Wednesday, December 26, 2012

To Those Beyond Our Shores

If you have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.
Dorothy Day

Peter Singer’s compelling piece for the Christmas morning edition of the L.A. Times was a gift from a wise man. In “Give Where The Need is Greatest,” Singer proposes that Americans give more of their charitable donations to causes outside the U.S. Currently, 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1.25 per day and 22,000 children die every day of preventable causes (diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malaria). Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton, offers this subtle jab to people of faith:

I’m not religious, but if I were, I would belong to a religion that told me to help the poorest rather than to give to build new churches or temples.

In the coming weeks, as people of faith & conscience debate fiscal cliff scenarios and are petitioned to make final 2012 donations to help pay mortgages on houses of worship, we ought to consider Singer’s reminder about the rest of the world. In addition, we might recall the advantages that faith leaders (the parsonage exemption) and faith communities (the income & property tax exemptions) have built into our own tax code when we make decisions about “end of the year” giving.

Of course, Singer’s comments (implicitly) are targeted to the top 2% of income-earners in the U.S. He focuses on examples like giving to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, medical research and university alumni associations. Most Americans are barely making it as prices for health care (if they even have it), food, gas and college education (if they are fortunate enough to attend) have increased over the course of 2012.

Currently, only 8 cents of every American dollar donated to charity goes to organizations working internationally and Americans give (when both government aid and private charity are added together) less than half as much as nations like Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden (in proportion to gross national income).

20 years ago, the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr spoke of the problems of a narcissistic spirituality embedded at the core of a uniquely American suburban Christianity:

I believe that the religion of the middle class was always tempted to use Scripture primarily to dispense consolation. But the World of God, like a mirror, must first confront us with ourselves. Second, it has to challenge us to live in a new way, to lead a life of authentic brotherliness and sisterliness—economically, politically, socially, and spiritually. Only after the Word of God has confronted and challenged us do we have the right to take consolation from the Word of God as well. But we’ve drawn consolation from the Bible before we changed our lives! The Christian nations are among the greediest and most intent on security of any in the world, while they maintain that Jesus is their Lord and their security.

Indeed, we suburban Americans are deeply broken and wounded by the family, economic, social and political systems that organize our world. We need salvation!! But followers of Jesus today, like the very first followers of Jesus in ancient Palestine, must own our own complicity with addictive and unjust patterns in our world and repent (metanoia: to turn back to Reality) towards creative alternatives. A generation ago, the Catholic Worker Dorothy Day paraphrased the prophetic proclamation of John the Baptist (Luke 3:8) to return surplus possessions back to their rightful owner: the most vulnerable among us. We desperately need to hear her voice today.

A billion people in the world are barely surviving largely due to conditions inaugurated in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Ironically, most of the plundering and colonizing in the decades and centuries after were done in the name of Christ. We live in a world very much created by the legacy of these Christians. The affluenza of 1st World Christians has birthed the influenza of 3rd World poverty. Now the question is, “What will we do to repent?” The secular Singer prophetically nudges us in the right direction.


  1. I like what you are sharing and saying here, but I fall in with the "I have enough problems and troubles, that I can barely save any of the money that I earn."
    I do own more than two jackets, as a matter of fact the most recent one that I purchased was originally $80(ish??) and purchased it for $14 at Ross. To make things worse, I had to shop around to find it, I went to Goodwill (that is where I do most of my clothes shopping) first and the reason that I purchased it is so that I could essentially trash it, it is my work jacket, but I need it.

    I appreciate your awareness that you are sharing with this subject, but like I said, personally, when I save up some money, I find that when I get to the point where I have a couple of hundred(s) of dollars saved up, I need it for some un-fun, un-sexy, un-wanted reason like, I will need a root canal or something like that.

    I guess I do not have any really spectacular ideas in how to make this better, but I guess it is for us as individuals or groups to give as we can and do the best that we can to help first ourselves so as to make sure that we can help everyone else as well.

  2. So many half truths here that I have a headache. Pretty much everyone knows that half of the truth is a whole lie.

    1. I agree upon that half truths are or can be/lead to a lie. But what half truths do you speak of? If you are going to strike down a fact then it would be nice if you were to site these facts/fictions.

      The reason that I bring this up, is that this blog post is mostly an idea. So, I do not know if you need to bring up the particulates, the details, it is the idea and ideals of helping others.

      I am happy that you are communicating and sharing, but I think that the idea(l) being projected here is far bigger and more important that trying to nail the details down in this particular post.

  3. I am convicted by this post and hope to live into more faithful solidarity with the marginalized of the world. I am especially struck by the truth that with my own bouts of isolation, depression, anxiety, living out of fear and insecurity, the best medicine is often catching a vision much larger and more worthy than my insular, characteristically suburban and privileged, concerns (that I blow way out of proportion), with the end result of taking myself way too seriously and thus, the cycle of depression and anxiety soul longs to be in deeper communion with the world and all that is in it, its pains, joys, sorrows, and vast reminded me of Mother Teresa's wise and beautiful words: "The problem with the world is that we have forgotten we all belong to one another." Thank you for the reminder.