Hillbillies and the crazy rich

The 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians is about a young Chinese-American professor in New York named Rachel, and her boyfriend Nick, who invites her home to meet his family. Nick is Chinese and his family lives in Singapore. What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick’s family is unimaginably rich, making Nick the most eligible bachelor in all of Asia. The usual romantic comedy complications ensue, as nearly everyone in Asia tries to separate the couple. Every young woman is after Nick for his money. Nick’s mother says that Rachel, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant single mother in New York, is too common, too American, and therefore not worthy to become part of the family. 

I’m usually not the romantic comedy type, but I loved this movie. I kept wondering how Rachel and Nick could hang together, could be so unaffected, when wealth had made everyone around them crazy. Everyone, except Rachel and Nick, was operating out of a script for their lives, a script that had been determined before they were born by money and family circumstances.

It actually reminded me of J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy. How was it that Vance was able to break out of his family’s circumstances, the poverty and hopelessness which trap so many in Appalachia? For Vance, it was the costly love of his grandmother.

In Crazy Rich Asians, it was the costly love of Rachel’s mother who taught her to be resourceful and independent.

The truth is, crazy wealth and crushing poverty have a lot in common. Each comes with a set of circumstances that conspire to tell us who we are and what we can become. Both rich and poor can suffer hopelessness.

But what if there was someone who offered to rewrite the script of your life? 

Jesus Christ knows what he created us to be. The better we know him, the more resistant we become to being overwhelmed by wealth or crushed by poverty. 

His costly love teaches us who we really are.

What’s your life worth?

Gene Hambleton was a 53-year-old Air Force navigator when his EB-66 aircraft, call sign Bat 21, was hit by a surface-to-air missile over Vietnam on April 2, 1972. Five of the six crewmembers were killed. Hambleton ejected, but landed in an area occupied by 30,000 enemy troops.

The military, which has a tradition of never leaving a comrade behind, mounted a rescue. But rescue forces ran into the most intense enemy barrage anyone had ever seen. Over the next few days, 11 aircrew members died, two were taken prisoner, and multiple aircraft were lost or damaged. Finally, on the 12th day, Navy Seal Tommy Norris and a South Vietnamese commando named Nguyen Van Kiet, rescued Hambleton by infiltrating on the ground through enemy territory. Norris was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

It had been the largest operation to rescue a single servicemember in history.

After the war, Hambleton spoke to hundreds of groups about his experience. Books were written. A movie about the operation, Bat-21, much of it fictionalized, was released in 1988. I just finished a new book called Saving Bravo: The Greatest Rescue Mission in Navy Seal History. I couldn’t put it down.

In his speeches, Hambleton talked about the men who gave their lives to save him. But years later, as their remains started being repatriated, Hambleton couldn’t bring himself to attend their funerals. The question that kept haunting him was, “Am I worth eleven lives?”

In the middle of the greatest enemy offensive of the war, the US military essentially put the war on hold to rescue one man.

If someone died to save you, you’d owe that person everything, wouldn’t you? There would be nothing you wouldn’t do for their family for as long as you lived, right? As I read Saving Bravo, I kept thinking about the Gospel, God’s great rescue mission.

Do you ever think about what it cost Jesus to save you?

Are you worth his life?

He thought so.


The author of Hebrews wrote the famous line, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

The phrase “show hospitality to strangers” is the Greek word “philoxenia.” We’re much more familiar with the word “xenophobic,” a strongly negative word meaning dislike of strangers or foreigners. Philoxenia is an equally strong, positive word, meaning to love and care for strangers the way you would your own family.

In Greek, “philo” (where we get the word philadelphia) means family love; “xenos” means foreigner or stranger; and “phobic” means fear.

Why the Greek lesson?

I just read another article about why young people are abandoning the church, by the tens of millions.

It’s as if the church has become strangers with a couple generations of people in our own country. Young people who grew up in church have mostly lost interest. Of course they see the church as hypocritical or judgmental, but mostly they find the church irrelevant, either to them or to the world around them.

The answer may be philoxenia.

Young people need what the church has; they crave meaning and direction. Distracted parents put screens in kids’ hands before they could walk, and so many are starved for human connections. The churches have people with the wisdom and experience younger people need.

Instead of being Presbyterians, we need to be Philoxenians.

We need to embody the mandate of Hebrews 13:2. It’s not just up to deacons or greeters or the hospitality committee, it’s up to every one of us.

And by the way, young people care deeply about foreigners and refugees. When young people see us caring for what they care about, we address some of the fears and prejudices they have about us.   

Move it

Jana recently took her mother to an occupational therapist to help her address her circulation issues. The therapist said Jana’s mother’s theme song for the new year needs to be “I Like to Move It,” the catchy song from the movie Madagascar. My mother-in-law is like most of us: most of our health problems are due to our lifestyle choices.

We quit moving.

Churches have the same problem for the same reason: most of our health problems come because we quit moving.

Isaiah 42:5 is a beautiful image of the Lord stretching out the heavens and the earth, and then giving breath and spirit to those who walk the earth. God gave us an amazing creation, and the spirit to explore it.

We weren’t created just to sit still.

In 2010, mariner and artist Reid Stowe completed a voyage of 1,152 days. It was the longest anyone had ever spent at sea without being resupplied or setting foot on land. Reid said, “I’ve learned a lot about myself…I’ve learned that we as humans must explore. We must see and discover new things or we degenerate.”

I wonder if “Move It” ought to become the theme of the church.

Fire alarm

What do you do when you hear a fire alarm?

You head for the nearest exit, right? Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, but what do you really do?

Researchers have found that when a fire alarm rings, most people stand around and wait for more clues. In 1985, 56 people died when fire broke out in the stands in a soccer match in England. Video later showed that people continued to watch the game and the fire.

In 1977, fire broke out in the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky. Forensic experts confirmed that many of the 177 who died had tried to pay before leaving. They died in a line.

I just finished reading The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. Grosz says that we experience change as loss, so even when we try to change, we often wind up following old habits. Committing to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation. This is why people won’t take an exit if they don’t know exactly where it will take them, even—or perhaps especially—in an emergency.

God is always opening new doors, but he rarely makes clear what awaits us on the other side. All we can be sure of is that God will be there.

It’s a new year. Don’t wait for the alarm to ring. Let God lead you into his better future.