"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.