“Hillbilly Elegy” and Jesus

I’ve been reading a new book, “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. It is a memoir of growing up a hillbilly and a commentary on the working white class from Appalachia. 

 

I just went and read several reviews of the book, now that I have finished it. I find it very amusing that I was completely unaware that this book was actually a cultural phenomenon to explain why Trump was elected. I was also unaware that it is a Pro-Republican book and that a multitude of Universities across the country chose this book for their summer reading, and apparently that choice shows how racist and conservative these Universities are. I found it especially amusing to read a review from someone who actually lives in Eastern Kentucky Hillbilly Country who claims that since Vance did not technically live in Eastern Kentucky, he had no lawful claim to the title “Hillbilly”.  (I find this amusing because I was born in Eastern Kentucky, and all the years I lived there, it was always made very clear to me that I was “Not From Around Here”.)

 

So, in my ignorance, I thought it was a book about a boy growing up in a poor, dysfunctional family and an attempt to pinpoint what things in his childhood actually enabled him to rise above this upbringing and end up doing well for himself. And at the same time, an attempt to understand why his particular culture (hillbilly) is the way that it is. 

 

I’m not going to even attempt to analyze this book in it’s political context. I’ll just tell you what I took away from it. Dysfunction is everywhere. People do crazy things. It doesn’t make sense. The dysfunction and craziness affects a child’s ability to grow up into a stable adult. Some kids can be helped. Others can’t. So far, we don’t have any way of measuring who is going to “make it” and who isn’t. Though we can statistically say that the majority of children growing up in dysfunction will take that lifestyle into their adulthood. 

 

So, what do we do? What should our response be to such gloomy news? 

 

This week I read some interesting verses in Luke 6.  Here’s what verses 30-31 say:

 

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

 

I remember when I was 20 years old. I was living in Haiti for four months, staying with friends. I went out with an old childhood friend of mine and we were walking through the marketplace in Cap Haitian and an elderly man approached me and asked for money. I brushed him off and kept walking. My friend confronted me. Why didn’t you give him any money? You have money! What would it have hurt to give him some? 

 

I was shocked. Having grown up in Haiti, being surrounded by people begging any time you went out in public, I had adopted the habit of just saying no. There were too many people to help. I didn’t have enough money to give to every single beggar, so I simply didn’t give to any of them. My friend’s accusation was a jolt to my system. Maybe my approach was wrong? 

 

Shortly after this I went to Chile for 5 months to stay with my brother, sister-in-law and their new baby. Chile also has a multitude of beggars. As I went out with my brother, I watched as he gave something to every single child that approached him. He commented that he had been convicted that he should give to anyone who asked him. I decided that I too wanted to be like that, and I adopted the habit of giving to anyone who asked me. 

 

Over the years there has been the occasional person I have said No to, simply because I felt very much like I was being “handled” by a professional and I hated the feeling of being taken advantage of. But, later, after walking away…I have always felt bad. I am not called to decide whether someone is worthy of my charity. I’m just called to freely give. 

Yes, there have been situations when I have helped someone and then they have continued to ask for help and continued and continued to the point where I felt like if I helped them in the way they were asking, I would simply be enabling them. In those situations I have said, No, I can’t give you money, but I can help you with something more longterm like getting a job or finding housing or enrolling in school.

 

Taking this back to the “Hillbilly Elegy”. We are surrounded by people who have been or are being harmed by living in a dysfunctional home. Some of those people will respond well to help, whether it be mentoring, counseling, encouragement, opportunities, education…others will not respond well. No matter what help they get, they will remain stuck. So, what should our response be? Well, Jesus said to help everyone. He didn’t give any addendums over whether that person was worthy of help, or whether it would be a waste of time to help, or whether that person was a lost cause. He just said to help people.

 

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6: 35-36.

 

So, that is my take away. This is a crazy world, full of hurting people who simply aren’t making it. All I can do, and what I am called to do as as Christian, is help wherever and however I can. 

 

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