Friday, January 13, 2006

Money, Power, Nobodies, and Somebodies

Erik wrote on his blog:

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Mammon is not just having stuff or wanting more of it. It's being somebody, in the eyes of the world. This is something that Lewis emphasized in Screwtape Letters.

Somebodies don't have time for nobodies. They don't create space for those who aren't cool like them. They don't hang out with the least, last, lost. Widows and orphans mean little to somebodies. And the sad thing in my experience is that the Church is full of both types of people -- lots of somebodies and lots of nobodies; and it rarely addresses this. Instead, the Church often allows people to privately fret over their individualized enslavement to Mammon (in this case, of only the "cash cow" variety) while not explicitly drawing attention to itself as the paramount Body of Nobodies.

In Christ there is no slave or free; no rich or poor; no male or female. This is radical, turn the world upside-down, what-are-you-some-kind-of-communist-pinko talk here. It's not just giving 10% of your income. It's changing where you live; who you hang with; what kind of clothes you wear and what kind of car you drive. It's practicing hospitality. It's being not cool.

I think good church is happening when the nobodies reach out to the somebodies and the somebodies realize that, in Christ, they're nobodies too.

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Good thoughts, Erik.

I have the "being not cool" part of this down fairly well, and am available for lessons. I can turn any legitimate hipster into a pathetic, sniveling, greasy-haired, D&D playing anti-social nerd, or your money will be cheerfully refunded. Otherwise, I have to work on the rest.

I agree with you that there is a "power" component of Mammon that is quite dangerous, and that often goes unchecked in our myopic concern for getting our finances in order. The finances are just the tip of the iceberg. The somebodies wield the power, while the nobodies are, at best, unnoticed, or, at worst, the unwitting victims of the somebodies. Unfortunately, that can sometimes happen in the Church, the last place where such social stratification should be in evidence.

I have experienced both sides of the somebody/nobody divide. Probably most people have as well. I recall being laid off my from my job as a technical writer in corporate America. I busted my butt, did what I was asked and then some, and was unceremoniously dumped on the street after some bean counter I had never met decreed that 15% of the company's employees and 40% of its "support" employees (word to the wise: if you're in corporate America, avoid "support" roles at all costs) were to be shown the door. I was a nobody, and I felt used. I felt violated. I felt angry. Mostly I felt powerless, probably because I was.

And so I decided to pursue power. I didn't think of it consciously that way. I thought of it in terms of augmenting my employment skills. I entered an M.B.A. program. And I jumped through the hoops, did the work, and graduated with honors. Not only did I have the means to power, but I had honors as well. Look upon me, O world, and fear and despair.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with a desire to understand finance, and marketing, and decision-making tools, and to use those skills appropriately and well in the business world. But there is a part of me that views the mindset I encountered in my M.B.A. program with cordial disdain. Every personality test in the large battery of tests I took as part of that program told me that I had the wrong personality to succeed in the world of big business. The academic part of it was a relative breeze. But they may have been right about my heart. I met some good people. But I also met people whose goal in life was to make the most money possible by any means possible. And I tended to view those people in the same way I might view a rabid dog. Back away slowly and no one gets hurts. I was simply a misfit at Mammon U. For that matter, I didn't even remotely want to fit in.

Or maybe I did, and here's the kicker. I like power. I didn't think I did, and I certainly tend to villify the power seekers I see in my world, but there is a part of me that likes the spotlight, and the ability to influence the lives of others. I see it most clearly in my role as Senior Editor for Paste Magazine. On a regular basis musicians/bands send me music and plead with me to include a review of their music in Paste. To some extent I can make them or break them. Most of them are relative unknowns. And by doing my part to slip them in to "my" magazine, I can ensure that 350,000 folks get to read about them, and possibly hear them. And I've found that some people will go to some fairly extravagant lengths to make that happen. That's power. So kneel, minion, and lick my boots. And send your lavish praise my way. Worse yet, I entertain ludicrous fantasies in which some rock 'n roll band, now catapulted to superstardom through my intercession, gratefully acknowledges my seminal role in their success, performs the power ballad "Ode to Andy" at Madison Square Garden, and pulls my protesting self on stage to acknowledge the thunderous applause. "It was nothing, really," I tell the wildly cheering mob. Just me wielding Power.

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can understand it?" The prophet Jeremiah wrote that 2,700 years ago, and not much has changed. Sometimes I despair of ever getting this right. But I'm thankful to have a laboratory in which to practice. Here is who I would like to be: no respecter of persons, indifferent to the career paths, wealth, talents, education, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, dress, cleanliness, or music listening habits of the people I encounter, even when they listen to the misogyny of 50 Cent or the vacuousness of Kelly Clarkson. :-) I would like to say to one and all: you are welcome in my life. I have time for you. You and your story are important. Some days I am that person. Other days I am caught up in the things the world tells me matter the most.

But it helps if I remember who I am. I am a screw-up and a selfish asshole, the undeserving recipient of extravagant grace. If I have gifts and talents, they come from God. If I am able to crawl outside my skin and care about others, genuinely engage in the lives of others, it is because God has changed me. I am loved beyond my wildest imagining, not because of who I am, but in spite of who I am.

That's the truth. That's a source of hope for me, not despair. The nobodies become somebodies, but not because of themselves. I am one of those in the process of becoming. It's a wild ride, and it's not over yet.

5 comments:

bd said...

somehow this is appropriate...

Making young girls pine
I don’t have the time
Babies get in line
I’ve got a protractor
Got a stapler now
it goes “Ka-ching”
gotta have the math club crown me king
gotta rock the screen with the cosine graphing
on my calculator
If you’re up
and if you want
a piece of me
wave goodbye and blow a kiss
‘Cause you can’t handle this

Chorus:
No, No, No
you can’t handle this.

Through my glasses glare
you’ll see savoir faire
beneath my icy stare
I’ve got a retainer
Maybe I’m the physics main event
maybe I’m the chem club president
maybe even Texas Instruments
thinks that I’m coplanar
If you’re up
and if you want
a piece of me
wave goodbye and blow a kiss
‘Cause you can’t handle this

And Leonard Nemoy
can’t stand up to this
And Captain James T. Kirk
bows beneath my fists
And I am awesome
awesome
I am the awesomest


by Reese | FIF | You Can't Handle This

bd said...

and this too (I'm wearing an FIF shirt today)...

Coke bottle glasses,
I'm sitting in the corner with my finger up my nose,
And my shoelaces untied again,
Another day of school with no friends.
A social outcast,
Two grades ahead in math,
with my highwater pants,
Giving meaning to pencil-necked-geek,
A dork or so to speak, tongue-in-cheek.

They're all sucker-punching me,
Get in line for a wedgie.
All I want and all I need,
Is someone who believes in me.

A song sung for underdogs,
for all the left out.
A flag flying for losers,
somewhere in the Heavens.
The God of ever-lasting comfort,
believed in me,
Loved me when I was faithless,
he still died for me.

Junior High schooler
With pencils in my pockets,
and my Trapper Keeper busted,
Spilling papers and books on the floor,
Not wanting seventh grade anymore.
Another class-clown,
Acting like a goof to be accepted by my peers,
Giving meaning to pencil-necked-geek,
a dork or so to speak, tongue in cheek.

They're all sucker-punching me,
Get in line for a wedgie.
All I want and all I need,
Is someone who believes in me.

A song sung for underdogs,
for all the left out.
A flag flying for losers,
somewhere in the Heavens.
The God of ever-lasting comfort,
believed in me,
Loved me when I was faithless,
he still died for--

A song sung for underdogs,
for all the left out.
A flag flying for losers,
somewhere in the Heavens.
The God of ever-lasting comfort,
believed in me,
Loved me when I was faithless,
he still died for me.

Reese | FIF | Suckerpunch

Brother-in-law Bill said...

To paraphrase one of the parables, from those to whom much is given, much is expected. The somebodies are in some form of spotlight, large or small, and they're expected to perform. Otherwise, they become nobodies. So, Bono (who seems to enjoy being a somebody) uses his fame to shine a spotlight on the disease and poverty of Africa, while Trump continues to demonstrate buffoonery to whoever still cares, and Joe Nacchio, the former CEO of the company that screwed you, Andy, is headed for a perp walk to Club Fed.

Being somebody is a fearful thing.

e said...

man, this is a good post. thank you for writing this.

Fred Kohn said...

There's a lot of good stuff considering the somebody/nobody distinction. The ultimate irony is that nobody is a somebody unless the nobodys think that he is. IOW nobody can make themselves a somebody.