Tuesday, 25 October 2011

living in a world of excess

I know that the whole world isn't full of excessive living, but my part sure is. I'm especially reminded of this when I travel to developing countries, or host guests from those countries.

Having a teenager from Afghanistan come to live with us has made me question some of my spending choices. The whole "is this a need or a want" question just seems laughable at times, because I live so far from my needs. I live in the world of wants - many of which I carefully take the time to justify.

We had friends from Benin come to our house for supper last week. And I went through my usual list of hosting worries: the house is too small, we don't have enough places to sit, the house is too messy, will the food be ok. This is my ritual when hosting people at our place. I worry. But when they come, I have no problem living in the moment and enjoying myself and I wonder why I ever worried. Silly.

But there's one other thing that I'm a bit self-conscious about when hosting these friends: we feed a rodent in our kitchen. Not just human hungry bellies, but a rodent's too. Mind you, this is a furry and lovable guinea pig pet who lives in a cage. But still. It's a rodent. Living in better conditions than many of the world's people. And that makes me more than a little uncomfortable. It makes me wonder what my responsibility is in this whole messy world we live in. Why am I stuffed while others starve?

My husband talks about living in Colombia and being inspired by the people there. No one he encountered asked, "What can we do?" They just jump in and DO something. And they have far fewer resources than I do. So why do I feel helpless sometimes, overwhelmed by the problems, wondering what I can do to help? Why can't I just jump in?

We have this prayer hanging in our kitchen. It's a good reminder of this imbalance in the world:

God, please help the poor get rich and the rich get poor so they know 
what it feels like. 
And then, God, let everyone switch back to medium 
and let everyone have the same amount of food and money. Amen. 
-- Ben Zimmerly Jantzi, 7 years old


  1. Rebecca, I struggle with these questions too. It is tricky to know how to "jump in" living here with seemingly so much. I often ask, "What is enough?". I love the photo you attached to this post - a table to gather around, food to share, beautiful artwork on the wall and a beautiful prayer by a 7 year old - such a profound and simple request. So very hard to achieve. Thanks for the thoughts today, Rebecca.

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Rebecca. I go back and forth between being content with what I have and feeling the need to replace stuff/add more. I find it easy to get caught up in consumption! It's important to have reminders around us that we already have so much more than we could ever need.

  3. Why can't you "just jump in?" You do, Rebecca. All the time. Maybe much more than you realize.

    In fact, it could be that the tendency to beat yourself up about not "DOING something" is a reflection of your (and my) "privileged" status in a variety of ways...

    A bit ago you posted about "why I am part of a church." It seems to me that one of the most profound realities about choosing to be part of the church - being a "member of the body" along with many others all around the world - is the fact that just BEING... participating in daily life with those around you (us), connected in multiple ways to the broader "body" and living that "body life," is in fact DOING something very significant.

    And this "doing" (or, maybe better, "being a part of") something significant and world-changing happens, in fact, from a position of weakness, not power.

    ("There is power revealed in weakness... there is Spirit in this mess...")

    In other words - it's not just DOING that matters, and our assumptions that our worth (or faithfulness, etc.) depends on what we DO and how much we DO - those assumptions, it seems to me, are reflections of the very "privileged" status that you are struggling with here. You make the assumption that you can and should DO something significant. That's ok - I believe that you (and I, and we, and all) can do significant things. And we need to be invited/challenged to see what/where we can "do."

    But sometimes, it seems to me, the most "powerful" thing we can "do" is to do (what apparently seems like) nothing... and just BE with one another, in the midst of suffering and powerlessness... around a dinner table, let's say...

    This is not to exempt us from "taking action," of course. My point is that we can so easily fall prey to the temptation to evaluate what we can/should "do," and the worth and impact of what we "do" by the wrong criteria... (and you know that this applies to me as much as to anybody!)

    Your blog, it seems to me, as a public record of your reflections and struggles and the significance-in-the-mundane-stuff-of-daily-life, is a profound witness to the fact that our (and your) value and worth does not depend on what we (or you) DO...

    I remember, when we lived in Colombia, we felt frustrated and discouraged because we felt we were not DOING enough. And our wise supervisor looked us in the eye, asked what we expected of ourselves, and said (I am paraphrasing): "Remember - after a few years, nobody here will remember what you did. Get over it. But they will always remember who you were, and how you treated them."

    Then again, you didn't really need me to say all this, did you... you said it already in your reflections on your anxieties about hosting people...

  4. Shauna - I like how you say that - simple and profound. I struggle with that enough question too.

    Heather - me too. I like having photos up in my kitchen of folks I encountered in India - reminds me in little ways through my days - but I still get that urge to consume way too many times.

    Bryan - preach it, brother! I need to hear this - I'm a doer by nature, doing, doing, doing, but I often wonder who my doing is for. It doesn't feel quite as noble as some other doers that I see out there. I'm not feeding the poor, or marching on Wall street, or revolutionizing anything. How am I working for justice? This is hard for me to see sometimes.