I wasn’t sure what to write about today; there have been different themes running through my brain lately. I thought this might become a Friday Fragment, but my first fragment has grown to full-post size. See for yourself…warning: serious thoughts ahead!
Always in search of another book to
devour read, I settled this week on Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. This will be the second time through for me. I don’t think I got much out of it the first time, as I don’t seem to remember any of the last third of the book! It’s about the family of a white Southern Baptist preacher who go to the Congo on a mission in 1959. Not to spoil the book for you, but…things don’t go well. Still, even after the mission falls apart, the remainder of the family spends the next three decades processing what happened and how it changed them (or didn’t). The book highlights the themes of the western (white) world imposing its ways on a “primitive” culture and geography, without examining them first to understand how the system already works.
This is not a book review; just an introduction to my own thoughts. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been aware of those who have less—much less—than we do. When I moved into my first apartment alone in my twenties, I was a bit embarrassed by the overwhelming number of material possessions I had to move with me. Clothes, bathroom supplies, kitchen gadgets and gewgaws, curtains, framed pictures, stereo and cds, computer and furniture… And I kept thinking about truly poor people in Central America or Africa, who have nothing but a tin cup and the clothes on their backs. How can I possibly need so much when they survive with so little?
My mind cannot wrap itself around the wide separation in our fortunes, those of us who fret over matching napkins and those who pray for enough extra harvest to sell for meat. Those of us who scour the shops for the perfect shoes to match a bridesmaid’s dress, or argue over whether probiotic yogurt is really effective, versus those who cross a river hoping the crocodiles are downstream, or watch their children wither with dysentery. How can I seriously be expected to care whether my pants are properly ironed when I know across the globe others are going hungry?
But honestly…what can I do? What am I supposed to do? I’ve never mentioned here that I do sponsor a girl in Sénégal—Fatou. I’m not a great sponsor; my letters to her have been ridiculously spotty. Still, because of my paltry but regular $24 a month, I know one girl has stayed in school rather than go to work to supplement her mother’s $800 annual income. One girl has learned enough math to keep a budget and enough French to speak her mind. One girl has gotten information about basic hygiene which will hopefully protect her from malaria, dysentery, AIDS… One girl out of millions.
I could do more, though. Besides writing Fatou more often, I could send her more money. Or sponsor another Fatou, or maybe a Maria in El Salvador, and a Chan in Cambodia. Why is it ok for me to not sell all my worldly possessions and join Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross; to dig wells or teach French and English to a classroom of Fatous?
Because we can’t all do it, I guess. Because there’s no point in going if you’re not called to it, otherwise you become a bigger liability than a help. I know myself well enough to imagine I’d be pretty dang distracted by missing air conditioning and my big king-sized bed at home. Teaching is hard enough for me with AC and all the comforts of home. So much for the shirt off my back.
That’s what gets me: as a Christian, I am supposed to give up everything, all my worldly attachments, to serve God. But does God really want me to wander naked and possession-less in the wilderness? No, I don’t think that’s the point; I can’t serve if I can’t survive. So where’s the dividing line; at what point is it ok to stop giving away and keep some to live on? In the States, “enough to survive on” has a very different meaning than in the Congo. We have to keep up appearances here: to keep our jobs, to keep a roof over our heads and to have enough extra to sponsor a child in Africa.
This post is full of questions, but not so many answers. I suppose what’s most frustrating is knowing that this is the way it’s always been…and for the foreseeable future, this is the way it will always be. No matter how many sponsor children or run off to join nonprofits in the hinterlands, there will always be those who have more than they recognize, and those who have less than they need. You and I, we were blessed to be born into parts of the globe that have a great variety and depth of resources. I just wonder if somewhere, a thousand years in the future, the reverse may be true.
Deep thoughts for the end of a week, huh? I’d love to hear yours!