A few years back 50 Cent starred in the movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" about a young drug dealer who leaves his dealing to pursue a career as a rap star. The contrast is stark: utter poverty or incredible wealth. No matter the level of material poverty or wealth, believing that more "toys" is the goal will never overcome widespread poverty.
I ran into an acquaintance here at Pentecost 2008 who reminded me of how this "get rich or die trying" message is ingrained in our psychology at every economic level. As we caught up, he filled me in on how he's excited to be here because he just took a job in his hometown of Philadelphia as a community and church organizer. He's most interested in addressing the issue of the streets in Philly where poverty invades every inch of life, but "get rich or die trying," as 50 Cent likes to promote, is the ruling philosophy. Coming from a similar background, he has emerged with a different philosophy that drives him to bring change to the youth who are living in the same situation that he once found himself in. How does he empower his community to not fall into the trap of having getting super-rich as their only aspiration?
I have the same questions, but I come from a different economic background, solidly middle-class and college-educated for generations. I too work with youth struggling against socially imposed boundaries of class, race, poverty, and lack of education. At the same time, I am trying to work on my own struggle to overcome my culturally acceptable addiction to wealth (often glossed over as "practicality" or "security") with a theology of enough.
Conversations with others who come from different backgrounds are key to understanding how to answer these questions and lead the next generation. Although our lives have different backdrops, we agree that the get-rich gospel is not fulfilling. Together we're claiming similar values, asking similar questions, and reaching out to one another for answers.
Sarah Campbell is finishing her time as a volunteer in the Discipleship Year service corps in Washington, D.C., where she has been learning to break her cultural addictions through simplicity and intentional community. She is planning to study in a dual-degree program for a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Social Work.