Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rubbing Elbows with the 1%

In my calling, I associate with a wide range of people of various backgrounds and of various economic strata.  I deal with widows and widowers living off of social security alone; I deal with folks who have made millions; I deal with folks in between both extremes.  I've been out of my comfort zone more than a few times as I've visited with folks. 

I personally would be considered middle class.  I'm not ashamed to put my salary and such forward--even though we're willing to talk about our individual salaries less than we talk about sex in our culture now.  I take home roughly $49,000 per year.  Since I am considered self-employed by the Social Security administration, just over 15% of that goes to Uncle Sam.  My housing is provided by the church I work at, so if you include utilities and repairs, add roughly $400 per month.  My family's medical and dental is also paid for: roughly $30,000.  I also get a professional expense fund, continuing education, and a housing equivalency allowance.  All told, my entire compensation package is just over six figures.  Yet, by strictly take home pay, I'm considered lower-middle class.  I personally consider myself very blessed. 

As a family, we give 10% of our take home pay back to the church.  We also support numerous charities.  Further, I don't recall ever turning down one of the younger members of my congregation who has asked me (or my wife) to purchase something for a school fundraiser or an extra-curricular activity.  It is our joy to give and help out.

We don't do many extravagant things as a family.  When we travel, it is generally to visit our family members.  The cruise my wife and I took last year was a really big deal.  Normally, we don't stay in hotels when we go some place.  We stay with friends.  We don't buy a lot of extra stuff.  Once in a while we splurge on something nice, but normally, we carefully watch where we spend our money.  We have to with three kids and looming costs for extra-curricular activities, school related costs, and eventually college.

Such is the financial life of a middle class person. 

Dealing with those on each side of where I sit financially is eye opening.  For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to talk about dealing with those on the upper end of the economic spectrum, especially since in the past few months, the 1% have been getting quite a bit of attention--most of it very negative.

Last week, one of my members had surgery in Houston.  He's a partner in a large law firm, and he has argued several cases in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.  He has been compensated well for his expertise.  As I sat with his wife during his surgery, I had the opportunity to meet several more of the friends within his circle.  As with Dorothy when she realized she wasn't in Kansas, so too did I realize I wasn't traveling in my normal circle.

I had a great opportunity to listen to this group of people talk about the things they were doing, and perhaps it was only this particular group of people, but their conversation was quite intriguing.  They spoke of much of the charity work they conducted; one gentleman, an artist, told of how he donated numerous works of art for auction across state lines.  Others spoke of their work at the Nehemiah Institute run by First Presbyterian Church in Houston--a school for inner city children.  They spoke of having fellowship times with their Bible Study groups.  They spoke some about their travels and the things their children were involved with.  There was no pretensions with anything.  There was no snobbery.  These were honest folks who were striving to do good things in the world who also just happened to be blessed with wealth.

Now, take that verbal picture I just painted and compare it to much of what we hear in the news media regarding the 1%.  Do we hear such things? 

Not hardly.  Now, it is true this group of folks might be the exception rather than the rule, but if that is the case, then I have been blessed to run into most of the exceptions.  Blessed to a fault, I guess because I personally haven't run into any "bad" apples who are consumed with greed and don't care how they get wealth.  The 1%ers that I know are generous, caring people who have shown it through their actions and their contributions to all sorts of needs. 

Are there some selfish ones out there who don't care about sharing their blessing with others?  I have no doubt.  But I have learned something about those with whom I've rubbed elbows with: they are people just like me, except they have more money in the bank.  They laugh.  They cry.  They have problems with relationships.  They understand forgiveness.  They love God and serve their neighbor.  And they don't deserve to be dehumanized anymore than the poor deserved to be dehumanized. 

Our job in the Church is to bring all into the fold of Jesus Christ: rich, poor, and the in between; the hurt, the healed; the sick and the well.  We aren't given the option of being nasty to our brothers and sisters--no matter where they lie on the economic scale. 

If you are skeptical of this post, so be it.  I simply extend to you an invitation to meet the people I have rubbed elbows with.  Perhaps then it will change your perspective a bit and help you see (to paraphrase Dr. Seuss) a person's a person no matter how rich.


Kathy said...

Now that's good! I could not agree more -- I have tried to say the same thing over the years, and, in my church, have been completely shot down. We Catholics have something called "The Preferential Option for the Poor." I think that is totally contrary to Scripture. Jesus loves everybody -- equally!!!

Kathy said...

... I should add that the preferential option for the poor has to do with Liberation Theology -- and as far as I know this has been disapproved by Pope Benedict....

David said...

Very good post and I appreciate your insights concerning general information and criticism offered by the media. I have been fortunate to rub elbows as you say, and have found much the same to be true. One particular celebrity often comes to our church on the days we distribute groceries and he, along with his two sons pitch right in. His car is filled with goods for donation, and he ensures our pantry is always filled with good things. Such stories don't get mentioned often enough, and when they do they are met with skepticism. Thanks for lifting up the faithful efforts of God's people who willingly share that which they are given...who do so without regard to how much they are given.