Gun control. Minimum wage. Immigration. Political parties.
All important subjects, of course. I don't have much confidence in any proposed solutions. Nor do I have much knowledge about what should be done. I know a little bit about business. I studied economics in college as a minor in my business administration degree. I worked as a chief financial officer for a large independent auto parts wholesaler and I saw the impact of being forced to artificially raise wages in our company. It just meant we stopped hiring high school kids to stock shelves. I was one of those high school kids who got my start stocking shelves. I got paid 95¢ an hour. I worked hard and the company reciprocated by allowing me to work hours around my school schedule. My first 'raise' was because of an increase in the minimum wage. Other workers were outraged that a new kid still in high school now got paid as much as they got paid, so to make them happy they were given raises, as well. There was no increase in productivity, just an increase in pay. After a while I got promoted and then again and finally was hired away to become inventory manager at another company. I had abandoned school in order to help provide for my family, but one day Mr. Mentzer called me into his office at the auto parts warehouse and told me to go get my degree in business and then come back and 'run the place for him'. I did that, and eventually became Chief Financial Officer.
In those days we had a million dollar payroll. Pretax profits on five to six million in sales ran around 6%. Also, in those days, stockholders could get 15% at the bank. When we had increases in minimum wage, we had to find places to cut or ways to become more efficient. The easiest things to cut were things like employing high school kids. We also slowly did away with benefits like pension plans and Christmas bonuses. We computerized our inventory control system which meant we no longer needed low skilled and low paid inventory takers. Then huge corporations like Checker and AutoZone came in and put us out of business. Seventy five people were put out of work. Every single person I know looks for the cheapest deal they can find on a carburetor. They don't buy a more expensive one at an independent parts warehouse just to keep seventy five people locally employed. Computerized catalogues did away with the need to hire competent and knowledgeable sales help. Automated stocking systems took away the need for high school kids being hired to stock shelves. The big auto parts corporations offered jobs at low wages and with no benefits.
I tell you that I'm no minimum wage expert. I'm just a guy who lived in the business system for part of my life. I'm no expert at anything. Certainly not gun control. I do own a gun. Legally. I'm trained in its use. I've taken it out of its holster only once with the intention of using it. The neighbor girl was being threatened by her boyfriend. He'd broken windows in her house and in her car with a baseball bat and was chasing her around her car threatening to bash her head in. I told my son to call 911 and I took the gun and headed out the door to try to convince the man to stop. I was terrified for her and for myself. Before I got into a confrontation with him, the police arrived and I was able to quietly put my gun away. My son, Derek, asked me at the time if I knew what I was doing, and I told him I just couldn't just stand by and not try to save my neighbor from being killed, if it was at all possible, no matter the cost. I could have killed someone that day. I could have gone to prison. So many things could have happened.
I'm no expert on immigration issues, either. Gabby Giffords, our former Congressional representative who was shot by a man suffering from mental health issues, invited me to sit in on a meeting of many different folks who dealt with immigration and border issues. There were maybe sixty people involved in the conversation ranging from border patrol agents to a rancher who was regularly robbed and threatened by 'coyotes', to representatives from various Hispanic groups, to an administrator from a hospital that had closed due to the unreimbursed medical care provided to those coming across the border illegally, to church pastors and leaders, to Mexican authorities, to business leaders and to everyone in between who might be impacted by border control decisions. I walked away from that conversation realizing the situation was far more complex and complicated than I might ever have imagined. Platitudes like 'send them all back' or 'let them all in' are fraught with consequences, some perhaps intended, many not. Simple answers simply don't exist.
There are so very many things I don't know. I thought I knew a bit about addictions until I went to work for Teen Challenge. In those three and a half years I learned a lot about how addicts think and act. It has been helpful information in my ministry, but the more I learned the less I knew. I thought I knew a bit about feeding the poor until I volunteered with a group that worked with the homeless. I learned I didn't know anything. So many of my preconceptions were misconceptions. I thought I knew a bit about mental health issues. After all, my son and I both struggle with them so you would think I would know, but I don't really. The list goes on and on. Do I have opinions on all these matters? Sure I do. Strong opinions. Some of those opinions are probably relatively helpful. But, I wouldn't presume to know what to do if I were in charge.
Actually I am an expert in one thing. I'm an expert in knowing what it takes to live in Christian community. Of course, just because I'm smart about it, doesn't mean I want to do it. In fact, I hate doing it. I like having status and power and position and I absolutely love being 'right'. I love that feeling I get when I expose how ignorant or stupid someone else is. Being right always feels better than letting someone else win. The ability to look down on people who are stupid or ill informed or who 'just don't get it' feeds my ego and makes me feel superior. To live in community, of course, I have to give up my demand to be right. I have to submit to someone else. To do that I have to humble myself. I have stop thinking I'm right and that I know what's best. Submission is hard. Submission is hard because it is counter to everything I hold dear. Submission is hard because it feels unsafe, and it is unsafe. Submission is hard because it stands against what I 'know' to be true.
Sometimes you can't find win-win. Sometimes you can't build consensus. Sometimes you just flat out disagree. Eric and I have been co-pastors of the Village for fifteen years. We disagree a lot. In the beginning we went to war over all sorts of things. Important things. And when we disagreed, we were both sure that we were right. Absolutely convinced. Neither of us could imagine holding the opposite position. But eventually you have to decide. You have to choose a path forward. And you face a choice. You can split up. You can leave. You can decide it isn't worth it. You can move on knowing you fought and tried and did your best, but the other guy just doesn't get it. So, you can take your marbles and go home. Or, you can try a different path. You can sit down and look the other person in the eye and you can say, "For the sake of being together I'm going to submit to what you think we should do. I'm not changing my belief, I'm just going to submit to what you think is best." It is such a hard thing to do. It feels almost like dying. It feels like dying, of course, because it is a form of dying. Dying to self. Dying to what we 'know' is true. It is why we don't do it. It is why we hate it. We like to win. We like power. We like control. Submission doesn't allow us to be winners. It kills us to chose to lose.
Submission has to be voluntary. It has to be chosen. If it is coerced, it isn't submission. If it involves bargaining, it isn't submission. "I'll let you win this one as long as I get my way next time." isn't submission. Submission is the choice to humble oneself. To make oneself smaller. To trust that God will work things out for good and to trust his ways. Submission is what Jesus does. He does it all the way to the cross. Submission is the ultimate act of trusting the goodness of God.
If someone submits to you, you take on a unique responsibility. You take on the responsibility of being kind. Being merciful. Being gentle. You take on the responsibility of being generous knowing that it was not the brilliance of your argument that won the day, but the other person simply offering you a gift. Being given the gift of submission cries out for a response of gratitude. Anything less is destructive.
In the upside down Kingdom, we are invited to lay down our lives for the other. We aren't invited to be a powerful majority. We aren't invited to enforce our 'rights' or our 'rightness' or our 'righteousness'. We are invited to submit. To humble ourselves. To be small. When we become experts at that, the Kingdom advances.