make affluence history

June 27, 2008

Today as I folded and set out towels for the club swimmers, a girl about seven years old walked up to the table and confidently informed me that she needed four towels, and she began counting them out. This is nothing out of the ordinary; we always cringe at the high amount of towels people take because that means more work for us.

But looking up at the girl from reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book Jesus for President, I couldn’t help but think that there is no need for one to over-use something—even something as small as towels—and create unnecessary laundry that would take more energy to clean. So I explained to the girl that one towel was plenty for one person.

“No,” she corrected me in her all-knowing manner. “I need four. Maggie has four.”

As I watched the small child hurry away with her four towels, more than she could comfortably carry, and join her friend who also had four towels, I was reminded of a poverty illustration that I recently watched on Volume II: Poverty of a DVD series called Another World is Possible. To demonstrate the reality that 20% of the people in the world own 80% of the stuff, Shane Claiborne has two kids stand on one side of a room to represent the wealthy 20%, and he gives them an overwhelming amount of stuff. Meanwhile, the eight kids representing the less fortunate 80% stand on the other side of the room and receive a few small things to share between all of them. This is the reality that exists in a world where there are more empty and abandoned homes than there are homeless people, and there is plenty of food and basic needs for everyone, but it’s distributed in unfair proportions.

I imagine the little girl and her friend sitting together at the pool with their eight towels while eight people who have no towels stand next to them dripping wet. It’s a simple representation of the way the world has come to be. Although, in real life the wet/homeless/hungry people are far removed from the sight of those who abound in comfort, shelter, and food. And the little girl’s justification that Maggie, too, indulges in her wealth provides a faulty sense that it is then okay.

There’s a line in the book Jesus for President that caught my eye (they credit the tagline to the lovely Geez Magazine): “The call to ‘Make poverty history’ needs a partner: ‘Make affluence history.'” As I read this sitting alongside the country club pool, I felt both convicted and powerless. What does this mean for my life? And will an idea like this ever come to fruition in the world?

As for now, I will dwell in the questions and work on praying and hoping for contentment with sufficiency:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)

If we pray these things for ourselves and others, we can hope that it will move our hearts in such a way that we begin to live them.