Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Pat on the Back?

the church to which i belong is engaged in a number of mission projects, and, as i've thought about the good that we do in our community and the world, i've begun to ask myself about our motivation for these projects.  are we doing them to make ourselves feel better or are we truly helping those we purport to be helping?  do all of these missions help to bring about fundamental changes in the systems that contribute to suffering?

for some of our projects, the answer is obvious.  as we support a number of missions in rural haiti, including funding schools and providing assistance so that children can attend them, and drilling water wells and installing solar-powered pumps to make safe water available where none would be present otherwise, we are  enabling children in these areas to acquire the education that will help lift them from poverty, and our actions are improving the health of families.  these missions will certainly effect fundamental changes in impoverished rural villages.

in others projects, where we're providing food and clothing in our community, i'm not so sure that we're providing any long-term benefit.  certainly, it is right to feed the hungry and to provide clothes for those who need them.  but if that's as far as we go, we haven't addressed the underlying causes of food insecurity or lack of adequate clothing.  if we do nothing more than handout fresh produce from our community garden or distribute clothes from our clothes closet, are we doing enough?

i'm not suggesting that we ought to quit feeding the hungry or clothing the naked, but that's only a first step.  we must ask, "why are those we help hungry, inadequately clothed, and impoverished?"  how can we insure that we're not perpetuating the very suffering we seek to alleviate if this is all we do?  certainly, there are some who are hungry because they know that others will feed them, and some take advantage of the free clothing we distribute by taking clothing they don't need and selling what we've given them.  i'm convinced, though, from my experience in talking with those in need that few want to be in this position.  most want to work and to support themselves and their families.

when we look at the plight of the millions of working poor in our country, we see the desperate position in which they find themselves.  their meager wages will not support them and their families.  yet they are derided if they accept government assistance and called "lazy" by those who refuse to consider raising the minimum wage to a level that allows them to live without government "handouts."  we are told that they are "takers" who diminish the ability of the "producers" that some claim are the engine of the economy.

i'm not so sure that, while we're providing food and clothing assistance as part of our mission to those in need, we shouldn't also be participating in, or at least supporting those who participate in, the "occupy movement."  when i look at what some like these on the "buddha on strike" site are doing, i question whether some of what my group is doing isn't simply done to make ourselves feel better while not really providing much systemic help to those we purport to assist.

my prayer for myself, for all of us, is that we search for the true causes of inequity in our society and make the hard choices necessary to rid our economic system of those inequities.  may we understand that every person desires to live with dignity and fundamental self-worth.  shalom.

No comments:

Post a Comment