Don’t Heap Contempt On the Poor, Ever. Even if you think they ‘deserve’ it.

So, some colleagues (whom I also count as friends) and I came across this ridiculous list of “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day” on Dave Ramsey’s blog. While I hear that Ramsey’s work has been helpful to many, we were taken aback by the context-free presentation of these (unverified) statistics, all of which paint the rich as enlightened, healthy, intelligent, benevolent, disciplined and the poor as…well, the opposite of all that.

Some things on the list were patently ridiculous, such as #7:

“70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% for poor.”

(Could that have something to do with the fact that poor children of working age have to, you know, GET PAID for their work?)

Anyway, Caryn Rivadeneira, Marlena Graves, and I have offered our responses to this piece in a group post. Below are some of my thoughts from that piece. Click through to read the entire three-part post.

From Proverbs, we might conclude that God rewards the hardworking with wealth, while poverty is the result of laziness. The book is full of aphorisms like, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (10:4) and “Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (19:13).

This idea—that people who are poor are poor simply because they haven’t cultivated the right habits—gets labeled as biblical, but tends to foster a contempt for the poor that’s anything but.

Scripture reminds us many times poverty itself is by no means a cursed state (Prov. 15:16) and condemns contempt for the poor: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him” (Prov. 14:31). Deuteronomy 15:7-8 warns Israelites not to be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”

The Bible doesn’t indicate that people must be worthy of such generosity; no provision made for excluding the person from charity because of laziness. We see that kindness and generosity are to be given without reservation, without restriction. Perhaps this is because all good things—including the ability to work hard—come from divine grace. The prosperity that can follow hard work is not exclusively our natural and inevitable reward, but in fact a gift from God.

{Read the whole piece here.}

Proverbs for Social Media

These days, if you want to publish a book, you pretty much have to have a blog and to use social media like Facebook and Twitter. And that’s not an entirely bad thing: in the year-plus that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve found it to be a good thing–far more energizing than draining. While there are certainly days that I think ‘what’s next? I’m out of ideas…’ most of the time I find that writing a blog post actually awakens new ideas and gets my writing going. (See my colleague Amy Julia Becker’s excellent post on the Redbud Writer’s Guild blog: “Want to write a book? Start a Blog.”)

As for Facebook and Twitter, well, they can certainly be the trivial time-wasters that many people believe them to be, but they can also foster meaningful connections and conversations between people. They have value.

Nonetheless, one of the things that is difficult about blogging and using social media is that they are relentlessly momentary. They are disposable and fleeting. And by their very design, they insist that we comment and “like” and react somehow more or less instantaneously. They want us to speak, to share our opinion, to make a statement. In a world where ‘going viral’ leads to book deals and movie deals or at least to 15 minutes in the spotlight, the incentive to offer quick, outrageous reactions is high.

Anyone who has ever read the Old Testament book of Proverbs knows that there is quite a lot in there about words and speech. The Hebrew Bible is pretty obsessed with words and with their power: the creation of the world, after all, is spoken of as a speech-act. How a person uses words is understood as fairly powerful, for good or for ill. It’s also understood as reflective (maybe even constitutive) of who that person is and what they are about.

The proverb that comes to mind again and again when I think of social media and blogging, and my place in those things, is this:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2, NRSV)

Often I feel the tyranny of the news-hook (that’s my buddy Ellen’s phrase–check out her article on it!) and have this sense that when something comes up in the news or on a blog that’s more popular than mine or in a Twitter exchange between “notables” I must respond, and quickly. That’s what you do if you want pageviews, followers, retweets, ‘likes,’ and so forth.

I won’t lie: sometimes that’s fun. I get that little jolt of newsroom-energy right in my own kitchen as I tap out some response to something, somewhere, that’s hot right now!

But I fear that pleasure is pleasure in expressing personal opinion. It’s not necessarily pleasure in understanding. 
And I fear, too, that the more foolish pleasure of expression will eclipse the deeper pleasure in understanding as we all get more and more linked into our social networks. Because that does not bode well for the writing and reading of good books, the love of which, for many of us, is the aim of all this blogging and Facebooking and tweeting.

All this isn’t to say that I don’t see value in social media. I certainly do. I just use those media mindful of the possibility that hitting “publish” may mark me as a fool, and that the real reward is in the understanding of–not the airing of–a perspective.