Purpose, Prosperity, and a Pilgrim Heart

This weekend I was given the amazing opportunity to go to a conference in DC, hosted by AEI, called "Purpose & Prosperity: Exploring the Confluence of Faith, Economics, and Public Policy". Sounds like some pretty heady stuff, doesn't it?

I felt rather like Odysseus.

I walked into the conference and was overwhelmed by the affluence of it. AEI is well-funded, and they didn't skimp in hosting us, a bunch of college students. I could get used to this all too easily, to living in a world that is polished and professional. I could get used to a job where you get to look at the intricate puzzle of public policies and research the issues that drive these things, because I love mental puzzles a lot.

But I felt a little bit like I was listening to the sirens' song.

This isn't the world I come from, this world of metro tickets and business casual and a room full of predominantly white college students. Where I come from, my siblings and I look nothing alike, a family built by adoption, and people wear clothes from the Goodwill and I am used to walking to work.

The fact that this isn't what I'm used to doesn't mean that it's wrong. It is very necessary to discuss policies for this sprawling country, the one that somehow includes the metropolitan DC and Western Pennsylvania, where I've grown up. There are more factors than I can comprehend, and enough pieces to give anyone a headache, and the ideas are huge. I am beyond delighted that AEI is seeking to educate students about these things that really matter and really do affect us, and I love that they are being intentional about examining how faith fits with these things, and creating space for Christian students to learn and dialogue.

I loved the mental stimulation of a think tank, but I recently learned that I also love the feel of a piece of wood dremeled and sanded smooth, watching metal shavings curl off of a drill, and being awake till 5 am, working with a team of engineers on their senior project.

I don't know how to put the pieces together.

I am a college student with a minimum wage job, pulling weeds all summer. I'll be graduating in less than a year without debt. I sponsor a little girl in Guatemala. She has leprosy.

I wonder what I am doing with the vast wealth that God has showered upon me, that I did not earn.

C.S. Lewis offered this guideline for giving: "I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare."

What does that look like in my life as an individual? What should it look like in the life of a nation? Is that a responsible way to live? Is it wise?

And can life be segmented, so that I can say, Well, I will be independent financially and willing to depend on grace in my spiritual life? For myself at least, I am far too human for that. I am driven to draw closer to God by uncertainty about plans for the future and by huge storms and by the death of friends and by being forced to realize that I can't be secure in any area of life apart from Him.

Lewis again, this time from an exchange between two characters in The Great Divorce:

--I only want my rights. I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity.

--Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.

Is he right? How does this fit with entrepreneurship and good economic practices in a world superpower country? Where does grace fit into this whole issue of free enterprise and capitalism and Christian morality?

Maybe Odysseus is not the wanderer I identify with so much. Maybe what is waging war in my heart right now is the same thing that drew Abraham out of the land where he lived to a place where he did not know, going to live in the land of promise, wholly entrusting himself to the faithful God who had called him. Maybe it is right to feel out of place here, not wholly comfortable.

Maybe these are questions I'll be asking for the rest of my life.

(drawing by Pastor Micah Ramsey, 2009)


  1. Since I had just come back from Papua, Indonesia, right before this conference, I had a similar clash of imagery in my mind. Children in dirt and filth vs. the poshness and abundance of DC and American life. It's something that can be difficult to reconcile, and then leaves us wondering 'How can we have so much, and others so little?'

    Then it gets to issues of dependence and grace for others. I think, though, that while we have to apply the caring for the widow and the poor (Ja 1:27), we have to remember that it's not the government's job. Government was given responsibility to reward the right and punish the wrong. It's us as individuals who have to look at how much God has blessed us. From there, we must realize that it is all God's, and be willing to give some/all of it back to Him through service to others.

    Sometimes it's material goods, but sometimes it could come out of the seeming affluence of an AEI-like conference. Christian service and love can come from our giving up of time, labor, and talents to help others--not just our own possessions.


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