Monday, February 11, 2013

Earn All You Can. Save All You Can. Give All You Can.

"I say unto you, Make unto yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into the everlasting habitations." Luke 16:9

Over this weekend I read three long articles on the plight of temporary warehouse workers, the victims of “just in time” delivery chains perfected by Walmart, Amazon, and other new generation retailers. In order to avoid legal complications, these organizations use independent contractors operating warehouses not owned by their corporation. In turn these organizations use temporary service agencies to supply cheap labor that is provided on an as needed basis. The workers are mostly displaced refugees from the collapse of the American factory or immigrants with questionable legal status. Over the last 20 years, many American workers lost health insurance, retirement benefits, and the most fundamental aspects of traditional job protection rights when their factories were closed and sent to other countries. The immigrants will basically tolerate just about anything rather than return to their country of origin. It is a very bad situation.

We live in a time of economic, cultural, technological, and moral flux. The America of the 1950s and 1960s, the world where I grew up is gone. The high paying secure factory jobs of the past are gone. Traditional white collar jobs as well as brick and mortar stores have been destroyed by the PC and the Internet. Even the three networks, PBS, and the local newspaper are no longer the gatekeepers of our perception of the news.

With the collapse of what I term “The Covenant” between all the well defined and understood elements of society, moral certainty has collapsed along with material certainties, and cultural trust. Almost half of all marriages end in divorce. Abortion is common. Today in America, 29% of white children are born to unmarried women, 53% of Latino children are born to unmarried women, and 73% of black children are born to unmarried women. The use of addictive drugs is epidemic. Immorality of all sorts is tolerated, even accepted, at every level of society.

John Wesley was faced with a situation that is very similar to the situation that the Church in America faces today. Over the course of his lifetime, England changed from a rural, agrarian, feudal society to a more urban, industrial, proto-capitalistic society. Peasants were driven from their land into what Blake described as “Dark Satanic mills,” and into coal mines that were even more dangerous and horrible. Cut loose from their cultural roots and moral standards, Englishmen reacted as any humans would in such a situation. Drunkenness and prostitution were common in the lower classes. The upper classes were corrupt and equally degenerate. Somehow Wesley found a way to speak Jesus into this mess. Wesley equipped his followers with the tools necessary to face the disruptions of the industrial revolution. By championing hard work, sobriety, and thrift Wesley gave the criminals and uneducated laborers who came to Jesus as a result of his ministry what they needed to escape the mines, the factories, and the gallows. Instead of finding a short unpleasant route to death and eternal damnation, they became small businessmen or land holders capable of supporting themselves and their families.

The proper use of money was an important element of John Wesley’s Methodism. He taught, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”

Earn all you can has its limits. John Wesley taught that your occupation should not harm your mind or your body. Guess warehouse temp fail the first test. He taught that in our occupation we should treat others according to the Golden Rule. He opposed gambling, usurious interest rates, pawnbrokers, and physicians who would prolong a sickness to maximize their profits. Opium was a common drug in those days, sound familiar.

In teaching the principle, save all you can, Wesley is preaching against gluttony, drunkenness, costly apparel, the spoiling of children, or anything that promotes the pride of life. His own life was a model of Christian poverty. I have read that he lived on the same amount of money he spent as an undergraduate during his entire adult life. This might have something to do with his unhappy marriage that ended in permanent separation. If I tried to force my wife to live like an undergraduate, my marriage would be justly short, nasty, and brutish. Exercise some common sense. If you buy a house that is valued at about 3 times one of your annual incomes, if you limit the cost of a car to 1/3 your annual income, if you graduate from college with less debt than you will earn in your first year on the job; you will probably be OK. If you live extravagantly on borrowed money your financial life will not end well.

Give all you can. The early Methodists were dead serious about this principle. They were famous for supporting and encouraging the poor found in their numbers. They not only provided material goods but they also provided the poor with an education and the social support system necessary to extricate the new believer from a life of poverty.

John Wesley Quote:

"[Wealth] is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless; We may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death."

1 comment:

  1. Really like the quote at the end. Thanks for sharing.