Privilege: a Wake-up Call

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I don’t remember what I was doing, but somehow I stumbled on a website that would tell you demographic stats on specific US zip codes.

For kicks, I entered the zip code I grew up in.

For whatever reason, the results surprised me.

Compared to the rest of the US, this zip code has:

  • a high number of high school and college graduates
  • a high median income (though Kansas has a fairly low standard of living)
  • a higher than average number of married couples
  • 2/3 of adults working in white collar jobs
  • only 4% of its residents below the poverty line (national average is around 15%)

I was born into privilege.

Not only am I a part of the 4.5% of the world population who lives in the US, I’m among the 6% of that population that has a Master’s Degree.  While I myself don’t quite make enough to reach the US median household income in the US, it’s just me, so obviously my costs are much lower than most.

I was born (and raised) into privilege.

I thank God for the blessings He’s given me and my parents who gave me so much, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

I’m a numbers person, so when you show me my blessings numerically, it really sinks in.  I’ve always known that I was overwhelmingly blessed, but when everyone around me is too, it’s easy to forget.

These thoughts were already on my mind, when I started reading Radical.

Here are a few things that David Platt said that stood out to me:

“We are an affluent people living in an impoverished world.  If we make only $10,000 a year, we are wealthier than 84% of the world, and if we make $50,000 a year, we are wealthier than 99% of the world.” – p. 194

“But the reality is, if you and I have running water, shelter over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and some means of transportation (even if it’s public transportation), then we are in the top 15% of the world’s people for wealth.” – p. 115

“The reality is that most everything in our lives in the American culture would be classified as a luxury, not a necessity. The computer I am writing this book on, the spoon and fork I will eat my dinner with later this evening, and the bed and pillow I will sleep on tonight (in additon to many other things in my life) are all luxuries.” – p. 127

All this merely starts to illustrate how blessed we are in America.  Yet we, the Church, wrap ourselves up in our own cares, ignoring the extensive needs of those all around us (even if we have to close our eyes to them).  If you’re like me, these facts might make you pause for moment, but then you shut them out because they make life too uncomfortable.

I don’t want to live comfortably at the expense of others (and that’s what it is…I don’t “deserve” a better life and haven’t earned it…I didn’t choose to be born here, to my parents).

I’m still thinking through what the implications of all of this.  I don’t have everything (anything) figured out.

While I don’t have much “stuff” by American standards, I’m sure if I added up the costs of everything I owned, I’d be shocked.  I do have more than I need.

I’m sorely tempted to give some of my income away and turn around and spend the rest on my own excesses.  I can placate myself by saying that I give more than most.   But would I except that excuse from my own child?  “Mommy, I know I didn’t clean up my room like you asked, but I spent 2 minutes more on it than any of my friends.”

That’s not what God has called me to.

Photo by 96dpi

Book Review: Radical by David Platt

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream is about just that: rescuing American Christians from the deadly kudzu of the “American Dream.”

He’s not saying that America=evil or that everything within our culture is bad, but that there are harmful ideas that we have bought and followed without discernment, becoming normal in the American church.

I don’t really know where to start on this review.  In some ways, I only need to say: go out and buy it (it would be worth buying at twice its $10-12 price tag, and when you’re done with it, lend/give it to someone else).

When I first got my hands on this, I did what I do to every book: look to see how many actual pages it had (secret: I do the math to figure out how many pages I need to read in each book per day to finish it by the date that I want).  At the very end, I noticed it has 5 things he wants the reader to commit to, and leaves room for you to write out how you’re going to carry them out.  I read them before I read the rest of the book, and I thought, “Ehh, those are good, but I’ve heard all that before.”  But when I read the book and then got to that section?

You bet I was praying, asking God’s forgiveness for neglecting these simple things and praying through how I was going to re-implement them in my life.

This book was the perspective change that I needed.  This book is the perspective change that the American church needs.

If you want to know more about what Radical is about, check out the video on the bottom of the homepage of the book’s website.  You can even sign up to read the first chapter for free.  But really, you need to read chapters 6 (“How Much is Enough?: American Wealth in a World of Poverty”) and 7 (“There is No Plan B: Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional”).

Chapter 6 hits on the very topic God has been working on in me: that I’m abundantly wealthy (yes, in a worldly sense) and I squander that wealth on myself (more on this in an upcoming blog post).

In chapter 7, David Platt walks simply through 7 Biblical truths that makes participation in missions mandatory for all Christians (going, praying, sending, and/or supporting).  Nothing new for me, but this was the simplest and most logical presentation I’ve seen.  Kind of a “duh” thing.

While I’ve been blessed to have heard a lot of this before from the ministries I have participated in and my church that I love, I needed to hear it again.  The American Dream is so easy to get caught up in.  It’s easier to join in the pursuit of a better living, fun gadgets, and being well-dressed than it is to live sacrificially and simply so that I can bless others with the blessings He’s blessed me.  After all, I don’t want to be weird, do I?

But indeed, the Christian faith as laid out in the Bible is radical.  When we try to soften it’s commands and examples, we’re wrong.

I don’t know what else to say to convince you to read this book.

More about America

“Well, I got a degree, but I’m not going to let it ruin my life.” – Sully, Bones episode “The Girl in the Gator”

“No one around may see the black, indelible spots I am covered with, but I know that I–a criminal–have no right to be among these frank wide-open faces.” – We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, p. 140

“I never want to run away from anything because it is considered cool or fun by the secular world.  I also never want [to] run toward anything because it is considered glam-worthy.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 16

“I was born a seesaw, auntie, and nothing can ever prevent me from teetering.” – Philippa in Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“It’s a shame,” he said, “you don’t learn more about the countries you f*** with.” – An Aussie to an American in His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

“Though God wants us to protect our land, we keep treating it like dirt.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 106

“In 1995 the world spent less than US$250 million trying to extinguish the HIV epidemic. These days, Americans spend over eight times that amount, two billion dollars a year, just on Botox injections to extinguish their wrinkles.” – The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani, p. 20

“Exactly, just like children, we must always ask, ‘And what next?’ ” – We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, p. 175

“…it isn’t fair to fault Jesus for failing to offer answers to questions the culture wasn’t asking.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 85

“How very odd, to believe God gave you life, and yet not think that life asks more of you than watching TV.” – An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, p. 33

“Psalm 19:10 says that Scripture is sweeter than honey, but you’d never know that judging by some believers. You see, there are three basic kinds of Bible students. There are the ‘castor oil’ types. To them the Word is bitter–Yech!–but it’s good for what ails them. Then there is the ‘shredded wheat’ kind. To them Scripture is nourishing but dry. It’s like eating a bail of hay. But the third kind is what I call the ‘strawberries-and-cream’ folks. They just can’t get enough of the stuff. How did they acquire that taste? By feasting on the Word.” – Living By the Book by Howard and William Hendricks, p. 19

“If everyone on Earth actually consumed resources the way Americans do, experts estimate that it would take several Planet Earths just to sustain life.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 126

Book Review: Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt

I first heard about Green Like God from Carol (her review is here).  It sounded like a very interesting book.

And then I looked at the author and recognized the name; we had gone to seminary together.  Cool to know the author…or at least know of the author.  I promise that hasn’t influenced my review of this book…he blew me away in spite of the fact that we sat before the same teachers.

When I was about halfway through Green Like God, a friend asked me if this was a worthwhile book.  I said I thought so.  It wasn’t wowing me, but I enjoyed it and felt like there was some good stuff there.

And then I got to the second half of his book, “Our Assignment in God’s World.”  Merritt confronted me with facts that I’ve long since avoided…when most environmental horror facts are presented in a doom-and-gloom way, you become jaded and in my case, uncaring.

And then there was chapter 9, “The Enemy in Us All.”  It’s an absolutely must-read for every American pastor. Scratch that, for every American believer.

Our actions have consequences.  Our affluence is no excuse (if you are reading this right now, yes, you are affluent because you have regular access to a computer, among other blessings).  All the paint in the world won’t fix a broken building, but may mask it for a little while.

Merritt is right to point out that the blame for pollution and the destruction of creation (not to mention the exploitation of other peoples) rests largely on America.  We’ve allowed consumerism and materialism to be the American way.  If we don’t have to live in the filth (or at least we don’t feel like it), then what does it matter, right?

One particular passage struck me:

At the May 7, 2001, White House daily press briefing, Ari Fleischer, White House spokesperson for President George W. Bush, was asked a tough environmental question: “Does the president believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita–how much it exceeds any other citizens in any other country in the world–does the presdient believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?”

Without hesitiation, Fleischer snapped back, “That’s a big no.  The president believes that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life.  The American way of life is a blessed one.” (p. 117, emphasis added)

YIKES.  Nine years later, this attitude is still way too common.  What’s worse, we aren’t content to keep this me-first-and-only attitude to ourselves, but spread it around the globe.

So, yeah, I think this is definitely a must-read.  It’s about time someone with a balanced view and a level head addressed this issue.  Our environmental irresponsibility is neither the extinction of the human race nor is it a myth.

And Merritt is right: Christians have every reason to be the best at creation care (after all, our Savior took on human flesh), not the worst.

I’m off to put in to practice what I’ve learned.

I Do Love Being an American, Really

“All the questions I have given you are very important,” he said.  “But the most important question you can ask is, ‘Where is Jesus in your theory?’ ” – quoted in Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 83

“You held out your arms, I walked away / Insolent, I spurned your face / Squandering the gifts you gave to me / and holding close forbidden things” – “The Prodigal,” Sovereign Grace music

“Most Americans don’t hate the environment.  They don’t start forest fires to watch them burn or refuse to carpool because they think the sky looks prettier with a sooty grey hue.  They just think they have more important things to do.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 50

“I do know my own mind,” protested Anne.  “The trouble is my mind changes and I have to get acquainted with it all over again.” – Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“[C]hurchmen who look at God, so to speak, through the wrong end of the telescope, so reducing him to pigmy proportions, cannot hope to end up as more than pigmy Christians, and clear-sighted people naturally want something better than this.” – Knowing God by J. I. Packer

“My tendency to pursue more and better is impossible to reconcile with the divine plan.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 133

“You’re not racing?” the officer asked, chaffing him.
“My race is a harder one, ” Alexey Alexandrovitch responded deferentially.
And though the answer meant nothing, the general looked as though he had heard a witty remark from a witty man, and fully relished la pointe de la sauce.
-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.  There is a saying that “paper is more patient than man;” it came back to me on one of my slightly melancholy days, while I sat chin in hand, feeling too bored and limp even to make up my mind whether to go out or stay at home.” – Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

“Overconsumption of energy, and virtually every resource imaginable, has become ‘the American way of life.’  What’s worse is that Americans are the only ones who don’t seem to realize it.” – Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt, p. 117

“But do you know, they interest me more than blind conformity to tradition–somebody else’s tradition–that I see among our own friends.  It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country.” – Ellen Olenska, Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“While entertaining is having guests with everything prepared and served correctly, hospitality is having people feel comfortable in my home and happy to be there no matter what we are doing or eating.” – Laurie Twibell, Practicing Hospitality, p. 64

“A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.” – Knowing God by J. I. Packer


“I didn’t want to be treated as a girl-like-all-others, but as Anne-on-her-own-merits.” – Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

“Only women are called on to prove that they are ‘comfortable in this way.” (by taking off their clothes in front of cameras) – Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit, p. 156

” ‘What you mean is,’ I said caustically, ‘that religion is really just for idiots, weaklings, and defectives.’  ‘Oh, dear,’ Jennifer grinned rather nervously at me.  ‘How awful.  But yes…yes, if I’m honest, I suppose that is what I think.” – The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong, p. 114

“Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I have a forty-eight hour day.  I have the same amount of time as everyone else.” – Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley, p. 128

“…nowhere in the Establishment clause have I ever seen the words, ‘God-believing people are to be relegated beyond considered judgment.” - Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit, p. 191

“You’ve known me for two years, Sweets.  You should expect to be impressed by me.” – Bones on Bones episode “The rocker in the Rinse Cycle”

“My mathematics–until now the only firm and immutable island in my entire dislocated world–has also broken off its moorings, is also floating, whirling.” - We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, p. 101

“Unfortunately, if a man does not behave like a gentleman and treat women with respect, there is very little a woman can say to change his behavior.” – Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit, p. 277

“Knowing His standards and goals for marriage helps two individuals live together for a greater common goal than their own pleasure and preferences.” – Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley, p. 94

“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.” – Derek Loux

“We hear so much from feminists about not being ‘objectified by men,’ but we are learning that self-objectification is not a path to lasting confidence, either.” – Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit, p. 165-166

FQF: Hermitess, Freedoms, and Cheese

1.  Ever think about moving to Alaska to live as a hermit?

If I moved somewhere to be a hermit, it most certainly wouldn’t be Alaska. Arizona, probably.

2.  For all the freedoms that people in the United States enjoy what are some of the ways that these people oppress themselves willingly and why?

Well, I mentioned a big one yesterday. Anything else that you can think of?

3.  When was the last time you were up all night?

When I was traveling to Turkey, I think.

4.  How would you like to die?

Besides the cliché “in my sleep,” I’d go for anything instantaneous.

5.  Finish the words:

Ch: cheese
An: Anglican
Ge: geek
So: social
Ne: next
Bo: boo (though I accidentally typed it “book”)
Wi: William
E: empty

Taking Liberties with Liberty

If you don’t like something in the American culture at large, is it okay to say it? Fight it? Encourage lawmakers to restrict it?

If the issue is the treatment of animals, the emission of greenhouse gases, or the enforcement of immigration laws, the answer seems to be yes.

But what if the issue is moral? Limiting pornography distribution, the defense of the traditional family, or the ending of legal abortion?

The answer seems to be no.

I know we Americans pride ourselves on our freedom.  I’m thankful to live here, truly.  But when did our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” come to mean “you mind your own business and I do whatever I very well please” ?

I’m okay if that “whatever” is just a difference of opinion.  Or just stupid.  But when it is something harmful to others or trashes and distorts one of God’s good gifts, a line has been crossed.

Civil discussion encouraged.

Photo by Beverly & Pack

Quotes, a Mid-Week Edition

“If what a person wants is his life, he tends to be quiet about wanting anything else.  Once the life begins to seem secure, one feels the freedom to complain.”  - Ann Patchett, Bel Canto, p. 56

“Good arguments will not convince anyone who is not open to being convinced.” – Frank Turek, Correct, Not Politically Correct, p. 8

“I suppose it’s terribly sexist of me assuming that all of the terrorists were male. It’s a modern world, after all. One should suppose a girl can grow up to be a terrorist just as easily as a boy.” – Messner, character in Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, p. 147

“Many have become immune to Christianity by contracting a mild and unbiblical form of it.” – Randy Alcorn, If God is Good, p. 35

“Americans have a bad habit of thinking like Americans.” – Roxanne Coss, character in Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, p. 222

“Anyone who observed us would conclude the purpose of all academic discussion was to provide the grounds for becoming further entrenched in our original positions.” – Richard Russo, Straight Man, p. 201

“You’re young, you’re Black, and you’re on trial. What else do [the jurors] need to know?” – Kathy O’Brien, character in Monster by Walter Dean Myers

“In our reckless pursuit of self-gratification we impose upon ourselves gnawing emptiness rather than the joy and contentment that comes in loving God and others.” Randy Alcorn, If God is Good, p. 64

“If the Bible tells us what life is and how to live it, then biblical literacy isn’t an option. I need it. We all do.” – Rachel Starr Thompson, “What We Don’t Know”

Revealing Quotes

“She gave him a smile in which hope and knowledge were going at it, bare-knuckled, equally and eternally matched.”  – Empire Falls by Richard Russo, p. 161

“…but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honor, when those principles point one way and when her affections, and the interest which grow out of them, point the other?” – Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, p. 176-177

“She emphasized what few wanted to accept, that some people did win Trivial Pursuit: The Deity Looks Edition and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it, except come to terms with the fact you’d only played Trivial Pursuit: John Doe Genes and come away with three pie pieces.” – Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, p. 90

“If you’re white they don’t let you grow up to adulthood if you haven’t mastered the art of pretending to say one thing while actually intending to do another.” - Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card, p. 153

“But if there are no gods, why are we so hungry to believe in them?” – Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card, p. 177

“I don’t want to be married just to be married.  I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, that I can’t be silent with.” – Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, p. 8

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” – Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, p. 53

“To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid.  A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.” – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, p. 1o4

“Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.” – Future Grace by John Piper, p. 221

” ‘The United States of America has not the option as to whether it will or it will not play a great part in the world.’ Roosevelt would argue.  ‘It must play a great part.  All that it can decide is whether it will play that part well or badly.’ ” – FDR quoted in The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, p. 333