If you have any idea what this post is about by the title, you deserve a prize. I doubt the connection between the items is at all obvious, unless maybe you’ve recently given them each good thought. But there is a connection, and one that concerns me. To put it as concisely as possible, the connection is “luxury and poverty.”
The Hunger Games presents this theme quite prominently, and even a bit humorously. While most of the people in Panem live difficult, impoverished lives, working hard to just provide the basics for their families and avoid the government’s wrath, one small part of the population does none of this. The residents of the Capitol live pampered lives in comparison. They feast while those in most Districts starve. With plenty of leisure time, they keep busy with absurd fashions, graphic television, and celebrity gossip. All of this comes, of course, from the slavish toil of the inhabitants of the Districts who struggle to get by.
Our reactions to the citizens of the Capitol seem to range from condescending amusement to unadulterated loathing. We tend to look down on them and think they should realize the tragedies outside of their walls. We may find ourselves indignant: “How dare they party so hard with so much food while poor children like Primrose never know if they’ll have enough to eat!” And that reaction would hardly be unwarranted.
The people of Israel in the prophet Amos’ day were in a similar place. There were poor and needy people throughout the land, but the rest did not care. They made their poverty worse with high taxes, lots of fines, slavish work, and apathetic attitudes. All the rich offered lavish sacrifices with extravagant celebrations which did not include the beggars they pushed their way through on the way to the temple. Women exploited those in need for clothes, then called to their husbands for more wine bought with fines and tax revenue.
Again, it is clear to see where the Israelites were wrong, especially when you see the strong language of the actual Bible. The natural response is horror and disbelief that people could live such luxurious lives at the expense of others who must live pathetic ones. The exploitation going on in Amos’ day seems to clearly justify the violent and terrible judgment which he prophesied against Israel.
I now reach us, the American Christians, and find disturbing parallels. Like the citizens of the Capitol and the rich Israelites, we never lack in food or clothes, and instead have our own problem of too little space in our closets and fridges. We act and speak as though we think of ourselves as the only people in the world, much like Cinna’s oblivious assistants. Many of us do not know or care anything about the state of peoples and nations that are aren’t in the news, like the Israelites who grew so proud in their national election that they thought nothing of the people near them. Republican Christians are likely to despise legislation which could actually help those in need if the government plays any part, while Democrat Christians are likely to support high taxes and strict regulations that no matter who they target, are likely to do damage all the way down to the poorest. In our individual lives, we applaud God’s condensation of the women who enslaved the poor for sandals, but I wonder how different that is from our imported clothes made in sweatshops. We stuff ourselves after church at Golden Corral without a thought to the millions of people whose budget to feed their children for a month is less than the price of our meal.
The truth is that we American Christians, even those of us who make below the official poverty line, live a life of luxury compared to most of the human race, both historically and geographically. This isn’t to say we’ve got no problems or lack. The rich life brings its own troubles. But we do sit obliviously atop the world’s economy. Ninety nine percent of Americans are really the top 1% of the world at large. This itself isn’t a bad or wrong thing. What justifies or condemns us is how we respond to that fact.
So what should we do if we don’t want to fall like Israel or Panem? I doubt God will be pleased if all we do is tag Jesus in the album of our otherwise normal, oblivious, pampered lives. In fact, I know He won’t be, since He tells us Himself in the parable of the sheep and the goats that He identifies deeply with the poor, oppressed, and needy. So to go most days ignoring them is all too close to ignoring the Father, even when we do personal devotions and church. Jesus tells us that He is hungry, He is sick, He is imprisoned, His children have been sold into sex slavery, He works hours and hours for a couple bucks, and can’t afford a place to live. So what will we do for our God?
To be honest, I’m not sure what all to do. Since I don’t see much of the suffering out there, it’s hard to get most of the needs. Moreover, I don’t like boycotts or such things because they are rarely effective or consistent. I’m also not convinced that the best route is a radical abandonment of normal life. Normal isn’t bad, after all. It’s a gift to be received with thanksgiving. But it is simply not enough on its own. So what do I propose? I don’t have much of anything concrete, but here are a couple ideas bouncing around in my head.
- During a month or longer, or even indefinitely, match all the money you spend going out to eat with a donation that puts food in the mouths of the hungry.
- Get out and see needs up close. Find the bad part of town and explore. Imagine how you would feel if you and your children had to live in that ratty house in that dangerous neighborhood. Make it hard to forget or ignore.
- Start keeping up with the politics, news, and general welfare of another, less prosperous country, and consider what it would be like if you lived there. Start praying for them and getting involved in projects that can benefit them. Maybe even take a trip.
- Try getting involved in something obvious and stereotypical that you never thought to do, like helping at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Avoid excuses, e.g. You are not truly too busy, and if you are, then get less busy. Take real time and real effort to meet needs and involve yourself with people who don’t have so much luxury.
- Fast, but not for your personal growth in particular. Instead, give up something you have that much of the world doesn’t, and spend the time in prayer, service, and giving for their provision.
All of this is pretty experimental in my head, and I still need to try to implement stuff like this in my own life. I haven’t so far, at least not much, but reading Amos has convicted me again. So also remember not to be offended, because most of this criticism is really about me.