October 30, 2008

Thoughts From the 37th Congressional District

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

I'm still haunted by the questions voiced at the congressional candidates' forum last week. The candidate who gets elected will be our representative in Washington, D.C., where he or she will help make decisions on a national level. Given the United States' influence and power in the world, the decisions of our representative will have not just a national impact, but one that reaches around the world. And yet, the number one priority for most of those in attendance that night seemed to be: "What can you do for me?"

There were, of course, variations. "What can you do for my family? What can you do for my business? What can you do to clean up the air I breathe? What can you do to make my neighborhood a better place to live?" I have nothing against clean air or a better neighborhood, of course, but the focus on "me" and "mine," I found disturbing.

I recently was introduced to an acronym that I wasn't familiar with: HENRY. It stands for "high earner, not rich yet," and refers to people who make at least $250,000 a year. HENRYs want politicians who will help them become rich, because with an income of "only" $250,000, they don't feel that they're quite there yet. "Enough about Joe," they say, referring to Joe the Plumber; "let's talk about HENRY."

Yes, poor HENRY. HENRY is poor--just not in terms of money.

In 2008, the rich continue to get richer, while the poor get poorer. $250,000 isn't "rich," and yet, globally, so many live in poverty that 30,000 children die each day from preventable causes. That's over ten million children each year. To save them would require $25 billion. As Bono said recently, it is extraordinary that we can find $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, but we can't find $25 billion to save the world's children; $700 billion that will primarily help HENRY and his friends, but next to nothing to help those who are starving.

That is wrong.

I am a follower of Jesus, who was a friend to the poor, so perhaps it's only natural that I see things the way I do. I admit that being a Christian has altered my world-view. But even if I wasn't, I think I'd be concerned about the growing resentment and desperation of the world's poor. That resentment and desperation is threatening to explode in violence, which is why we invest so heavily in defense and counterterrorism to the tune of trillions of dollars. It's all spent to make us feel "secure."

I think I'd feel a lot more secure if there weren't so many angry and desperate people out there, people who are tired of getting trampled upon by the rich and powerful (which, globally-speaking, certainly includes me, even though I make less than a third of what HENRY makes). I think I'd feel a lot more secure if the poor had something to eat, instead of staring at me through the window while I sit at my dinner table, their hunger pains increasing to the point that they'll go to any measure to alleviate their misery.

Our current way of thinking is broken, and therefore we live in a world of brokenness and fragmentation. A new way of thinking and acting is required if we are to move toward wholeness.

What if we started caring not only for our own interests, but the interests of our neighbors around the world? What if we gave $25 billion worth of food to the poor, and gave Wall Street only $675 billion? Given that Wall Street's share would still be so much larger, and that the number of poor is so great, it would hardly be "spreading the wealth." But perhaps, if we did these things--if we stopped trampling upon the poor, and started loving our neighbors as we love ourselves--we'd be on our way to a more peaceful and secure world.

A world of glaring inequality--between countries and within them--is never going to be a fully safe world, even for its most privileged inhabitants. --Kofi Annan

The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth, from which there is no shelter or isolation or armament. The storm will not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of the earth enables people everywhere to live in dignity and human decency. --Martin Luther King, Jr.

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