ah crap, for the second year in a row, I missed blog action day...
this year's theme was global poverty, a topic that I am incredibly passionate about so you can imagine my dismay when I logged on one day late and was too demoralized to even post earlier this week. however, I can take solace in the fact that I am involved in some concrete efforts to reduce poverty, both locally and globally and this is at least a small part of the reason that I have been such a poor blogger lately.
regardless, in honor of blog action day, which I missed, I thought that I would reprint the article I published a while back in the bohemian alien, which is currently offline for a while. here it is if you're interested.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about toothbrushes and bicycle crashes.
My boss, the honorable Rev. Bob Willis, has a saying related to biking for transportation safety-related issues. “Respect the Ride,” he says. About a year ago, iPod in hand and helmetless, I managed to hit a rock (or a bottle?) and wound up getting my face glued back together in the emergency room at Clovis Community Hospital. I did not respect the ride. Fortunately, my injuries were relatively minor but in response, I now wear a helmet (O.K., most of the time, I wear one) and I try to ride unencumbered by objects like fountain drinks or textbooks in my hands.
A couple of months ago, I was privileged to spend some time in the countryside outside Ensenada, Mexico with some very poor indigenous Indian children whose families could not even afford proper food, much less toothbrushes for their large families.
Many of the families we met there had come up from the Oaxaca province in southern Mexico to find a better quality of life and instead wound up as indentured servants, indebted to farm owners who leverage the families travel costs against any meager wages they earn. They live in refugee-style camps, bathing outdoors and sleeping in chicken coops or plastic tarps draped over trees.
These living conditions were shocking and brutal, rivaling anything I’ve seen on television or elsewhere. In my life, I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world, from South America to Asia to Eastern Europe and more, and I have never witnessed up-close the poverty that I saw there, only 70 miles from the U.S. border.
Tragically, the children themselves are often victims of discrimination and have little-to-no educational opportunities. Many of the Indians from Oaxaca are non-Spanish monolingual and are unable to adjust to the culture of Baja California. The children live in the rural camps, far from the Mexican school system, and often work all day in the fields with their parents. These families who come from far away in search of opportunities are then stranded without opportunity.
As accurately as I understand it from my western perspective, these families are de facto slaves.
On the same trip to Ensenada, my wife Bekah and I were given the opportunity to speak for a group of about 20 local pastors and their wives. I talked about Amos Chapter 5, pointing out that the culture of the day was filled with wickedness and oppression because the people had lost their commitment to justice and the Kingdom of God. I shared that unless we who are the church repent and return to remembering the poor, we will never see transformation in culture or fulfill our missional calling to be the hope of the world.
As you might imagine, I felt some discomfort at telling a group of ministers in Mexico, many of who sacrifice every day for their calling and who are likely poorer than I am, to remember the poor and to pursue the call of justice.
Many of the pastors had teenage children and were anxious to hear about our own experiences growing up in the church. As a group, they were concerned about the destructive trajectory of youth culture in Mexico and its effect on their kids. We agreed that much of popular culture is rotten. However, it is not just popular culture that is damaged; our culture within the church has been equally shaped by the forces of materialism, greed and selfishness and is in need of transformation.
Which brings us back to bicycle crashes and toothbrushes.
There was real joy evident in the faces of the children when we distributed toothbrushes and hygiene items. I believe that our ministry there, both relational and relief oriented, was an act of compassionate and pleasing worship.
But the systematic cycle of poverty for migrant farm workers is a multi-faceted and complex problem, one that will take decades to solve. Advocating for the outcast, the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor will require a lifetime of patience, willful determination and the cultivation of Christ-like attributes. If I am going to commit my life to following the commands of Jesus and to his calling to be part of his mission to redeem the world, than I need to learn to “Respect the Ride.”
Meaning that it is a hard road I and my friends are called to. Meaning that a missional calling on behalf of the poor will be a hard sell in our often morally bankrupt “Christian” culture. Meaning that I have no choice but to get rid of some things that might encumber me.
Like bitterness, anger and despair.
The blatant injustice of things I have seen might make me angry. When I feel like a second-class Christian in my job as a pastor because I don’t have Red State political beliefs, I might get bitter. When I am confronted with the scale of global poverty, of 25,000 children starving to death today, I might be overwhelmed by despair.
Arturo Paoli says “We can move in the direction of justice, but if our personal relationships don’t become more human, we haven’t moved in the direction of the reign of God and, in the long run, we will discover that our point of arrival is just another form of tyranny.”
When I read that, I am convicted.
Because the cause of Christian Justice is a marathon, not a sprint, and putting aside my own minor frustrations and tribulations (honestly, they are nothing compared to the concerns facing malnourished children without clean drinking water) is not only recommended, it is a requirement.