Monday, May 2, 2011

Two Worlds

On Saturday, I worked alongside five other people to rework a yard not more than ten minutes from the home Jennifer and I rent here in York. The project originated through an organization in York called Besom, who work with families on state-assistance. Without saying too much about the family, I can share that each time I walked from the backyard to the van in the front to deposit an armful of shrubs or a pile of prickers bushes that had been cut down, I had to breathe deep to prevent myself from crying.

Then, last night, Jennifer and I watched the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. We had left for England soon after the film came to DVD and we had never seen it. Watching the film was a powerful experience, and it brought back flashes of when Jen and I had gone to India, staying in the tiny village of Than Gaon in Dehra Dun, many years ago.

Finally, last night, I was finishing up the book Homegame by Michael Lewis. It's a delightful read about his journey as a father of three, and how he copes with the uncertain waters of parenthood. However, what struck me reading last night was a comment he records from one of his daughters, "Daddy, we're poor."  The daughter had been watching an interview with Bill Gates, and even though Lewis's family live in a beautiful home in a nice area and can afford nannying help, his daughter assumes this fact based on an interview with one of the richest people alive.

The synthesis of these three experiences kicked in this morning, when I woke up to find that most of us claim to live in a world where we still don't have enough. How else can a family or a person make enough money to go out to restaurants, movies, buy a variety of appliances, replace and fix those appliances, afford clothes within our closets that run deep enough to hide a full-grown shark--and yet still complain that--like Lewis's daughter--"We're poor."

I think one part of the problem is that many of us who have about 90% more than most of the world has aren't often faced with real poverty or real need. In our neighborhoods, we don't have to see it.

For instance, in anticipation of the big tourist season here in York, police recently swept through the downtown city center and "cleaned out" all of the homeless people. Where they were pushed off to and where they went, no one knows. But they were forced out, the prevailing wisdom being that those who travels many miles to spend gobs of money on designer clothes and highly fancy tea meals aren't interested in seeing hungry people along their spending journeys.


It's the boundary most haves use to assuage any sense of love or compassion. If we can get ourselves to live in communities with big enough walls that are far enough away from those who are hungry and addicted and afraid and have no family or friends on which to lean, then we can continue a basically comfortable life while convincing ourselves we're doing all we can.

When we lived in Massachusetts, Jennifer and I attended a very large church north of Boston. The church did a lot of wonderful things, but what struck us most painfully was when the church described the great need in and around the city of Boston, saying they wanted to plant a new church to minister to and serve those in need.

And then, they proceeded to plant this new church in another highly wealthy area.

I think, what struck me most regarding the confluence of the work-day experience and the movie and the book was simply this: most of us don't actually want to see what the world is really like, and offer our hands to help figure out how we can love. It's confusing. It's hard. And doing so makes it inordinately more difficult to buy nice bottles of wine or own multiple properties.

But the more the haves journey to parts of the world (and parts of our own towns) to meet with and see and talk with those who struggle to feed their children and to find stability, the more authentic love flourishes. And when authentic love is unleashed in the world, it's a force to be reckoned with.