I trust that you have had your flu shot this year; I’ve had mine. I’m hoping it works this time; last year’s was a “fail” (at least that’s what I thought while I was lying in the hospital with simultaneous double pneumonia and the flu–which I thought was entirely unfair–surely I could have shared at least one of the pneumonias with someone…anyone).
The very wise, fifteen-year-old emergency room physician advised me that I had waited “too long” to get my flu shot. She said that it needed to “cook” (her word) in my system for a while to be completely effective. [Does anyone else mind that flu vaccine manufacturers are allowed to “cook” their anti-flu juice in our systems?]
But there is apparently another kind of “flu” virus at work out there. It’s not Influenza; it’s Affluenza. The most recent case of which was diagnosed and reported in Texas.
Dateline Tarrant County, Texas: A Texas teenager has been spared juvenile detention for four deaths he caused while operating under the influence. The judge ordered probation and therapy. The teen’s defense team argued that the young man had “been a victim of his family’s enormous wealth.”
The psychologist who testified for the defense in the trial used the term “Affluenza” (from the 2001 book by the same title) to describe the teenager’s plight. It seems that the sad, young man had been so often afflicted by his parents saying, “Yes,” to his every whim, that any notion of personal responsibility for his drunken driving was unreasonable. His family’s “enormous wealth” degraded his moral faculties; the weight of Affluenza broke his “I shouldn’t do that” meter.
This would be perplexing and heartrending if there was just this one instance. But, sadly, I sometimes think our entire culture has fallen over and hit its collective head on a huge rock. Because, truthfully, the “very rich” aren’t the only ones suffering from Affluenza. We all, it seems to me, catch a touch of it from time to time. Not everybody’s Affluenza results in traffic fatalities but it is debilitating nonetheless.
Affluenza also seems to be horrifically contagious–striking irrespective of socio-economic status or Christian identity. It can become deeply ingrained and doggedly take hold even among God’s people in the church. Affluenza frequently appears in the form of entitlement that seriously derails our ability to be “all in” with Jesus and available to partner with Him in His purposes.
We live in times often characterized by not merely a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, but by a more sinister, “You owe me,” mindset. Think about it. Our government is increasingly the deep pocket for a massive array of knowingly labeled “Entitlement Programs.” Even in (perhaps particularly noticeable in) the church there is a recurring plethora of self-centered emphases that can derail both genuine Christian community and the effectiveness of our witness to the wider culture.
Of course, we tell ourselves, it’s not the wealth, per se, that is the problem; it’s our attitudes toward it (it’s the love of money, not money itself which is the root of all kinds of evil) and it’s what we do with our affluence (being good stewards not bad stewards) that counts. But the simple truth is that, unless we take active steps to derail the onset of Affluenza, it can easily ensnare. And wealth is so insidious that we can have Affluenza for years unawares.
I’ve previously posted about generational besetting sins and, therein, acknowledged that, irrespective of generational demographics, we share common sinful proclivities. Have you heard any of these (spoken/thought any of these) church-related evidences of entitlement? Wondering: “How will they minister to me?” or “Will the preaching speak to me?” or “I hope I like the worship team,” or “Are the leaders ‘genuine’ enough for me?” or “I wonder if they have the right programs for my kids?” You can dress up the cultural particulars in Boomer, Buster, or Millennial garb, but the questions, at their core, are the same ones–centered around self and in pursuit of the latest flavor of “You owe me.” It’s Affluenza.
Oftentimes inoculation doesn’t work for Influenza and I’m not pretending that it will work here, but I have to hope we can provide a way to prevent a pandemic of “Affluenza” and perhaps curtail its consequences among those already infected.
So, here’s the Affluenza shot: “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). “Hang on,” you say, “that’s just another bloggily simplistic cure for such an insidious problem.” I don’t think so. Coming off the celebrations of Christmas (God’s great gift) and looking ahead to Epiphany (the Wise Guys’ response of gifts to the Newborn King), I think there is something to embrace about the simplicity of giving that can overcome our shared tendency toward Affluenza.
New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg develops the notion of material giving in this way:
“First, if wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy, particularly with those who are largely victims of circumstances outside their control. Second, if wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it. Third, if stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives. Fourth, if certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of [Blomberg’s] book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world. Fifth, if holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances.
‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying more often, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more of these riches away’”(Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 247, 253–emphases added).
I would widen Blomberg’s summary of application related to material wealth.* In addition to reorienting our thinking about monetary giving, we can all, I believe, consider the giving of ourselves in more fully orbed ways.
We can move toward a giving of ourselves that transcends merely money or stuff and that includes time and energy and a willingness to transition our questions from what’s owed us to what we can provide. In the Body of Christ, questions like these can help reorient us away from Affluenza: “How can I pray for those who minister here?” “Who should I approach to see how I can pitch in?” “Am I asking God to bless all those here in worship today?” And, if we sense a ministry need (even one borne from personal ministry desires), perhaps we can ponder this thought: “Since God has laid this ministry need on my heart, maybe He is calling me to help be part of its implementation.”
Perhaps it’s long past time to stop worrying about what we’re due in order to more earnestly consider what we’re to do.
*P.S. I do not intend to imply that Dr. Blomberg’s application recommendations are somehow deficient or any less robust. Please delight (and challenge) yourself with a read of his entire book.
© All rights reserved. Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.
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