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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Looking for a Little Compassion These Days


AMERICAN ATTITUDES AND OVERSEAS COUNTRIES

Forgive me for digressing from the general theme of the blog, but like many in our country, I have been bothered in recent times over some of the garbage speak coming out of Washington and the sniping back and forth between supposed leaders and their various political parties.  

The recent comment decrying some countries of our world as being such terrible places seemed to me to be an all time low of presidential proclamation, but when I learned that a Baptist pastor (a different branch of Baptists…thank you) in Texas publicly expressed agreement with the statement, I found myself not only troubled by government speakers, but with the state of Christianity in our country. 

I am not a politician, nor a learned historian, nor tied into any particular political party or social movement, but simply as a private citizen and a Christian, I would like to respond.

Let me suggest that anyone with a reasonable perspective of history should feel, I think, some obligation to acknowledge that part of the reason many African and Latin American countries are as destitute as they are, has to do with the way Western nations have related to them for centuries.  Colonization was never designed to enrich the colonies, rather to use the resources of the colonies to enrich the mother country.  As a result, as technology and the various progressive developments arrived in the West, they were used for their own purposes, rather than brought in to raise the standards of the colonies.  The colonies were used to further provide the resources for the resulting additionally needs required to sustain the development.  Resources and individuals might have made a more significant difference in the African and Latin American countries had the advances been shared in such a way as to include helping those countries develop, rather than shipping the resources off to faraway lands. 

One can bring discussions in lots of different directions on this topic, and it is often done, but I think those of us who live in the United States need to take a much more humble and compassionate view of individuals who live in countries bound in poverty than the comments that offended me.  Granted, there are plenty of times when leaders of some of those impoverished countries are very self-serving and corrupt, with funds being diverted into private coffers rather than helping the people in the nation.  (Although, some of those same charges can be made against our government leadership as well.  AND, sometimes those government leaders remain in power because our government works to keep them in power.)  But we need to be careful in passing judgment upon those nations and the people inhabiting them.

It must be very hard for people in a country whose very survival has come to be dependent on using their resources to provide exports to the wealthier countries of the world, while their own people are near starvation.  

It must be hard for leaders in countries when many of the resources have already been taken to foreign nations, or are owned by foreigners and developed only for the enrichment of the foreign owners, rather than taking into account the needs of the local population. 

In a recent trip to Bolivia, I learned that nation, which in many ways, is seeking to move forward into a more progressive nation, has recently gone through widely divergent experiences with two United States based companies.  

One, those who manufacture Coca-Cola, apparently make intentional efforts to support local economies, by purchasing local resources, selling franchise styles that allow local ownership of the production factories, and providing the workers a somewhat acceptable wage rather than offering only subsistence income for their employees.  That was contrasted to another American company, (which I will leave nameless…since I don’t have first-hand research about them), which came into the country with agreements to also use local resources and pay reasonable wages, but which instead refused to purchase supplies domestically, and provided wages that were significantly less than they had been promised the government.  The government of Bolivia expelled the company from the country!  Good for them.

I was glad that Bolivia’s experience in recent years with United States corporations, had a positive example and not merely the negative one.  However, over the years, there have been enough abusive and unfair practices that trust and appreciation of the United States is very minimal.  Instead of always acting in ways that both benefitted the host country and represented the best the United States has to offer, there have been far too many incidents where the government and corporations of the United States have added to the impoverishment and corruption of many so-called Third World countries.  To now sit in judgment of them seems rather disingenuous, to say the least.

I would close with two other comments.  The first is concerning a conversation I once had with a friend from Swaziland.  He indicated to me his appreciation for what the United States had done for his country, explaining that when they were gaining their independence from British colonialism, the nation that came to their aid and offered support to help them establish their country was the United States.  Apparently we provided them money and advice, “no strings attached” (according to him), and we were the ones who stood with them to help them get started when others chose not to do so.  Sometimes, we do get it right.

The other comment I want to add is that, as Christians, surely we need to approach the struggling nations of our world with compassion, with a desire for just treatment (not only by their government officials, but also by ours).  

Instead of seeking to attach blame, we should be a people who offer hope, and who, like Jesus and the prophets, stand up for the plight of the poor in a world where wealthy nations, corporations and individuals would take advantage and pile additional abuse upon them, making their fortunes upon the backs of the poor.  

The Bible is very clear that God cares for the poor and disenfranchised of our world, and notes God’s judgment every time someone or some agency takes advantage of them.  It is a difficult thing in our world to know how to live ethically in relation to world economy and trade.  Many today are engaged in the fair trade movement, with noble aims.  Many quality mission organizations seek to feed, medically treat, and educate those in poverty to help enable them to move into a better life.  

We must learn to balance the issues and ask ourselves when we buy clothing made in sweatshops of Bangladesh, Malaysia and Vietnam, whether we are contributing to the injustice, or simply struggling with the realities of our own economic needs.  All too often, we do not even ask the questions….merely live our lives with a blind eye to the suffering around the world, or when we do note the impoverished countries, we do so by looking down our nose at them, rather than understanding how they came to be that way, and seeking how we could help make a difference for their future. 

Well, thanks for putting up with my little rant.  I just believed that the recent comments were too reprehensible to ignore….far beyond mere political banter.  I will get back on task next time….I promise!


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Choosing Growth

MAKING MILESTONES

What do you anticipate being different in your life at the end of 2018?  

Yes, I realize that many things that will be different are things that you have no way of knowing at this point.  During worship today, we focused on the fact that many times in life we experience those kinds of watershed, milestone moments because of choices we make along the way.  The challenge we discussed was for each of us to consider our lives and the current status of our relationship with God, and then intentionally choose to take on some specific challenges to move our level of discipleship up a notch or two. 

Many growth moments in life happen because we choose to intentionally go after that growth.  

I invite you to consider taking on some specific personal faith challenge, to join in our adventure.  

Perhaps it could be to address some perennial, plaguing habit that you know isn’t pleasing to God by replacing it with a positive practice that will draw you closer to Him.  

You might choose to find a fresh way to spend time in the scripture, thus creating a way for God to speak anew to you.  

For some, for real growth to occur may require their willingness to risk something they have never attempted before…finding a way to influence others for God, or a way to serve in a ministry that you never thought yourself able to do. 

Perhaps what you need to attempt in order to move to a fresh level with God would be to raise your level of commitment to your church and making your participation a higher priority….even when you don’t feel like it.  

Perhaps moving to a new level will require you to get outside your self a bit, to move beyond your comfort zone, to stretch yourself into new opportunities, in new environment, with new people. 

What if you became actively involved in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, instead of just donating dollars?  

What if you engaged with people of a different generation in an effort to understand them and help make their lives better?  

What if you spent time with that lonely person who lives alone, whose family is no longer around?  

What if you told your pastor you want to help out at your church, and are willing to take on any task he or she needs help with at this time?  

What if you simply decided that you are going to go through 2018 doing more than just coasting through life? 

If you come up with a challenge, I invite you to share it with us, or even with our readers, as your idea may spark someone else to take on a similar challenge.  This coming year could be a year in which God changes you beyond your wildest imaginations, and maybe even changes the world through you and people like you.  

Could be pretty cool to be part of that kind of movement, couldn’t it? 



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Don't Miss the Opportunity Before You

CHANGING TRADITIONS

We are right smack in the middle of the holiday season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas just past…as well as Hanukkah...and New Year’s Day fast approaching.  

As I write, the ground which is already white with snow and ice, is getting a fresh coating of the cold flakes falling and blowing outside.  I hope you, my readers, have had a meaningful Christmas celebration, even if it has been radically different from those you experienced before.  

Our Christmas was very different, with very few of the usual traditions available to us this year, but some new opportunities arose to fill the void.

The transitions and changes in holiday celebrations forced by divorce (or death, or moving, or job loss, or…) can be difficult to face, but bring with them opportunities for something new and fresh.  There is an old saying I like that says that, “The only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!”  (God excepted, of course.)  One can become so fixated on the fact that if there had not been this life changing event, everything would be the way it was, that it is easy to forget that this isn’t true…life always changes.  

We get older.  Finances grow and decline.  People move from one place to another.  Children grow up, go to college, marry and start careers.  

Life is a continuous flow of changes.  It may be necessary to mourn the losses of the familiar past, but it is unwise to live there.  Change brings loss with it, but it also brings something fresh, and opportunities for new memories, meanings and relationships.  The trick, it seems to me, is to be able to mourn the losses appropriately while embracing the possibilities that come with a changing future and turning them into something good.  


As you are experiencing this year’s celebrations and whatever changes have come in your life, I encourage you to be intentional about creating something special today that will become a special memory tomorrow.  Each day is a gift to use for God and for good.  Don’t miss the opportunity you have today.  Take hold of the changes that are thrust into your life, and shape them into a treasure for tomorrow.  

With best wishes for a blessed holiday to each of you…Richard