The Golden Jaguar
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.