The Golden Jaguar

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So, as you know I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty and finances and inequities of being born where and to whom you’re born. I often think that as a single woman I would be ridiculed in a large part of the world; I would be forced to marry someone I didn’t love for the sake of my family name. In Mormonism, I would be unable to reach the highest heaven without my husband calling out my secret temple name. And yet, by God’s grace, I am an American, born into a hard-working decent family who gave me every opportunity to succeed. And I am a daughter of God, whose grace covers me.

And I go to a white-collar church. My girls come with me most Sundays; sometimes four girls and two babies. Last week, two girls and one baby. The girls are almost the only Blacks at our church. And probably the only ones living in poverty. The girls are a big hit at church; everyone wants to “pass the peace” with them and ooh and ahhh over the babies. This both bothers and encourages me. Bothers because of my own issues (I would like to have a baby, Lord, and I’ve lived an upright life. I deserve a baby. Can we say entitlement, Judy? It’s ugly, I know.) And it encourages me because the girls feel loved and special, and they like coming back to church each week. Plus, they think Jeff, our pastor, is cute. He is. And we get lunch afterwards, which they also like.

I’m confident we have a dozen or so millionaires in our pews. Our parking lot is lined with Lexuses (Lexi?), SUVs and one golden Jaguar. It’s the one golden Jaguar that I obsessed about during my last Sunday afternoon nap. It’s all I could think about: How can a Christian justify driving a car of such ostentation. Gold! Jaguar! Please! Even if it is a small dent in your income, what it says is so over the top!

Jesus had no place to rest his head, and yours is on a “Suedecloth premium leather headliner” in a Jaguar. A gold Jaguar! (When I told my friend about this, she asked if I would be less offended if it weren’t gold. And I said I think I would.)

I began to think about how and what I was going to say to this unsuspecting member of my church. I was going to ask him if he knew that almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day; 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. Did that matter to him when he was cruising around in his Jaguar, his gold Jaguar?

I really had a good case going on in my head to convict this fellow of his neglect of the 25,000 children who die in poverty each day. I really had a case for ostracizing his ostentation. I was pretty worked up, there “napping” in my bed—in my big bed, with nice sheets, in my safe home that has a garage, a security system and a full refrigerator.

God’s Spirit moved me from confrontation with Mr. Jaguar to confrontation with myself: Am I loving my girls well? Effectively? What of all the mistakes I’ve made over the years? Indeed, they think I’m rich. And why wouldn’t they compared to their home, their daily wondering about food, their tricky doctors appointments and limited opportunities. I realized that I was feeling very alone in my ministry to my friends, especially after my car had been “stolen” by one of them, and I couldn’t get it back for three days and even then, it was smoky and disgustingly dirty. My kindness had been abused.

I felt very alone in trying to reason why my 15-year-old would lie to me about her sex life when the evidence proved quite productive (a second pregnancy already. I wept). I felt alone in wondering how I would fit them all in my now smoked-filled car when I already broke the law by not using two car seats so everyone can fit on a trip to the pool. I felt alone in figuring out my own finances for the future, figuring in two new babies (another sister, who is married, is also pregnant again but no one is working). Sitting in a wealthy church pointing fingers felt better than facing my aloneness in this struggle with alleviating poverty and fighting the alienation of the Fall (see my notes on Keller’s talk about alienation).

It was a good lesson for me. When I feel alone in these battles, I tend to blame others, comparing and judging their outsides with my insides. Mr. Jaguar could be giving 98% of his income to fight poverty; I have no idea. He could be using it as his own “fig leaf” to cover his insecurity about his status. But I’m glad God brought me from judgment to compassion—for Mr. Jaguar (if it is his cover for “success”), for myself as I do my best with God’s help, for my friends’ and in the inequality to which they were born. Judgment to compassion, that’s my prayer.

Still struggling, but grateful.

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16 Comments on “The Golden Jaguar

  1. Judy, this is SUCH a tough topic. The “line” that individuals tend to draw over what is ostentatious is simply in the eye of the beholder. It is so hard not to judge!!! Especially when we understand and have seen the sobering statistics in person regarding worldwide poverty. Thanks for your humility… and honesty.

    Confession: we drive a Mercedes. A gold one. A pastor & his wife. But it’s almost 10 years old…and the radio doesn’t work… surely that negates the ostentatious nature of a Benz? 😉

  2. It seems I’m hearing teaching about covetousness from numerous ministries lately. I have come to realize it is a sin that we overlook in our U.S. culture. Our whole economy is based on people always wanting more of everything instead of being satisfied with what they have.

    I admire you being vulnerable and transparent about where you are. I will bring an Edith Schaeffer book I’m reading to the office so you can read a meditation she wrote about judging others and God. Reading Romans 2:1-4 was very convicting to me.

    • Thanks, Debra, you know I love resources! I doubt what I’m feeling is covetousness; I have no desire for an expensive, showy car. The judgement issue is all mine!

  3. I love your thoughts on this Judy! I have had similar thoughts and sturggled with judgement and compassion regarding people who choose to spend their money differently than I would. Right now I too go to a “high end” church if you will…..First Pres, Orlando. There are some great people there with good hearts who truly serve the Body of Christ. I used to judge this church and think I would never be a part of it, but I was wrong. Rich or poor, we are all on a journey…. It was the widow who gave everything she had (her last 2 mites) that Jesus praised…..I don’t know ANYONE who does that. And if I do, they must be humble enough to keep it to themselves.

    By the way, our church is hosting Tony Campolo in January. You may enjoy hearing him speak on the topic of poverty.

    • Oh, please remind me when Campolo comes; I’d love to hear him. I have made a number of friends at 1st Pres, thanks to The Jobs Partnership and Mercy Drive initiative.

  4. I couldn’t help but think what if Mr. Jaguar is single and looking for the “perfect” woman to share his wealth (and heart for people less fortunate) with. I could picture in my mind you confronting him and then him asking you out…hmmmmm.

    God does work in mysterious ways! :o)

    • Michelle: You always crack me up. Mr. Jaguar is indeed married. And I like him as a person! That’s the irony of the judgement. The wealthy American, me included, is wearing me out!

  5. As you often do, you’ve got my heart and head spinning around looking for a loop hole to crawl through. The thing is, while I can say that I’ve never owned a Jag or Benz or a herd of Lexi, I’ve imagined it with longing. My Jag was never gold, though.

    Thank you for letting us see more than one side of your story. This is the reality of our humanity — we are a mingled, mangled, misaligned lump of stuff. We are hopeless except for the fact that the One who is the source of all that is good has chosen to mold and make us into something He can use. I love seeing His fingerprints on you and am thankful that you let us glimpse the places where His influence is not close to perfection. It give me hope.

  6. Praying for you, Judy! Marshall and I are struggling with the EXACT same things: poverty, being an upper middle-class AMerican Christian, sacrificial living/giving etc. Have you read Crazy Love by Francis Chan? Very challenging regarding all of this.

    But God seems to be up to something – b/c a lot of upper middle class Christians seem to be questioning the status quo and asking questions like “How do we help the poor and not become discouraged?”

    Anyway – on my short list of heros, you are way up there. Honored to know you and help in some small way with your work.

    • Please tell me what you learn, Tammy! I know the Sovereign Grace churches are wrestling with Keller and Piper and others and it encourages me.

  7. Judy

    I think you should write a Harlequin Romance based on Michelle’s premise. It might even be a Hallmark movie.

    All day yesterday I wondered if it’s possible to have a vibrant, alive church in a wealthy culture. This after reading through the gospels and just focusing on what Jesus was saying to the wealthy and the religious.

    I live in a county where there are 140+ private schools, most of them “Christian.” The same county where the Federal Government had to enforce integration – Little Rock Central High School. It appears that Christians retreated – with their money – and built multimillion dollar private schools, removing the salt from the culture and creating a generation of believers who are numb and ineffective, and a public school system that ranks 49th in the nation.

    All to often in american evangelicanism, it’ doesn’t matter what we do or how we live or if we retreat, what matters is that we are “right,” without emotion, feeling, joy, thus we’ve adopted the scientific mindset without realizing it. My doctrine is right, it’s well thought out, it makes sense, thus it doesn’t really matter if I apply it – the poor you have always.

    Majorly grappling

    The Token Male on your website

  8. Bill:

    Your words mean more to me because I know you have lived your ministry in Africa and lived it everyday with vibrant believers who are not numbed out by materialism. Thanks for speaking up, my friend. Please continue to contribute to the conversation. You have much to say and I want to learn.

  9. Judy – I found your blog through the little bloggy list of staff women – and it’s given me great, thoughtful reading for the night. I have struggled with many of these thoughts and questions, and it has encouraged me to see your personal investment in the fight against poverty. Thanks!

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