“Crazy Rich Lutherans”
by Kathye Hamm
Not long ago, a movie titled “Crazy Rich Asians” was released – it’s about a young couple who had to navigate the great disparities in the wealth of their respective families. As the title suggests, one of the two families was incredibly wealthy. The other family was not wealthy at all, at least in comparison to the uber wealth of the first family. Without needing to offer a “spoiler alert,” allow me to share this — the heart of the movie was whether this couple would be able to overcome these differences.
I saw this movie not long before the trip I am currently on to Taiwan, where Pr. Tita and I (and Debbi!) have visited our Companion Synod, the Lutheran Church of Taiwan. This church is a blessing in the lives of the people of Taiwan as they share their faith through meeting the greatest needs of the communities they serve. Their capacity to share their blessings as they seek to witness to Christ is truly amazing. This week, we are finishing up our time in Udon Thani, Thailand, where we have been attending the 10th Asian Lutheran International Conference. This gathering is offered to build relationships and capacity for ministry between Asian churches throughout Asia and ELCA congregations and ministries in the United States.
But back to the movie. One of my concerns about “Crazy Rich Asians” was its title, and how people might think that the billions of Asian people in the world are all wealthy. Are there Asian people who are wealthy? Of course, just as there are people from many different places who are wealthy. But there are many billions of Asian people who are not wealthy, who subsist on very little income to provide for themselves and their families, just as there are people in America who are living in great poverty, often closer to us than we think.
Recently, CNN published a report indicating most of the world’s mega-wealthy people are living in America. According to the Forbes list of billionaires, the five richest people in this country are worth more than $357 billion. The report goes on to say, “The world’s billionaires are growing $2.5 billion richer every day, while the poorest half of the global population is seeing its net worth dwindle. The combined fortunes of the world’s 26 richest individuals reached $1.4 trillion last year — the same amount as the total wealth of the 3.8 billion poorest people.” By comparison, most of these 3.8 billion “poorest people” see other people in the world with even modest incomes as being just as “crazy rich” as the world’s wealthiest people. It strikes me that most of the people who will be reading this missive might even be described as “Crazy Rich Lutherans.”
Surprised? You don’t have to be a billionaire to be seen as “crazy rich” by the world’s poor, or by a great many of poor people living in our country. Most of the people of our congregations have a standard of living that makes us “wealthy” – wealthier than we believe we are. Did you know there are many millions of adults and children in California and Nevada alone who are living well below the poverty level? Could we overcome the differences, the disparities between the lives of the rich and the lives of the poor in our world, as Christ has called us to do? We are called to live fully into the abundance of the blessings we have received — to help “close the gap” between the wealth of many and the poverty of many more. Instead of a sense of scarcity that describes our attitudes and expectations when it comes to our relationship with money, we are called to live and give more joyfully, confident that we have enough to share! With the Spirit of Christ opening our eyes to see and respond to such needs, I believe we can do this.
In the last few years, I have been impressed with our ability to respond to those in need who are suffering from fires or from hunger, from floods and hurricanes or from homelessness. Thank you! You have seen the needs of those whose lives have been challenged in ways we can scarcely imagine and on a scale that leaves us reeling. But we didn’t stay in that place of shock. We were moved to respond, not because we are crazy rich, but because we are blessed. Blessed beyond measure, blessed beyond hope, blessed beyond our needs. As we consider our giving to the ministries of our congregations, our synod, the ELCA, and to special needs ministries such as World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response, may we first see Christ in those we are offering to help. Let’s also pray they see Christ in us.
When we do this, we give with the kind of abandon that speaks to our confidence in how such blessings truly change the lives of others, and our own lives and walk of faith. Sound crazy? Give it a try.
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