I sat listening to two older couples talking at my favorite coffee shop. I was working on a presentation for an Urban Ministry Strategy seminar I will be attending next week, and I have been immersed in the demographic and ethnographic realities of poor inner city life for a few weeks. Plowing through statistics on poverty, crime, domestic abuse, and violence among youth perhaps made me more sensitive to the musings of my older companions. One gentleman was talking about a bad investment he made that resulted in losses around $3,000. He lamented that it was “irritating, but just a drop in the bucket.” The woman from the other couple replied in consolation, “Well, we spent more than twice that on our recent vacation!” I sat wondering what percentage of our population would find the loss/spending of $3,000-$6,000 just a drop in their bucket? I have been reading case after case where a few hundred dollars is often all that divides the housed from the homeless, the fed from the starving, the doctored from those with no medical healthcare. I also wonder about all those who have $3,000 to lose with little more than a yawn, and how willing they are to share with those for whom $3,000 is a sizeable portion of their annual income?
I am not going to speed off down some moralistic freeway — I merely want to reflect on the reality that people who walk past each other every day may very well be living in completely different universes. I am not ranting that the rich have an obligation to take care of the poor — though for me personally I do believe those that have been blessed ought to be a blessing to others — but that in our world of vast inequity, a little more awareness wouldn’t hurt.
I was speaking to a man from a village near Bondoukou who was telling me that many people in Africa are escaping poverty through trafficking children, and that the anti-malaria crusade has been an incredible boon to this activity. He smiled and said, “more babies means more children which means more money.” When I expressed horror at the idea, he scolded me and said not to judge that which I did not understand — that the sale of children often means the difference between poverty and security for their siblings. Parallel universes — worlds we don’t understand (and often don’t even know exist). In many parts of the world, human trafficking is not about sex trade, but about chocolate. Cocoa plantations are one of the main sources of demand for illegal child labor. Many of the children are not kidnapped for this life, but are sold into the life by parents or by orphanages that cannot provide for the growing population of displaced children.
This brings to mind a conversation I once had in Israel with an ultra-conservative Rabbi and what we label a “fundamentalist” Muslim imam who were appalled by the Western Christian practice of shunning sinners. Particularly in the case of homosexuality, both leaders stated that it would be far more loving and compassionate to execute such people than to shun or exile them. Both contended that death within the community was preferable to banishment from the community. Yikes. Different worlds, different universes.
What most of us “haves” don’t realize is that we are the minority — globally, a DISTINCT minority. Those living hand-to-mouth (or, dying hand-to-mouth) outnumber us about 9-to-1 (depending on what source you listen to). It is striking that most of our denominational strategies are about getting more “haves” into our churches than mobilizing the “haves” we have to get out and serve the “have-nots”… Where our treasure is, there truly our hearts are also. The amount of mortgage debt we carry on our churches in the United States far exceeds our mission giving. What we waste in an average congregation could easily support a family of four in our community, but we aren’t wired (or encouraged) to think that way. Our total apportionment expense for our denomination — which supports a majority of our missional efforts — breaks downs to less than $2 per member per week, but guess what? We can’t seem to come up with it. Our $3.00 cup of coffee gets in the way. As a culture, we spend more on snacks, sodas, and candy than we do on charity. We live oblivious to a significant portion of our planet. And the sad thing is, there are actually enough resources that all could share, and we wouldn’t really notice any sacrifice. If we just shared what we don’t use we could change the planet (some of what we have to share won’t make things better, but a lot of what we have could surely make an impact…).
I guess my call is for mindfulness. Pay attention. Don’t take more than we need. Don’t waste what we don’t use. Cut back on what isn’t necessary and give a little more to others. This isn’t that difficult — there IS enough, but we need to care enough to make the effort to spread it around. It’s a stewardship thing. Jesus would approve.
What you are asking is that people make sacrifices for the sake of others….to do things that would make them uncomfortable. Pastors know that such a message will likely not attract people to their churches and will likely drive some away. Therefore…
A great reflection for we lectionary preachers this week.
Amen, and amen.