Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth into freedom:
but rebels must dwell in a parched land. – Vigils, Psalm 68
I spent my solitude time this morning at the Eastlynn Society House. No one was there. The sunlight shone brightly through the windows and openings, illuminating the gaping hole that was the dining room until we removed the rotten floor joists. The house was stone silent. As I drove west on Linwood Boulevard off of I-70 I soon smelled rotting flesh – a dog or whatever. The smell went on for five or six blocks. Something big died. The neighborhood. Long ago. Empty houses and overgrown vacant lots are the headstones.
Eastlynn is our attempt to build over the unmarked mass grave, and bring new life. Right now the house is gutted and down to its bones. We are doing serious reconstruction of the first floor.
My wife asked me why I seem so sleepless and anxious these days. I think about Eastlynn House all the time. The Eastlynn Board named security of the house as top priority. So, I went down to check on it, add another padlock and add some more support to the flimsy front door. Truth is, we are running out of money and volunteerism is down. It might be the summer slump. It might be that the work requires more skills now – measuring, sawing and strategy. Carpentry strategy takes ownership of the problem, something volunteers have little time for. But I can obsess over it. I want the house done, and a staffer living there. I want our inner city to have homeowners.
I prayed the 68th Psalm this morning – it fits, don’t you think? Also, I am listening to Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy. The book fits too. It is a very R-rated journalism work about the demised of the city of Detroit, how beyond broken it is. The book is full of murder, sex, political scandals with a hip-hop felony mayor, cigarettes, four-letter words, drugs, prostitution, more murder, ice, snow, blood, guns, dead forgotten bodies – on and on goes LeDuff’s real-life dystopia. The narrator reads the book like some Gen-X deconstructionist and Mickey Spellane film noir. Detroit is so bad off by comparison to KC that it makes Linwood and Benton looks marginally suburban. Detroit sounds like a war-torn middle eastern dysfunctional country. But it is right here in America.
I wanted to listen to the book for two reasons: one, Kansas City has been in an infamous competition with Detroit these last several years over who can produce the most abandoned vacant houses and lots; second, I wanted to find out if LeDuff has an answer. So far, Charlie LeDuff is just heaping bad on bad on bad on really bad. The story is predictable though: the whites moved to the suburbs and the auto and machine jobs failed. They left the core of the city to the colorful, criminal and crazy.
Somehow I have come to carry the burden of Eastlynn. My unguarded opinion: I not sure any one else is loosing sleep over it. The grand idea was that Lakeland Community Church would own property in the inner city and thus, own some of the problems and solutions for our inner city. This is so we can stand before a holy g-d and give a respectable Psalm 68 answer – “I did something about the widow and orphan; I gave the lonely a home to live in; I helped lead the prisoners of poverty to freedom, and I chased away the rebels.”
The house was sound and secure – and silent. Months of hard smart work lay ahead. Tens of thousands of dollars are needed. It will be a beautiful boulevard home once again, a showcase for the neighborhood. “As goes Linwood, so goes the neighborhood” they say down there.
I believe we will get the Eastlynn House operational. Something good will come of it. We are smart about “toxic charity.” We know what we are doing. My dream is see home ownership come back. I dream of children playing in front yards. I dream of not having to look around before I get out of my car.
I am thinking of a man who has a lot of money. Thousands and tens of thousands he makes each year, each month. Yet he is poor. I mean broke all the time.
The family and I recently watched the ESPN documentary series 30 For 30: Broke. It documents mostly poor kids from the ghetto who go on to be super athletes in the NBA and NFL. The story is the same: they are poor, they rise to the top and receive millions of dollars and end up in bankruptcy a few years after retirement. One commentator said receiving this kind of money is more like winning the lottery than receiving a paycheck or salary.
How did they blow all that money? They lived like a poor man with a lot of money. Each night they spent thousands of dollars on parties, friends and things. They lived like what a poor man dreams of if he’d ever become a millionaire for a day.
Here’s the quick rich/poor // with/without matrix:
Poor Man with a lot of money = blows it all and has nothing in the end; think Andre Rison
Poor Man without a lot of money = just simply poor; think any forgotten peasant around the world
Rich Man with a lot of money = has it all and is wise; think Bill Gates/Warren BuffetRich Man without a lot of money = always has enough; as in “The Millionaire Next Door” book
The head-scratcher quadrant here is “the Rich Man without a lot of money.” What’s that look like? But first a bit more on the other three quadrants. NFL star receiver Andre Rison (former KC Chief) filed bankruptcy about three years ago if I remember the 30 For 30 documentary correctly. He spent even more than he received. He invested in a car wash with a handshake with a guy who knew nothing about business. Rison knew nothing about business. He was surrounded with poor friends who spent his money for him.
I had a repair man out to the house a few days ago and he told his own Rison tale (everyone has one around town it seems). He worked at a fancy furniture store in town and Rison came in one day and bought $130k worth of furniture. They had to take him to court to get paid. As the old English proverb says “A fool and his money are soon parted,” echoing the entire sentiment of the Bible’s Proverbs on money and fools.
The reason why ANY man with a lot of money can’t keep his money is because he thinks every payday is like a poor man’s payday: cash it all and spend it on beer and Twinkies. Party now because good times never last. There is no investment mindset. No hope. This is the disease and demon of poverty. It keeps people crushed – in their head.
Now the poor man with no money and the rich man with a lot of money – not much need be said. Except the rich man with a lot of money can always make more money. As Rockefeller once said ‘it is easy to make money, but hard to keep it.’ The poor can’t make money. That’s a big difference between the poor and rich. The rich (white) have education, opportunity, connections, and assets. The poor do not.
What about “the Rich Man without a lot of money?” Sounds like anyone can be this person, right? Sure, anyone can if they decide to live within their means, or as Dave Ramsey puts it “act your wage.” Drive a clunker. Live in a basic house. Take small vacations. Delay gratification. My father-in-law was frugal. He was a teacher at a college. He saved and did thing cheaply or not at all. But he is rich now. He saved. He invested. He lived believing someday he won’t have an income so he better plan for one. He created sustainable wealth by living on less now. He lived like he had a future.
When the poor man gets a pile of money he blows it. When the rich man gets a pile a money he saves it for later and lives on less now. Rich is an attitude. Poor is an attitude. Yes, there are outside forces at work here like oppression and racism, etc. But that is no excuse for the instant millionaires who just as quickly move back to poverty. That is poor stewardship of the gifts of g-d. Rich or poor, life is a gift from on High.
Which quadrant ARE you? Can you change? This is where the real spiritual journey happens.