If you were to take a seat on a bench near the corner of 4th St and Ave R on most any given day in the city of Lubbock, Texas, you would see, more often than not, a beggar “flying a sign” asking for money. If you were a concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas and drove by this intersection, you would immediately begin evaluating the circumstance, your level of concern, and the options by which you might interact. Of course the evaluations and considerations you engage in do not happen in a moral, emotional, political, economic, psychological, sociological, or spiritual vacuum, but rather all of these filters quickly come to bear on your thoughts.
The stage is now set for drama. Not some shoot’m up action flick (so don’t get too excited), but in the heavens and behind the veil there is a drama unfolding which is playing out in our world here and now, yet goes almost unnoticed (so maybe take it serious anyway). We will call our not-so-Shakespearean play The Clash of Cash and Trash at the Intersection of Mammon and Jesus.
Now, I am no politician, no economist, and I am not a psychologist (though I play one in my mind sometimes), but I am a street minister who has read my Bible and has been involved with street ministry over most of the last two decades. During that time, I have witnessed the politically minded, the economists, and the shrinks coming out of the woodwork to guide our “concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas” in the ways of ministering to the beggars addressing the church, various parachurch organizations, and doing so supposedly in honor of Jesus.
The almost universal conclusion they come to is that this “concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas” will do harm to the beggar (and to themselves and to the larger economy) if they give a dollar (or maybe a hundred) to the beggar at the intersection of Mammon and Jesus. They will tell us that we are “enabling” the problem to continue, that we are creating dependence upon our charity, and that we are developing a “savior complex” in ourselves while exacerbating an inferiority complex in the beggar, thus we should not give.
They write whole books on this stuff. Bestseller list books. They hold seminars, webinars, teach courses, and post YouTube videos and podcasts outlining this stuff. It has become an industry in and of itself now, and a “concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas” can even pay her church $30 to take their class outlining how and why NOT to give money to the poor (in the name of Jesus, of course).
If you are the “concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas” and you happen upon the intersection of Mammon and Jesus, you are already feeling a flood of emotions and thinking a ton of thoughts. I cannot address them all, but they range from disgust, fear, pity, and frustration to anger, compassion, and embarrassment. And among the thoughts… you are likely to wonder what other neighbors will think of you if you give a dollar to the beggar.
Yeah. I think that last bit happens a lot. Maybe not universally, but I bet that while your conscience is feeling pricked, and you consider all the stuff you have and all the lack this beggar appears to have, there is this other little battle in your soul about what people will think of you if you reach in your pocket, slow the pace of traffic piling up behind you and watching as you roll down your window and offer your alms. And in Lubbock, Texas, odds are (if you are thinking about what other people might think) you think they will think you are a fool.
But you are in luck. The charity industry of Lubbock, Texas is counting on you to think those thoughts and get a little bewildered by such emotions. They are here to help with that.
If you go online or look up the phone number(s), or check the missions board at your church, you can find important charitable organizations in Lubbock where you can sign up to volunteer, and where you will be expected to undergo training in which the above mentioned books and seminars form the basic curriculum. There you will learn to conform to the philosophies and agendas (or risk being labeled “rogue”), chief among them being NOT to give money to the beggars – but of course the organizations where you will offer your volunteer work will be more than happy to accept your offerings on behalf of the poor!
These organizations (for the most part), the bestselling authors they adhere to, and most of your fellow volunteers will offer their service, so they say, in honor of Jesus Christ. Their lectures, books, and seminars will be peppered (to varying degrees) with Bible references. Your fellow workers will come from various churches and will be motivated to care based on their faith. And you, our “concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas,” will find it easy, then, to believe these agendas and philosophies do in fact honor Jesus.
But when you are sitting there in the little training seminar listening to all the lecture, the video, and the discussion questions, at some point there will be a chance for you to ask a question.
I want to suggest one.
“If Jesus tells the rich man in Mark 10 to sell everything he owns, give it all to the poor, count his blessings in heaven, and then to come follow him, then why is that not an option for concerned Christians living in Lubbock, Texas as they come to the intersection of Mammon and Jesus?”
Yeah. When Jesus tells that rich man to do that, it is in direct response to that man’s question about what he must do to inherit eternal life! So it’s a big deal. Now, of course you may not want to sell all you have and give it to the poor either. And you may not sense that Jesus has demanded it of you. After all, he was talking to that particular man on that particular occasion, and so I need not think it has anything to do with me personally and you need not think it of you either on this occasion. I get that. But how can the charitable organizations of Lubbock, Texas all come together and train you that what Jesus tells that man is not even an option for you?
In fact, if you follow through on the argument(s) made by some of these “authorities” leading you in this training, they will have you provide loans to the poor and charge them interest. (A good rate, of course… in fact a charitable rate, but interest nonetheless!) And the Bible clearly prohibits exactly that! What happened to Jubilee and forgiveness of debt?
So here’s another question you might ask while you are there:
“Isn’t my offering of money, time, energy and skills to this charitable organization actually “enabling” the charitable organizations, the best selling authors, and in fact a whole industry to teach us not to do what Jesus says?”
What if I just gave a couple of dollars to the beggar instead?
Remember now, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE CHARITY INDUSTRY IS TRYING TO THWART!
If I go look at the charitable organization’s CEO’s refrigerator, will I find a beer or a bottle of wine in it? Where did the money come from to purchase that?
Isn’t this starting to get a little hypocritical? Sort of a log in your own eye kinda thingy???
If I go look at the charitable organization’s CEO’s search history on his computer in his office, will I find porn on it? Where did the money come from to purchase that computer, that office, that air-conditioning and the secretary? … oh… and the porn???
Does this mean that the charitable organization should not receive my money, my time, my energy?
(By their own logic, it does.)
Or does it mean there is a LOT of rethinking to do about the clash of cash and trash down at the intersection of Mammon and Jesus?
Well, I am committed to the notion that there is a lot of rethinking to do there. But I am also mindful that if you dare to ask the simple, honest, and important questions I outline here, you will be picking a fight.
I know, because I dared to ask.
I am now one of those “rogue” kind of “concerned Christians living in Lubbock, Texas.” I got a fight instead of honest answers. (Oh, and I lost the fight. I didn’t win anything. I didn’t want to beat anyone up, but maybe get some conviction where it counts would have been a good thing. But it got me in a fight, and I lost.)
So now I pose these questions to you. You, the concerned Christian living in Lubbock, Texas. Maybe I get some honest answers from you? Maybe some conviction?
Think about it.