Death by Affluenza


Not sure if you read the story about the 16-year old from Texas who got drunk, got behind the wheel of his pickup truck, and mowed down four people who are now dead. You’d think the young man would be bracing himself for significant jail time, but his well-paid defense team pulled together an argument that seemed good enough to keep him out of prison. “The witness for the defense, a psychologist, said [the young man] was the victim of a lifestyle of privilege and entitlement, raised without consequences for bad behavior” (full article here).  

A victim. You can’t fully blame him, he’s spoiled rotten.

The verdict? He got off with 10 years probation and a few months in a rehab to be paid by his loaded father.

The story disturbs me on so many levels, but it has me asking one question in particular. What if he wasn’t rich? What if his “disease” wasn’t affluenza, but poverty-uenza?  How would this trial play itself out if the same crime, the same manslaughter, and the same death toll took place at the hand of a 16-year driver from the wrong side of the tracks? With nothing but a court-appointed public defender?

But we know the answer, don’t we. The prisons are full of them. The poverty-to-prison and prison-to-poverty cycle is undeniable. Remove dad from the home and kid is eight times more likely to end up in prison. Get a kid to bail on his eduction, and his likelihood of jail time goes through the roof. I wonder how many of these inmates wish they could have used their childhood as a leniency-inducing explanation for their destructive behavior. But it does’t really work like that for the poor, does it.

It’s part of what makes the Christmas season so ironic to me. I hear Christians fighting to keep Christ in Christmas, but it’s pretty unclear which Christ they’re talking about. ‘Tis the season of unrestrained covetousness; maxed out credit cards and jam-packed shopping malls; of dreams of promotions and winning lottery tickets. All this materialism to honor the birth of the King who became a nobody. It’s why if you get anything else from the birth of Christ, you have to ask what God was saying when he was born poor. In a manger. Among animals. To an unwed mother.

Remember the poor.

These were the three words the apostle Paul heard when he met with the leaders of the early Christian movement. Of all the advice, of all the suggestions, of all the topics to discuss with this man who would turn the world upside down. And yet, “all they asked” was that he remember the poor. (Galatians 2:10)

I don’t have a million instructions for the Christmas holiday, but I can tell you this. More than we need to find another gift to please another person to feed their affluenza; more than our kids need another gadget to postpone their boredom; more than we need another Facebook marathon to compare our affluence to somebody slightly better off; we need to embrace the soul-shifting wisdom of the Scriptures.

Are you suffering from affluenza? Are you lonely? Empty? Stressed? Remember the poor. And don’t be surprised when you find Jesus.

They borrowed a tomb for the Crucified One,
No monument royal for God’s only Son.
His were the planets and stars in the sky;
His were the valleys and mountains so high;
His, all earth’s riches from pole unto pole,
But He became poor to ransom my soul.
(Byron Carmony)


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