Sunday, August 7, 2016
How Do You Live?
LIVING BEYOND OURSELVES
I have had opportunity to travel a number of places in the world, and have had good friends who travelled to others. That in itself is a privilege of the high standard of living many of us in the U.S. take for granted every day of our lives.
As I interact with a variety of individuals in a variety of settings, I find that my travels often bring a perspective that I suspect I would not have had otherwise. As I observe the world while traveling and experiencing life, I am saddened by the direction our culture seems to be headed. Let me explain.
In Mexico City years ago, as our train pulled into town, it rode through a large area of the city housing that consisted of, as I describe it, pieces of corrugated steel put together with a light bulb hanging down in the middle.
When I visited the Middle East, also some time ago, I saw the hovels that were the Palestinian refugee camps…not only in Israel which is much chided over the situation, but also across the river in the country of Jordan. It has cause me to wonder why, if the Middle Eastern Arabic speaking people care so much for the Palestinians, they don’t take it upon themselves to make space for them in their countries, instead of merely criticizing Israel.
In Bangladesh I saw individuals carrying sticks on their heads to either sell or to burn for cooking fires. They, too, lived in corrugated steel shacks…if they were lucky. Some seemed to have no place to live, as I observed a bicycle “taxi” driver spending the night sleeping on his bicycle, feet propped up on the handle bars, or little children scavenging in the street and playing with discarded videotape as if it were a wonderful toy.
I heard stories in Bangladesh of women trying to push their babies through the open windows of a minivan, in hopes that the occupants would take their children and give them a chance in life.
I have heard of villagers in the Philippines whose simple lives are so remote it takes hours to hike to their village, and where the eating of fresh meat from a slaughtered animal is a rare treat the entire village shares in together.
In Thailand I have seen women who have been taken from their remote villages and sent into prostitution as a way to raise money for the family to survive.
I have seen the homeless living in cardboard boxes on the streets of New York City, and alcoholics sleeping on streets in Seattle and New York, sometimes washing a car window for a dollar, just as it is depicted in the movies.
I have seen pictures of orphanages in Uganda, filled with children forced into war as young soldiers, first having to shoot their own parents.
I have watched the recent news reports of refugees, homeless and displaced by the atrocities of ISIL, or taken as sex slaves for that heinous gang.
I have known of mission work in the back hills of Kentucky, helping individuals in homes where the flooring has long since rotted away, leaving only dirt to walk on.
I have heard of cruise destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, stopping at beautiful hotels, waterfalls and tourist shopping, while just outside the glamour are the poverty stricken individuals who seek only to survive another day.
These are some of the things I have learned and seen. I could add many more, and I am sure you could as well.
Having seen all these things, I am mindful of the refrigerator and shelves in my home that are filled with food to select from for a meal, or the closets in my home that have more than ample clothing options. I observe in the world around me the amount of money spent on dogs or cats and other pets in over the top expenditures for luxury items at a price that could have provided a month’s supply of food for a starving child. I have seen stickers on fancy automobiles bearing of prices that could transform a third world village, rather than merely impress the neighbors.
There are a great many of us who have lives in which vacations are a regular option, food is readily accessible, multiple-room housing is the norm while thousands and thousands of dollars are spent on our weddings, funerals, birthdays, Christmas gifts and travel budgets. I don’t believe we are expected to have NOTHING. However, I do believe we will all be held accountable for what we do with the resources we have, though many of us in America act as if we will not.
We need to be reminded that time and again in the scriptures, the prophets make clear that God notices the plight of the poor, orphaned and downtrodden, and that he also notices those who live in comparative luxury with no concern for the needs of others. In the United States, it is easy to slough off our responsibility by saying it is the government’s job to care for the poor; that is why we pay taxes. (That statement alone should remind us of Dicken’s Christmas Carol and hard-hearted Mr. Scrooge.)
All of these things, and more unnamed, suggest to me that unadulterated, self-centered narcissim is on the rise. It is a troubling trend. Perhaps that same narcissism in the source of many divorces in our world today. I believe it incumbent upon each of us to regularly evaluate our lifestyles and our budgets in light of the suffering that exists in our world. Even then, we must be wise in the way dollars are spent.
I have heard of government aid that is sent to blighted areas of the world, only to be left on the tarmac after being captured by war lords who care nothing for the plight of the people.
I have heard of the CEO’s of “helping organizations” raking in huge salaries gleaned from the top of the donations received. But I have also heard of mission work around the globe in which wells of clean water are dug for thirsty people or cattle, goats and chickens are provided to help villages begin animal husbandry and escape malnutrition.
I know of individuals working hard to rescue women and children trapped in the tragedy of sex slavery.
Real Christianity cares not only for someone’s ticket to heaven, but for the sharing of love in tangible ways as we seek to help others find a better life now AND in eternity.
I wonder how many marriages might be saved, or how many divorced persons might rediscover joy, it those individuals chose to be involved in something bigger than themselves, and actively gave their resources and their lives to help those around the world who are in such desperate need. The life lived only for oneself is a small life indeed, and is perhaps the worst blight in humanity today. Perhaps it has always been that way. The writings of the prophets suggest it has been going on for a long time. But the prophets also suggest that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way, and we don’t HAVE to go along with it. It is a challenge we each must face as we look in the mirror day by day. I know it is a challenge for me! Perhaps that is the point of the bumper sticker I have seen that says,
“Live Simply, That Others May Simply Live.”