“Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.” – Psalm 41:1
“Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” – Proverbs 22:9
As I approach the next chapter of life, many things will be changing, and they have me doing a lot of thinking. One of the major changes in my life is that I will not be earning a paycheck for my work. Rather, I will be living off of what financial planners call “retirement income.”
I have worked in full-time jobs for 44 years (counting my year of pastoral internship that was modestly subsidized, but not counting part-time work for two years in seminary).
Like many (all?) of you, I have worked hard. I have given my employers my very best efforts. Financially speaking, I have done relatively well. Now that I have clarity as to my financial plan and budget in the next chapter of life, I can take a deep breath. Unlike many other people, finances will not be a worry for me in my next chapter of life.
Some people who reach their retirement years might say that they have “earned it.” I’m not thinking that way.
Rather, I am thinking that I have been very blessed, that I have had abundant opportunities, that I have even been privileged and advantaged. Because I believe that I have been advantaged, it makes me more sympathetic to those who have not been. Because I believe that I have been privileged, I am influenced to respond more generously for the sake of those who have not been.
We don’t hear this message often (because those who are wealthy own the messaging!), but the truth of the matter is that the system is rigged in many ways to benefit the wealthy more than the poor! In fact, we tend to hear just the opposite; that we live in a welfare state, with many benefits for people who are poor.
With this in mind, I was stunned by a column in the June issue of The Christian Century written by Lutheran pastor, Peter Marty, who is also the editor of the magazine. The title of the column is an eye-catcher itself: Welfare for the Wealthy.
You should definitely read the whole article for yourself. But I want to share his words verbatim because to summarize his thoughts with my words would not do him justice.
“I’ve noticed that whenever I write about privilege – advantages that have nothing to do with what I deserve or how hard I work – conservative critics let me have it. They’re ready to challenge any hint of a suggestion that their own economic status, religion, skin color, or educational background might confer similar unearned advantages on their lives. Preferring to believe that everyone exits the womb with equal opportunity, they dismiss the idea that tailwinds power large segments of their life while persistent headwinds thwart the advancement of other lives.
Once we confuse the benefits accompanying our unearned privilege with what we’re certain we deserve, it becomes easy to look down on others who struggle. We revert to a playbook that disparages the poor for being poor. We assume that income support to the needy generates indigence, that government funding of food and nutrition programs incentivizes laziness and creates a culture of dependency. Misleading stereotypes about the poor quickly lead to their harassment....
I have a friend who believes the poor feel entitled to welfare. I have yet to hear him suggest that the rich feel entitled to tax breaks and write-offs. The bulk of government handouts in the United States go to those above the poverty line, disproportionately benefiting the rich....
Current tax law allows companies to deduct half of all business meal expenses, a government commitment that puts its spending on food stamps in helpful perspective.”
Marty goes on to identify landlord deductions, mortgage interest deductibility, lower tax rates on long-term capital gains, and Social Security taxes not levied at higher income levels as other forms of welfare for the wealthy.
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection is a generous congregation. Month after month we offer opportunities to share our wealth with the poor and needy and the response is significant.
As we “consider the poor” it might be beneficial to note any hostility that derives from the mistaken notion that our wealth is a virtue or from the fanciful idea that everything we enjoy in life has been earned or deserved.
This is surely something that I want to keep in mind as I enter the next chapter of life. Doing so will encourage me to be more generous in sharing my bread with the poor.
Perhaps one of the most important ways that we can “share bread” is to advocate for just laws and policies that provide assistance to our needy neighbors.
The Farm Bill, massive legislation that is renewed by Congress every five years, is currently being negotiated. You’ll hear more about it from our Hunger Task Force later this summer. Consider the poor when you evaluate this legislation. Advocacy (e.g., Bread for the World offering of letters) is “bread sharing” too.
I do not believe that I deserve the income stream that I’ll garner in the next chapter of my life, but I do believe that I have been a faithful steward of my blessings and I am deeply gratified for them. As I hope we discover in the month of July from our stewardship focus, gratitude inspires the desire to be generous and have the heart of a joyful giver!
For those interested in going deeper into this subject, I recommend the book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. It examines the stigma of poverty, the effects of the 1996 reform of welfare policy that had been in place for 60 years to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the desperate survival measures taken by our neighbors living in poverty.