No worse than an infidel

As in much that I believe, I am here particularly indebted to John Wesley – more specifically (in this particular post) to his sermon on The Use of Money.

1 Timothy 5:8 is a famous passage among U.S. Christians of a certain political persuasion. Quoting from the KJV (which is how I first learned it):  “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

I find it curious how many Christians aspire, in their spending, to be no worse than an infidel. What lofty goals we aspire to!

There is a place where Jesus talks about the relationship between our behavior and that of unbelievers, too. It is found in Matthew 5:43-48.  In these verses, Jesus suggests that loving those who love us is a minimal standard, understood by all to be good manners. But in a verse that haunts those who follow in John Wesley’s theological footprints, Jesus instead suggests: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” And one of the examples he gives, just a few verses before, to demonstrate what he means? “Love you enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”

It strikes me that this verse in 1 Timothy was meant as a corrective: do not take food out of the mouths of your own children to give to other children. In case there were any question about it, this verse makes it clear that it is not a virtue to deny your own children’s needs in order to supply the needs of others.

However, for those of us who believe that God loves our children better than we do, and further that God loves every other child no less than our own dear ones – that is to say, for Christians – it would be equally perverse to prefer to give our children luxuries that are unneeded, and perhaps even dangerous to their salvation, when doing so prevents us from providing food, shelter, and the like to those in need – even to those we do not like very well, even to our enemies.

In the age of advertising, I believe that we have become more confused than ever about what our selves, our children, and our other loved ones truly need, and what instead serves an insatiable desire born of a God-shaped hole in our hearts. I am sorry to say that in this, I fear that I too have become no worse than an infidel…

“And so, with one fateful post, her blog veered into the realm of the political”

A friend from church just learned that he has been laid off.  John is an elementary school teacher in Durham Public Schools – and because he has not been working for the school system very long, and since he is still working towards licensure, he was one of the many committed new teachers let go under the current budget crunch.

I have just spent about 20 minutes trying to find information on the internet about how much a teacher costs to employ – not just their salary, but the total spent per teacher on salary plus health care, continuing ed, and other benefits.  You know, so I could help the school board balance their budget.  Since they clearly can’t do it themselves.  I can’t just decide to stop paying my electric or gas or mortgage.  And teachers are as essential to a functioning school system as those former bills are to keeping my household.  The cell phones and internet can go.  But I need running water.  And if I can’t afford to pay for it, it is time for me to head on down to social services and find out how to get my hands on some emergency funds – once I have exhausted my own resources utterly.

Now, I don’t know all the facts of the solvency of the school system – but I have heard that the school system has some rainy day funds, and it is certainly a rainy day for John, for dozens (perhaps hundreds) of his cohort, and for all of the students and remaining teachers, who will have to contend with larger class sizes.

But it also occurs to me that all of these politicians who say that they believe in education actually believe much more in keeping their own salaries intact – which are, by the way, a bit higher than the average teacher’s salary.  And the best way to do this is to not raise taxes – in fact, to cut them.

[ Let me here remind my British and other European friends, who look on U.S. politics with much consternation, that we in the U.S. owe our very genesis as a nation to a row over taxes – which has never been forgotten, whereas the particular injustice of the situation has been glossed over, so that “taxation without representation” has come to mean “look here comes the tax man again – I am being oppressed!!” And this is a necessarily brief sketch of how a few educated and principled political philosophers gave rise to a bunch of money-grubbing anarachists, governed by a handful of cunning oligarchs, hiding behind their corporate charters.  But I digress.]

And so it is that I have come to propose a tax, knowing full well that it will never be enacted, because – on election day – no new taxes trumps improving education. And I propose a tax also knowing that I am going to hear about this from some individuals saying that the Christian way is to facilitate private responsibility / voluntary giving (also known as “fox guarding the henhouse” when referring to the oxymoronic “voluntary regulation”) – however, without getting too deeply into it, I believe that this view is out of line with the (almost) universal Christian belief in the pervasiveness of the Fall – a world under the influence of sin will only behave sinfully, and must somehow be compelled to act in the interest of all of God’s creatures.  Because I do not believe that anyone is suggesting that the kingdom has come and all have been perfected in love.

“And so in futility and no little amount of trepidation, she continued…”

What if there were a tax on private school tuition, the proceeds of which directly funded the public school system?  When parents pull their children from public schools to place them in private schools, they perceive that the expense is worth it to improve the lot of their own child or children – not least with lower class sizes.  But what of the children in the public schools?

Now, I would not propose that those who can afford dental care not take their children to the dentist in solidarity with those who cannot afford dental care.

[ Note to my European friends:  yes, I’m sure we appear barabarous to you.  And likewise to the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which listed such things as medical care, housing, and education as human rights.  [ Note to my Hauerwasian friends:  I am not here advocating the language of “rights” as a theological category. [ Note to self: less digressions next time.] ] ]

And while I believe that one may receive a fine education in a public classroom, or a poor one in a private classroom, if we with these reservations accept the analogy, I am not suggesting that parents not send their children to private school if they feel so convicted.  However, I am suggesting that, just as I would accept a 10% surcharge at the dentist that went to free dental clinics [under the current weird system where dental care is somehow a privilege for some], so ought the more well-off parents accept a surcharge on the private school tuition they pay, in order that those who have no choice about where they go to school might also have improved circumstances.  I am not here talking about federally mandated standardized testing, which only public students (and just as much so, public school teachers!) are subjected to – because we do not need money to make the improvement of doing away with those.  Instead, I am referring to smaller classes – with one lucky group of students taught by John!

Best wishes, John!  I know that you will make a positive difference in the lives of whomever you serve – I am most sorry that the diverse children of Durham, NC will no longer be the beneficiaries of so much of your time and energy.

Who will save me from this body of lists?

So, more than a month ago, Will and I promised posts on the theme of resurrection, thinking that having an assignment would cause us to blog more often – which, perhaps predictably, was – err… – not much of a success.
I am not going to speak for Will, but I can suggest that, in my case, there was some sense of wanting my entries to be perfect, and so having a couple of drafts sitting around that didn’t quite make the cut, or couldn’t be finished because of the pressure. Add to the mix one dead air conditioning unit (with the resulting opportunity / responsibility to find the most energy efficient solution we could afford), travel, and the acrobatics involved in trying to get in touch with my neurologist’s assistant to get an MRI appointment, and the time sort of slipped away from me.
A friend instructed me about six months ago to stop making to do lists. The immediate result was a messier house and a serious backlog of life management tasks. But I am now beginning to see the fruits of this listlessness ;-D I do what I most need to do when it most needs doing.
There were many problems with my to do lists: each time I crossed off an item, I felt an immediate rush: “I did it!” which rapidly deteriorated into the crash of “there is still so much more (and ever more and more) to do.”  Items were not weighted evenly – recurring tasks would be crossed off and constantly reappear, large tasks that took all day were still only one task… how discouraging!
But the most critical problem with my lists was that they served as a denial of both the fall and of grace – I was trying to save myself by doing it all, but it could not all be done. To grossly paraphrase (and hopefully not misappropriate) Paul – my lists made me a sinner, and taught me that I was a sinner, and accepting that I was unable to actually do all of the items on my list – and that in fact some of them were not even essential to do in any case – freed me to throw the list away, and to learn how to live responsibly without a list, empowered by God’s love for me which transcends my lists.
Am I just using my theology to rationalize my de facto failure in my commitment to Will? Oh, I hope not. Instead, I hope that I am freeing both of us to write what we are inspired to write about on our blogs, without fear of letting each other (and our handful of readers) down – we have enough inescapable assignments in our life outside the blogosphere.