The year was 1970. I was a young GI who had just survived his stint in Viet Nam during the War. I was a rip-roaring fundamentalist Christian at the time, filled with the Holy Spirit and holy hubris. Since I had survived living in a combat zone and had come out without a scratch, I was absolutely sure that I had divine protection.
Maybe it was that, or sheer gratefulness, that opened me up to my first real scam in life. A Christian friend of mine, John Littleton, whom I had met and befriended in Saigon, called me on the phone while I was on leave between my tour in Nam and my arrival in Frankfurt. He wanted to borrow 500 dollars.
I had never been hit up for more than a few bucks before, and quite honestly I never expected to get back the five dollars here and there that guys would borrow at the end of the month to buy “necessities.” I knew they were going to buy cigarettes, but figured that if I lent them some small cash, they would be more or less obligated to let me preach to them. We called it “witnessing,” but it is really just proselytizing, nonetheless. I felt it my obligation to warn them of hell at any price.
John was not asking for himself – and I believed him. He was calling on behalf of a girlfriend somewhere in Kansas who was getting evicted from her double-wide. “She is a really good Christian,” he assured me, “but her husband is a backslider. He treats her badly and now has left altogether. He absconded with all her money, and unless I can help her, she will have to leave the trailer park.” I admit that I was naïve and stupid, but I was inclined to go along with his story. In any case, he promised to pay it back with interest within six months when she got back on her feet.
I met him years later when I was preaching in Medford, Oregon. He was a disgruntled church member who felt he was unappreciated and underutilized for his Biblical teaching skills. I recommended that he simply find a different church that might recognize his talents. A smaller church is usually the best solution for those afflicted with “preacher envy.”
Then I mentioned the loan. He had forgotten all about it, married the girlfriend, and had never mentioned it to her. She was sitting right there, and I could tell she had absolutely no idea what we were talking about it. Then he said the totally expected:
“Well, you know, Tom – Jesus is coming back so soon. What do you need the money for anyway?” That was 1977. (Jump forward to 2010.) The other day I was talking to a friend in the financial biz, and asked him to calculate the value of $500 at 5% compound interest for 40 years. $3,520. Need I say more?I guess Shakespeare was right all along:
Never a borrower or a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
(Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3)