Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Know your Neighbor as Yourself

"I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?" _Mother Theresa

Last night in class we were talking about wealth and poverty. We read Dallas Willard's chapter from Spirit of the Disciplines called "is Poverty Spiritual?" and in it, one of Willard's main points is that owning possessions is not evil but it is the ways in which we consume them and trust in them can be evil. He points out that becoming poor is "one of the poorest ways of helping the poor." In class I was expressing some of my concerns with his argument including his presupposition that excessive wealth can be attained ethically, without perpetuating the very systems which keep people in poverty and cause others to die while we eat.

Another of Willard's points is that the wealth is going to be managed/owned by someone, why not by Christians? Why not by people who will distribute it to those who really need it? It was a good point, but I expressed some discontent with that as well. I said, "I don't know if I should be the one to manage that wealth." My professor said, "it's going to be managed by someone, why not by you?" and in a moment of shear confession I responded "because I don't know the people who really need it, I only know you guys."

I've often said that the greatest issue within the discussion of wealth and poverty is not the some are rich and some are poor, however unfair that reality may be, but the real issue is that the rich and the poor do not know each other. It would be great if good, well intentioned people had all the wealth and would evenly distribute it to abolish poverty (at least the sort of poverty which kills people) but more often than not, the people who have the money spend it on fancy cars and humongous houses, even if those people are well intentioned Christians. I don't think this is because they are totally selfish. I think it's because they don't know the people who are really in need. It's because they don't see people dying as they hand over money, that would otherwise keep them from dying, to car salesmen.

Mother Theresa once said, "I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?" I would take this a step farther and ask, who is your neighbor? Is it the rich, are your neighbors driving fancy cars and squandering their wealth on incidental things? If you knew your neighbor and they were dying of hunger could you still buy that Bentley? The problem is that we, the rich, do not know our neighbors, the poor. If we have much and they have little, it's difficult to pray "give us this day our daily bread" without giving up some of the bread we have in excess.

We need to find creative ways of knowing our neighbors. We need to practice solidarity.

5 comments:

nate said...

Based off this post I think you would be interested in my new job...it has a lot to do with mother theresa. My wife says, "they need to start building smaller houses with bigger porches," (going back to the know your neighbor thing...it's more allegorical than anything).

Danny said...

Wes,
I just finished reading about knowing your neighbor in Mike Erre's book that I bought. I also finished reading a similar post from New Zealand by Jordon Cooper that you can read here:

http://www.jordoncooper.com/2008/10/21/no-one-really-cares-that-much/

Don't read it though unless you're willing to be in a bad mood for a while afterwards. We discussed in classes today that the biggest problem with inequality in schools is that good teachers either don't want to move over to urban districts or they want to stay in urban districts for more than two years. In other words, all the districts perpetuate the same thing over and over again.

I am reading a book called "Savage Inequalities" that I just bought for class today and I was happy to find the title of one of chapters:

Children of the Invincible City: Camden, NJ

I love you, Wes and I am very angry at the whole situation and I want to DO something about it, but I am like you. Who am I to say I know what to do with the money. I want to write more, but I will save it for later.

WES ELLIS said...

Nate,
I like your wife's saying, "they need to start building smaller houses with bigger porches." It's so true. We shouldn't be so identified by the boundaries of our properties as we often are in America. People can live a door away from one another without ever getting to know one another, that doesn't make sense and it shouldn't be so easy to do.

Danny,
I don't feel like being in a bad mood so I'll put off the reading for another time. Thanks for your thoughts. Which book by Mike Erre? Is it "Jesus of Suburbia"?

Danny said...

yeah. It surely is. I haven't gotten that far into it because I keep closing every time he doesn't cite something. He's not as bad a Rob Bell, but he still does it and that bothers the academic side of me.

Have you read it?

WES ELLIS said...

I have read it and i loved it. I gave my copy to Ty Dripps.