Wednesday, May 19, 2010

abundance and scarcity

I've often written about the raw and difficult struggle we've come to engage in while we live in two worlds, two realities, two countries. The struggle to rectify: rich vs. poor, feasting vs. fasting, such abundance and such shocking scarcity; and how we are to live within the tension - is ongoing.

We come from a culture that says we need a lot - in fact, we need everything, we need newer, flashier, bigger, and better. It goes unnoticed by most. When I speak of it, I am often met by a blank stare. "What do you mean our culture pushes us further into materialism?" It required being removed - physically by living in another country/culture - in order for the problem to become so glaringly obvious to me.

At home in Port au Prince I just don't care much about clothing, cars, concerts or home-decorating. I feel content. I might crave some special favorite food but I don't ever wish I could go browse the aisles for another new outfit or pair of shoes. When I'm in Haiti I don't struggle against those cultural pressures - the lies that lead me to believe that my wants are actually needs. I can hardly look around at my neighbors and feel that *we* need more. How could I?

Jesus said:
"I tell you the truth. It will be very hard for a rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel

to go through the eye of a needle

than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

Part of my discomfort with this extended time away from Haiti is that I am much more comfortable being removed from our American culture and its shopping and restaurants and entertainment. Because when confronted with it - I want to engage it far too frequently.

What do we need? What do we want? How can we do better at keeping the wants from moving to the needs column in our minds? I don't want to buy the lies of my culture. I don't need most of what I own. My mind and my first culture are tricking me every day.

I am beyond grateful for having been given an opportunity to engage in this struggle. There are things to learn and I am thankful to be learning. I just wish I knew more. I wish I had the answers. I want the perfect balance to come easily, even naturally.

Balance eludes me.

In truth, even the life we live in Haiti is not a hard life.

Different? Yes, very. Stretching? Yes. Unpredictable? For sure.
But Hard? No. Not really. Not by comparison.

We have electricity most of the time. We have water most of the time. We do not wake up wet when it rains at night. We are not crowded into a small space. We can afford bug spray and Chloroquine. If one of our children gets gravely ill, we have the option to get on an airplane and leave.

Sure, it's very hot. But I don't live in a 8 X 10 plastic shelter without a fan under the blazing sun with neighbors stacked on top of me. I've never truly known hard.

After the earthquake, our family/living room was set up to house guests and medical personnel. Ten twin beds fit there. Now that the guests have gone and we'll eventually get back to a new normal, why shouldn't ten homeless women/children sleep in my living room? It's a great question. A question to wrestle with, pray about, and entertain.

An acquaintance considering a move to Haiti wrote me this week. She asked for advice on this troublesome dilemma. My response said, your main motivation to live with the poor cannot be guilt over all that you have materially. The motivation has to go deeper than that or you won't last long.

The exchange with her got me questioning many things all over again and examining my own motivation and my approach to both material things and loving my neighbors.

In further correspondence we discussed what our duty, our commission, our service should look like. We talked about the seemingly endless needs in Haiti and our position of privilege that allows us the luxury of setting up boundaries even as we make our weak and lame attempts to love, serve and try to empathize with the poor.

In one email, I said:
"I hear you on all of it. It is SO hard. I can only tell you that four plus years in Haiti and I know less than I have ever known in my entire life. I can go and love on poor ladies in our program each week, but I can never understand what they face. I can pretend to, I can try, but ultimately - I have a way out of Haiti - and they don't - so the idea that any of us with U.S. passports can ever identify with a poor Haitian person is sort of false.

The question always is - what are my boundaries and what does Jesus say my boundaries should be ... and there is SO much room for debate there - and it would vary person to person and situation to situation.

God does not call everyone to move to Haiti and He does not call everyone in Haiti to live the same way. The struggle is real and healthy and may never lead you to a place of peace because in an unjust world, how do you ever find peace except to trust that Jesus will one day redeem it.

Until then you fight and cry and try your best.

Today I need to take my own advice. Today I am anxious for redemption to come.


photos: TroyLivesay