I freely admit that I am the beneficiary of unearned and undeserved privileges by accident of birth.
I benefited from being born to parents who took their marriage and family commitments seriously, giving me a loving and stable home in which to grow up.
I benefited from being born to a father who went to school part-time to get a college degree – and qualify for a better job – while he worked to support his family. I benefited from the fact that he was talented, diligent and trustworthy in his work, enabling him to advance in his career and provide the family with all of its material needs.
I benefited from being born to a father who came home at night, didn’t get drunk, didn’t tomcat around and didn’t give us a knuckle sandwich when he got mad. I benefited from being born to a father whose character and faith continued to mature throughout his life and set a good example for me as a man.
I benefited from being born to a mother who cared for our family and our home, ensuring that we had good food on the table, a clean and wholesome environment in which to live and exposure to some of life’s most enriching experiences. I benefited from being born to a mother who insisted that we be responsible for our actions, help around the house, keep things tidy and follow the family rules.
I benefited from being born with an extended family that played a significant role in my upbringing and helped shaped my life experiences.
I benefited from being born to parents who expected a lot from me, but who also gave me a lot of freedom and respected my individuality. I benefited from being born to a family that valued education.
Other families may structure themselves differently, but this is the way ours worked, and I benefited greatly from it. It was an unearned, undeserved privilege of my birth.
I also benefited from participating in an educational system that still expected me to learn classic literature, grammar, writing, math, science and history. I benefited from participating in an educational system that mostly still sought competency and achievement from students and held them accountable. I benefited from having teachers who challenged me and wouldn’t accept anything less from me than mastery of the subject.
I benefited from being born in an imperfect nation, but one in which freedom, opportunity, security and prosperity exist in ways that they do not in many places in the world.
I benefited from being born in the post-Enlightenment west, a culture in which inquiry, reason, ambition, creativity and individuality have combined to produce amazing things.
I benefited most of all from being born to parents who took me regularly to a church that shaped my faith, character and outlook on life – a church that taught me to value the Bible and Christian community – a church that taught me to worship God, thank him for his saving grace in Jesus and grow in faithful Christian service. It was in this church that I learned what unearned, undeserved privilege really meant. The greatest unearned privilege of all, I found, was not limited to those who shared my fortunate parentage, but was available to all who put their faith in Christ, who is the true source of every good gift.
Many of the benefits that I enjoy (but have not earned) are the result of virtuous actions by others. Others are pure accidents of birth – where and when I was born. I also enjoy, I am sure, the residual benefits of wrongs or misdeeds committed by some of my forebears.
Some aspects of our inheritance bless us and some curse us. While I didn’t do anything to deserve either blessings or curses, there’s nothing anyone can do to change the past. We could become paralyzed by guilt about wrongs committed by others or embarrassment at our unearned place in this world, but I’m not sure what good that would do.
I am certain, however, that we can bestow unearned privileges on generations yet to come – if we have the strength of character to do so. We can, if we choose, give our children the unearned privilege of being born into good homes and virtuous communities. I did not earn these privileges, but I have benefited from them. I think I owe it to my own children and their generation to give the same gift to them.