The true Christian way is, indeed, to care for the poor and needy, both spiritually and physically, by letting God work His purposes through us as we agree with Him and yield to Him – including our purses and wallets. To accomplish these ends, Jesus promoted charitably giving out of our own blessings, time, and production; not forcibly taking from our neighbor and then giving or keeping what is not ours. That isn’t godly no matter what label it’s been accorded; and it certainly isn’t noble or wise. Such methods are neither self-sustaining nor effective. Taking from others without their approval is theft, not charity. Capitalism is a better approach, but it is not Christianity; it is, however, built upon the biblical principles of labor, production, investment, research, initiative, and creativity. These are God’s ways, as He demonstrated throughout Genesis, where we see the dignity and value of work. Capitalism does best in a nation adhering to Christian principles. It’s why America is the greatest land of opportunity and affluence in all history, why peoples the world over are still coming here century after century, and why they rarely go back with their earnings after succeeding here. Capitalism also does best when the means of production are fully in private hands. When government controls and/or owns the means, it is not true capitalism. It’s been labeled corporate fascism because inefficient, greedy, regulation-prone, controlling, reactionary, prejudiced, and unseasoned bureaucrats operate the economy from a myopic fair-share agenda. Ayn Rand exposes this concept effectively in her classic Atlas Shrugged.
We need to progress to the business of building our character around the absolute truths of self-responsibility and everyday common virtue (statement paraphrased from A Nation of Victims by Charles J. Sykes). The positive societal contributions of good character, and the negative consequences of its alarming decline in America today – especially as it relates to the public education system and to public/government service – are two sides of a single critical issue. These contributions and consequences may generate a cause-and-effect nature that continues beyond and outside of our own singular life. This is comparable to the familiar ripples-in-the-pond analogy. In other words, each one of us does make a difference in the world around us. An unforgettable story illustrating this aspect was researched and presented by Bill Gothard of the Institute in Basic Life Principles. He speaks of two specific Englishmen who founded families in the eighteenth century. One man led a selfless life, and generation after generation of his posterity was documented as being heavily populated by doctors, lawyers, and ministers. The other led a life of depravity and crime, and generation after generation of his posterity was documented as being heavily populated by rapists, murderers, and thieves.
Toward a Happy and Productive New Year:
Although some may never write a book, we’re all composing a personal, nonfiction story. It’s the story of our life. Others read our story when they witness how we live. When that occurs, we are all teachers or storytellers, knowingly and willingly or not. As our story unfolds, it’s merged into the larger story, God’s story. “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, on the heart. Corinthians II 3:2-3 NKJV
The promotional description for Scott McClellan’s book, Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative, states the following: “Jesus called His followers witnesses. We are, in fact, witnesses to His unfolding story. This story is not only our calling; it’s the next generation’s best chance of identifying with the Church and changing the world. As we become storytellers, we learn to see the world in terms of stories being lived and told. We discover deeper insights into God, ourselves, and others.”
I am not referring to actually committing our stories to writing (that is, composing our autobiographies), but professional storywriter Donald Miller does recommend something closely approaching that outcome in his essay “How to Tell a Story.” He justifies writing it as a worthwhile exercise for everyone: “We are all on a journey, of course. We all want things for ourselves and our families and those desires launch us into stories. And stories are filled with risk and fear and joy and pain. In each of our stories, friends and guides have passed through and those friends have taught us things.” Miller continues this line of thought by adding personal reflection: “The point of any story is always character transformation. I am so grateful to have studied story if for no other reason than it’s helped me realize how much I’ve changed over the years as a human being. Story has given beauty and meaning to my life because it’s no longer passing by without me reflecting on it and noting its positive and negative turns and what those turns have done to me to make me a better person. I believe it’s true every person should write their memoir if for no other reason than it helps them understand who they are, what’s happened to them and who it is their lives have caused them to become. A person who understands themselves is easier to connect with, more settled and, most importantly, can see how their story interconnects with the stories of others.”
Writing for the grammarly.com blog, Allison VanNest expresses a similar sentiment to Miller’s. Stated more succinctly, she says: “The most valuable thing you have to offer is the story only you can tell.” By this, she seems to be expressing two convictions: that each life is a story possessing unique meaning and purpose, and thus it is worthwhile sharing; and that those who are creative storytellers with tales of fiction or nonfiction inside should seek either verbal or written expression.
Intentionally or not, personal character traits – good and bad – are woven intricately throughout our stories. Regarding this dichotomy, John Steinbeck offers a thought-provoking commentary that illustrates how society observes character. In his mini-novel Cannery Row, his protagonist, Doc (based on his close friend Ed Ricketts), states: “It has always seemed strange to me … The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.” Applying this on an individual level illustrates the continuous battle within everyone’s heart as we make the many character-defining decisions and choices that cumulatively create the essence and legacy of our lives.
During the lengthy experience of researching, sharing, and writing these stories, the following opportune definition emerged for uncommon character: exercising personal responsibility when no one is watching, when it costs or hurts us to do so, when we may have to act entirely alone, and when it benefits others – even our enemies – more than self. Therein is outlined a most worthy goal for every individual; a goal which has been met by the heroes comprising Stories of Uncommon Character.
Upon examining their progression from ordinary to extraordinary, the people in this book emerge as role models and mentors; and although our lives may not yet compare to theirs, the long-term plan is to embrace the Apostle Paul’s admonishment: “…Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). The end of the journey – the conclusion of our life story – is of more exemplary and eternal consequence than how we started or about the ups and downs along the way. Strive to finish well!