Having Nothing

People open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. God has turned me over to the ungodly and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior. (Job 16:10-14 NIV)

Usually, it seems that there is a kind.of justice in the world. People get certain gifts, certain blessings, certain things, even if those things are not part of their ideal vision for a “better life.” Some people may think of this as the “Invisible hand” in literal, capitalistic terms. Others may think of it as fate, or perhaps liken it to a game of cards (eg. We all get dealt a hand, good or bad or both). But Christians generally think of it as God’s will or God’s plan. Something that is not entirely dependent on actions, merit, luck, or coincidence, but something that has great meaning.

So it seems like most of us get something. We may be severely lacking in one department, but maybe we also have consolations, pleasures, and joys in our everyday lives. Maybe we have certain things that other people don’t have, while lacking things that other people do possess so effortlessly. So it’s kind of a tradeoff.

And then, it seems like some people have absolutely nothing. Look at Job- his family died, his health is in shambles, he has no possessions, everyone hates him… The only thing he has left is God, but he wonders if even God has abandoned him. There are probably a lot more people like this than we may think… people living on the margins of society, who seem to have neither material possessions, a reliable food source, family, reputation, friends, or purpose.

It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t make much sense. Let’s all say a prayer for those people out there, and maybe we can do something about it too.

 

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Why We Should Be Careful How We Help Others

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Poverty is all around us, even if we chose to ignore it. When you’re sitting in your warm car, it’s much easier to ignore the panhandlers by the intersections and continue your conversation than it is to acknowledge the human suffering going on. Poverty takes many forms and doesn’t restrict itself within borders, but forgive me for limiting the discussion, because for right now, I am going to talk about Africa.

What does a white person know about Africa, you ask? Not much- it’s not like I have ever even been there. But I have read Dambisha Moyo’s (she is an African) book Dead Aid, a treatise against “governmental” aid for African countries, which is what this discussion will be based off.

The fact that I have been mentioning Africa might have just caused a little pang of pity to vibrate on your heartstrings. That is why so much money and so many supplies have been sent there over the years. And, apparently, to little avail. Despite all this assistance from our rich governments to African ones, per capita income overall has decreased (Moyo 5). The money that is sent there, with its objectives that white people cooly dictate, is used for unintended purposes- about 85% worth (Moyo 39). And that’s not all. I wish that were all.

Sending foreign made supplies can be detrimental to the African economy because local producers will lose customers. Which means… People somewhere are losing jobs (Moyo 44). Clearly, something is wrong with that picture.

And here’s something ironic. The US government subsidizes farms, which costs money. While at the same time, we pay for aid. Sure, politicians have their reasons for it, but no one who knows about economics (I can attest to this too even as a first year economics major) will argue that more trade could really help Africa, and American consumers too (Moyo 114-115).

The flood of aid affects the value of currency, which can drive up the prices of African exports, making it hard to compete with lower world prices (Moyo 62). And this aid is not really free money. Interest must be paid, causing lots of debt. That’s something that we can understand here in the States. This debt had to be restructured (Moyo 18-19). Clearly that wasn’t a fantastic solution. Besides these concerns, there are so many others economic problems with aid that I can’t even begin to summarize without basically going over the whole book. Simplistically put, aid is starving Africa, and if you don’t believe me, read the book yourself and some intelligent counter-arguments as well, if you like.

Obviously, I’m a little uncomfortable with all of this as a Christian. As much as I would like capitalism to benefit everyone, I know that it doesn’t. Self-reliance is a nice idea, but it doesn’t always put food on the tables of well-intentioned people. The only thing is, it’s put food on more tables than its counterpart, communism.

I still believe in helping out our fellow man, not leaving our brothers at the mercy of the markets. Which aren’t terribly merciful. I still believe in missionaries, in people who help out kids who don’t have a voice and who didn’t have a chance. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to stifle the local economies of the countries we seek to help in the process. Is there a way to help out without doing more harm than good? I think so. We can spread the Word, empower, assist, and do all that in a way that respects the integrity of foreign peoples. Treating them like children isn’t going to cut it. I think there is a solution, we all just need to put our heads together. I hope to be part of that solution as soon as possible.

One way to help Africa, and probably many other regions, is through trade. But we don’t have free trade. Should we? If we did, African producers would be better off. But that begs the question- what about the American jobs that would be lost? This is a good question. I think anyone who’s been to Detroit lately will agree that Americans need jobs. But so do other people around the world.

It’s not an easy solution to an easy problem. It seems like no matter how you manipulate the situation, someone gets screwed. Why does it have to be that way? I would imagine that there’s enough money to floating around to feed everyone in the world and then some.

I’m not saying that we need equality. That is impractical and impossible, among other things. Sorry communists. But what if everyone in the world had a job and food to eat and hope for the future? What if everyone was aware of Christianity, even if they don’t believe?

Works Cited

Moyo, Dambisha. Dead Aid. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009. Print

Photo credit: andykristian.com

A Blue Christmas

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I am beginning to understand why the approach of the holidays (Christmas, in my book, because it least it has the word Christ in it) often makes people depressed. I remember being a kid, and loving Christmas, for materialistic reasons, mostly, but being excited about it just the same. Was I going to get the newest gaming system thing, or, worst case scenario, just some new dolls? I wish I hadn’t been so greedy, but I miss those simpler sorts of dilemmas.

But this Christmas is not going to be so hot. With no friends, no extended family coming over, no material things to receive, and nothing that I even want that can be bought with money… what’s there to look forward to? No wonder suicide rates are so high this time of year, a lot of people have much less to look forward to than I do.

“It’s just another birthday (my birthday is a few days before Christmas), just another Christmas, just another New Year, which will be the same as last year or even worse, and at the end of it, I’ll be the same as the year before, or even worse. Where are the best years of my life?”

I can spend a lot of time thinking like this, thinking about how pathetic my life is and how I can’t wait to go to heaven and sing with the angels and my Christian friends who never liked me on earth. But then I remember… why am I wasting my time being sad and holding back tears? What does it matter if some parts of my life aren’t perfect? Who said that life was going to be easy and predictable and rosy all the time? Am I the first person who has experienced hurt? No. Will I be the last? No. Does anyone want to hear me complain, does anyone think my pain is justified, and does anyone really care? No.

I have everything that I need. And at least I can look forward to spending time with my immediate family, writing, perhaps some cookie baking and tree-decorating. What more can a person want out of life?

In economics, we learn about how self-interest makes the world go round. We learn how “smart for one, smart for all” puts food on the table. Yet I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to always be thinking about how to improve my life and worrying about what people think of me. I want to do my job and keep my soul, living a life that responds to Christ’s great sacrifice. I’m so tired of being tired… it’s time to wake up and suck it up.

Photo: http://www.webmd.com