Thursday, September 22, 2011
Like a Jerk
I felt like a Jerk the first time I said it, though the more I thought about it the more I believed it: Poverty is relative.
I recently read two articles/blogs that echoed my statement but articulated it in ways not "Jerky". If you want to hear people say things better than me, check these out:
and especially http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/projecting-poverty-where-it-doesnt-exist
(Sorry if these don't link right)
Both authors had their own takes and reminded me of stuff I didn't want to think about. What gives me the right, in all the Starbucks WiFi clean water wealth of my culture, to determine what poverty looks like and who is in "need" of my help? I've met a few families, living in bamboo and mud huts respectively, who lived better happier lives than many wealthy Americans. It's nice to compartmentalize, stereotype, and judge based on our feelings of "should", but real life is much more complex.
Real poverty exists, the stuff with war, famine, diseased water, mass corruption, nonexistent resources, etc., and if we can do something about it we should. Passion, ingenuity, moral imperatives, christian ethics all come into play. But not having a T.V., "career", new car, secondary education, or living in a green construction house out of necessity rather than some Eco-friendly politically correct mindset, doesn't mean you need the beneficence of the West to come in and save you.
We all have the disgusting ability to evaluate life according to our own standards rather than God's. We evaluate quality of life according to our own expectations rather than anything with eternal significance. We like to think of "happiness" and "love" as the highest standards of a life well lived, yet we expect to find them in places incapable of creating them on their own.
We think the mentally retarded (sorry if this has become an inappropriate term, I honestly don't know what's politically correct anymore) are broken and deserving of sympathy and pity, as well they may be in some real ways, but we refuse to recognize they may in fact be healthier than us "normal" people in many ways that matter more. The few mentally retarded I've known and spent real time with have a childlike love of life and ability to give and receive love that probably comes closer to mirroring God and his desires than anything found in most "healthy" people.
Much like with what we call poverty, the impact and real quality of life for those with miss-formed brain systems varies greatly. For all the things I intend to do, the one I don't is downplay the challenges or hardships of others. Real poverty sucks and is demonic, literally or figuratively, and retardation is rarely if ever a gift. At the same time, we the healthy and wealthy, may be more broken than many - our ignorance worthy of pity. If happiness and love really represent high values in our lives, it's time we started acting like it and looking at what actually stimulates those things, at what actually matters.
I hope I never stop caring about and for the poor and broken, but I pray I never do it in the fiction I'm not one of them or that I know best. Humility may be the first casualty of "success", but asking God, "What does loving you look like in this situation?" and "How do you want to love in this situation?" are probably good ways to avoid meaningless and destructive behavior.
In the end, none of us are the ones who set the standards, we are the ones hopefully walking towards God. Socioeconomic and mental health don't dictate the journey, I hope we never act or think as if they do.