Thursday, July 07, 2005

An undeclared, but very real, war

My brother [rhymes with kerouac] has written a challenging post that has crystallized a lot of my thoughts about the G-8 summit, Live-8, and a lot of the recent strident voices in the so-called "evangelical right."

It seems we're at war, all right.

[rwk] says it so very clear: this is a war between the rich and poor, between the powerful and the powerless. This great divide, sooner or later, forces all of God's children into a no-man's land between two equally adamant world views: that in which expedience merely serves our self and that in which the love of Christ is expressed in a surrender of self for a world full of 'others'.

He is so very right. The battle between "I want what I want" and "I'm called to take care of my neighbor" has become very much like the Cold War - shaping the way we look at everything, and everyone. The big difference, of course, is that there isn't some hulking evil super-power "over there" working to destroy us. The opposing side is likely my next-door neighbor, or the person in the apartment two floors up. They attend my church, pray to my God, love their kids, and are probably great employees.

But when it comes to a choice between an iPod and giving money (or time) to caring for those who are "the least of these," the two sides of this battle react very differently. I have often wondered, as I see a bazillion-dollar Hummer rolling down Michigan Ave., whether the driver's contributions to charity total even a tithe of the payments on that thing. In fact, I wonder what the world would look like if every CD, every DVD, every product you'd buy at BestBuy or CompUSA, carried a mandatory 10% contribution to charity...

And yet this battle is also very much like the war in Iraq. The government and the media seem to be very focused on ensuring that the casualties in both battles are invisible to the average Mary and Joe. One of the reasons the Vietnam War ended when it did (when it could have easily run for years and years) was because we saw the body-count every night on the news. We saw the bodies of dead servicemen and women coming back; we saw the carnage.

And a whole lot of people started saying, "This HAS to stop. NOW." And it stopped.

But there are no images of wounded and dead soldiers coming from Iraq...and no pictures of homeless or hungry people on the front page of our newspapers. In fact, in Chicago the process of "gentrification," of clearing out low-income properties and building $359,000 condos, has become its own kind of religion. In this city, the answer is clear: "we don't want them around here; we don't want them visible. And the way to move 'em out is to buy up where they live, and drive them somewhere else." No outcry, no protesting - and the steamroller just rolls on, flattening those who get in its way...

Now, I have to confess - I spend time on both sides of this battle. I have driven past the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago without ever stopping to volunteer, or contribute. I try to help out folks when they ask, but I have also been a schmuck to panhandlers at times, too. And there have been plenty of times that I have come out of a restaurant, having had a good meal with good friends, and found myself annoyed by the homeless people asking for handouts. Given the day, you might wonder which side of the battle for "the least of these" I'm on.

But I know what side I want to be on. I'm not all the way there, yet - but with God's help, I can be a voice that says, "This HAS to stop. NOW."


Michael Dodd said...

Maybe it's the G-8 that has this on my mind, too. I was just pondering yesterday -- as I walked back to my apartment from picking up some diet ginger ale and non-fat sorbet for a refreshing summer treat that I could at least pretend was not going to go to (my) wa(i)ste -- how willing I and those like me are to make sacrifices.

It feels at times like others are willing to sacrifice me and those like me on the altars of their social conservative god, but what am I willing to sacrifice to my god [lower case intentional]?

Am I willing to forego the five bucks the snack cost me so that someone else can have a decent meal? Am I willing to forego a few extra degrees of cool air conditioning for the sake of slowing down the greenhouse effect an iota? Am I willing to sacrifice my whatever-extra for the sake of whomever-without at all? Or am I just as self-centered and self-absorbed and selfish as the people I condemn all the time in my heart, if not in my words?

The answer is probably all too often, "NO,", "No," "No," "Yes."

We have discussed before the complications of panhandlers and how to help in an effective way. I like the suggestion I picked up from rwk (I think) about trusting God [upper case intentional] to let me know when to give and when to refrain.

I just wish that other god were not making so much noise to distract me so much of the time.

Well, I have to go sip politically-correct coffee now in the air conditioned comfort of the lounge before heading off to the foodservice where I will get the staff discount as I choose from four kinds of pizza, eight kinds of wraps, burgers [beef and veggie], fries, chicken, pork, fish, salads and (thanks be to god! [lower case intentional]) fat-free frozen yogurt on which I can dump hot fudge and strawberries.

How do I live with myself?

Bar L. said...


I don't know if you saw my post today on hunger in the U.S. but that has been on my mind a lot lately. Here's the killer - I've been wanting an Ipod for so long. An Ipod, like I need more ways to play music. I have a CD player in my car and my house, my computer with all my songs, a satelite can I justify an Ipod when I could do something worthy with the $200?

As far as giving money to people on the streets, etc....I do what Damien does. I refer to God each and every time and if He says give I do, if not I don't.