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.

Elegy

My dad would have turned 100 this week.

Dad passed away in 1981, but I can still remember the way he felt when he hugged me when I came home. When I had to leave, I will never forget the way he stood and watched until I had driven out of sight. Dad told me every day that he loved me. He was constantly after me to do my best. When I got my first job cutting the neighbors’ grass, he insisted that I do more than was expected. Even now, when I see someone cutting grass and allowing the clippings to blow in the street, I think of him. He would not have approved.

I’m reading a book called Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, who was born about 100 miles south of where I grew up in Ashland, Kentucky. Vance simply tells the story of his family, but it’s full of insights about poverty and brokenness. Its lessons reach way beyond the poor whites of Appalachia.

In the week ahead, our church will take part in National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day with a walk and vigil downtown. We’ll remember those who passed away without a home, and without loving, supportive relationships. We’ll also remind ourselves of our own blessings.

We like to think that we’re our own persons; that we control our own destinies; that we can be anything we want. It’s true, but it’s also true that our family, our friends, the places we grow up, and even our ancestors, influence us far more than we know. Homelessness can often be traced to the kinds of broken relationships that Vance describes in Hillbilly Elegy.

Dad was far from perfect. He could be moody and lose his temper. He never had a new car, and we lived in the same converted duplex until I left home. But he worked hard his whole life and was always there for us.

I’m older now than Dad was when he died, but he’s still the most influential person in my life.