdain?

    My own experience was very similar, but mostly because it forced me to realize that my own preconceived notions were wrong. That the generic “them” that I was so easily writing off were actually real people who were struggling just like I was and needed Christ just as much as I did. I hate that. It’s much easier to just lump people together and have disdain for them as a group.

    The worst part is that I don’t want to give up what made me part of this group. I’m clutching this ‘stuff’ so tightly that the tension threatens to rip me apart, but I won’t let go of either side.

    For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate Romans 7:15

  2. R says:

    While I too – and justifiable at times – hold some of the same prejudices about those who are wealthier than I in the “Benjamin’s” way, we are REALLY in trouble when we stop asking the difficult questions of ourselves, stop feeling a little hypocritical, start feeling entitled and/or feel like we are better than other without evening thinking about it. When those small voices in your heard stop speaking, then you have officially become a Cylon 😉

  3. elderj says:

    Ahhh… a life that I will likely never experience, unless I happen to marry someone with a seriously good paycheck. It is so much easier to rage against the machine when you aren’t the machine. Life gets complicated when “give me neither poverty or riches” becomes a reality. The truth is wealth is a burden, and it does tempt us to forget God in all the ways that really matter.

    A friend of mine noted (quoting someone else) that the church has demonstrated that she can survive persecution, but she hasn’t shown that she can survive prosperity. This is no less true for individuals.

  4. Brian says:

    i’m with you. i think i have similar issues and i don’t have a lot of grace….
    anyways, if you need to give away money, you know where it can go…

  5. Josh says:

    whew, that’s pretty big. I can’t say much to it, but I’ll pray it up.

  6. Melvin Bray says:

    in my humble opinion, the thing to subvert is the contempt and not the concern. our concerns about the alienation that wealth creates are quite legitimate. shane claiborne recently said something in an interview with krista tippett on SOF that’s been haunting me ever since. something like, “poverty will exist as long as wealth exists.” i had never made that connection before.

    yet somehow, as much as he hung out with the poor, jesus seems to avoid the righteous contempt that seems to captivate us in his name. i wonder how. (now that i’ve written them, maybe this and the following idea are somehow connected.)

    this is just a question, i don’t mean to imply an answer. I have no doubts that rich people can still be christian. still i wonder whether or not our riches–whatever they may be–are the price of following Christ. does being a follower of jesus inherently mean that we learn to only accept ‘enough’–whatever ‘enough’ may be?

    as for reconsidering the message of the parable of the talents, beg you to read ched myers and eric debode’s landmark article “Towering Trees and ‘Talented’ Slaves,” which was originally published for the no-longer-in-circulation e-zine The Other Side. i could not find it online anywhere for you to link to and read. you can find it as a PDF at the above link for a very limited time to facilitate our conversation (while i seek ched’s permission/forgiveness). hopefully it will whet your appetite for more of ched’s and/or eric’s work on justice.

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