Each time I return to the US, I feel a little more out-of-place than I did on my previous visit. Guess I’m becoming “acculturated” to living in the majority world. (The current mission-speak for a Third World country. It reminds us that most of the world lives in poverty, with very different customs, practices and ideas than we in the Western World.)
Some of the differences are actually quite humorous. I still find myself trying to throw the toilet paper into the garbage can in the bathroom (which we have to do in Latin America—the pipes can’t handle it) even though I’ve been here a week. I feel a “guilty pleasure” when I brush my teeth with water from the tap, as if I am somehow tempting fate (which is what happens when you do this back home). And, as I drove my son’s car yesterday, I continually had to remind myself that here in the US, speed limits are taken seriously, even if the road ahead is wide open and you could gun it to get there faster.
Some of the differences lead me to evaluate my own attitudes and priorities. I think I’ve spent more on junk food here in one week than many Guatemalans spend to eat for a full month—and I think I’ve been pretty conservative. I realize how much more I “want” when I living, even for a short time, among people who have so much. I find it is so easy to become seduced by the materialism and affluence I see all around me.
Finally, while in the US, I frequently have to repent of my critical spirit. It is so easy to be angry at the affluence and waste I see; I become confused by the “independence” which is so much a part of the American character. (I chuckled as I just wrote “American” because it so heavily indicates how ego-centric we in the US are. In Guatemala, I still live in America; the Guatemalans, too, are Americans; the culture and the life-style are a kind of American, too. The way we live is not American but is unique to the US and possibly Canada.)
This struggle came to a head Sunday morning as I was walking to church. . .an affluent church with cushy pews, high tech worship and all the creature comforts any “worshipper” could ask for. As I walked through the parking lot, I felt the frustration rising in me. I asked the questions I frequently do in ministry: “Is this really what Jesus told us to do?” And I struggled, because this affluence supported me for the ten years I was on the staff, and this church is still one of my main supporters.
As I entered the building and saw so many familiar faces of people I dearly love, I because even more confused. These are good people who dearly love and desire to serve Jesus. How do they not see the injustice of them having so much when others have so little? What’s really going on here?
God settled this for me the minute I opened the doors to the worship center. I was a few minutes late, and praise was in full swing. The minute I stepped inside, I knew I was on holy ground. I could literally feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in this body of believers—as palpably as I feel the overwhelming incense used in the processions in Guatemala. God is as much a part of this huge church as any prayer gathering in Guatemala.
And I was humbled. . .God has not appointed me the “affluence police” to condemn and criticize those who have more. Really, even in Guate, I am one of the “haves” not not the “have nots.” I realized I also don’t need to feel guilty for what I have, because He has provided it for me.
This brought to mind a passage from the Rule of St. Benedict which he wrote to guide how his monks and nuns should live:
Let us follow the Scripture,
"Distribution was made to each
according as anyone had need" (Acts 4:35).
By this we do not mean that there should be respecting of persons
(which God forbid),
but consideration for infirmities.
She who needs less should thank God and not be discontented;
but she who needs more
should be humbled by the thought of her infirmity
rather than feeling important
on account of the kindness shown her.
Thus all the members will be at peace.
This gave me some insight into what I’ve been feeling. . .by US standards, I have “less” and I am content with it. The Guatemalans have very little, and yet I don’t see most of them striving for “more” only longing to have “enough.” The desire for material things is not the driving force in their lives (though, among the wealthy, sadly, this is so; maybe even more so than in the US).
What I have come to realized is that my frustration with the US life-style is not so much what we have. It’s the fact that the US “feels important” because of what we have, rather than being aware that in God’s economy, perhaps it is because of our “infirmity” that we need more. We feel entitled to what we have and to have even more.
The occupy Wall Street folks have talked with anger about the “1%,” all the while not realizing that, when one considers a world-wide view, WE ALL are the “1%.”
We cling tightly to what “little” we have, letting our fear of sharing it hold us captive. We live by the attitude of John D. Rockefeller, who, when asked by a reporter how much money is enough replied, “Just a little bit more.” We fear to give away, because we will then have less—though we will still have more than most of the world. This fear, this bondage, is not God-driven but smacks of the world, our flesh, and even our enemy.
And I pray, “God heal our land. . .”