Saturday, April 28, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (4)

According to the FBI, the United States has more than 1.4 million gang members affiliated with roughly 33,500 gangs. Less than a sixth of these were in jail in 2011, and those in jail were likely as active in gang business as those outside.

Other than the obvious tax burden, what does any of that have to do with you or me? Probably not much. I met a Hell’s Angel once. He was a pretty scary guy. But that’s a few minutes out of one day in my life. Not a big deal.

Christians who work with the incarcerated would probably have a different take.

Thug Life

Thug life is an ugly reality well outside the scope of my daily back-and-forth, even though I’m an urban guy. Gang loyalties are on display here and there, sure. There’s a clubhouse on my way to work — an actual clubhouse. But the gangs themselves are not readily visible to me, even if we see the results of their handiwork in the ease with which our kids are able to acquire drugs with just a little networking.

At the root, gangs are less about obvious group identification and more about the dollar, and of course whatever level of violence is required to make it. I read an article recently that claimed some South American drug lords have bigger and better-trained armies than those of the countries in which they do business.

Not-So-Modern Problems

A modern problem? Not really. You may have heard of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. And Solomon had quite a bit to say about gangs almost 3,000 years ago:
“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
  If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
      let us ambush the innocent without reason;
      like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole,
      like those who go down to the pit;
      we shall find all precious goods,
      we shall fill our houses with plunder;
      throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse …”
That’s a gang, right? A common purse, illegal activities and maybe even a hint of initiation in ambushing the innocent.

The Life of its Possessors

Solomon gives three reasons why loyalties to in-groups dedicated to getting rich quickly by any means necessary are a bad idea: (1) they are morally depraved (“their feet run to evil”); (2) they’re stupid (even birds have a superior sense of self-preservation); and (3) it will end badly for them (they “lie in wait for their own blood”). The greed for unjust gain “takes away the life of its possessors”.

This is manifestly the case, even today. If we’re going to talk about crashing and burning, involvement with a gang is one of the most brutally efficient ways to expedite your own demise. A mind-boggling 80% of U.S. gun homicides are gang-related. The average life expectancy of an active gang member is 20 years and 5 months. Solomon’s words were not just relevant in his own day, they are prophetic.

Unjust Gain

Outside of those believers who do the hard work of ministering to those in jail, does this reality mean much for Christians? Probably not directly, unless you’ve recently noticed your teenager seems to have a lot more money to splash around than hours worked to account for it.

But you don’t have to join a gang to be “greedy for unjust gain”, and that, Solomon says, is the root problem here. It’s not primarily the desire to be part of an in-group, or to have some cause to which to be loyal (though that can surely be a motivator in the case of some easily-influenced and eager-to-please kids). Fundamentally, it’s about greed; about an attitude of entitlement that is convinced there are shortcuts to wealth and security if only they can be found, and that the lives, needs and desires of others are expendable in that quest.

But everything comes back around to our relationship with God in the end, doesn’t it, even if it may not initially appear to. Elsewhere we read that greed is idolatry — the worship of something less worthy than God. However that attitude manifests itself in our lives, it’s something of which we need to beware.

Proverbs makes the case that it never ends well.

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