I spent part of last week with young adults from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. They were participating in a discernment retreat. After a year of volunteer work this retreat was designed to prepare everyone for the next stage. It was a privilege to be in the room as these folks shared their pain, joy and fear with each other.
For me, the most powerful part of the retreat came near the end when a panel of former volunteers shared their stories of transition. One lady talked about the temptation of “entitlement.” After a year of pouring your heart and soul into the lives of other people, it is remarkably easy to feel entitled.
I have the right.
I am entitled.
In seminary, I remember reading a book by Tony Campolo, “20 Hot Potatoes Christian Are Afraid To Touch.” At the time, the most controversial chapter was the one where Tony stated that it was impossible both to be a Christian and own a BMW.
This weekend, I finally began to understand what Tony was saying.
We live in a world where rights and entitlements are part of the air we breathe. We get upset when we hear about political entitlements, unless they benefit us.
When I go out for dinner and order the $40 steak, I think I deserve it—I’m entitled. When I go car shopping, I remind myself that I have worked hard and it is my right to purchase the car with all the options—I’m entitled. I deserve the upgrade to first class—I’m entitled.
One of the points that the lady at the retreat was trying to make was that it is easy to slip into an entitlement mindset. When entitlements become important, the process of separating from the experiences and learnings of the past year begins. It becomes easy to forget that God’s heart is with the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor.
I had a college professor noted for telling students that our culture does not need a bill of rights nearly as much as we need a bill of responsibility.
Entitlements are about me; responsibilities are about the other.
In Philippians 2:5-7, the Apostle Paul makes the following statement, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…”
As Christians, our call is to serve and to service. I think this is the point Tony was trying to make when he talked about BMWs and Christianity. When all we think about are the entitlements we feel we deserve, we begin to separate from our fellow human beings and God.