I just finished Ronald Sider's "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger." Like anyone else I've talked to that's taken the time to read it, the face of Christianity has just undergone a radical face lift for me, and the pains of the surgical incisions have not yet worn off completely. In fact, I think it's time for some repentance.
Mostly, recounting experiences of my trip to Bangladesh a few years ago is plaguing me. I was so stupid in the ways that I chose to be an emissary for Jesus to the developing world. Often we would travel to the capital, Dhaka for errands, visits with other missionaries, and trips to the national bank to cash in traveler's checks. Once while a few of us waited in the van while a friend ran into a store, beggars and Bengali onlookers would swarm us. Some just wanted a look at the white girls, others were wounded, sick, blind, or starving and in need of a few taka (the currency). So what did we do while they tapped the windows and called out to us?
We sat there. I sat there.
Disengaged. Eyes-downward. Silently begging myself for our shopper friends to quickly return. I am so sorry I was unable to generously pass out my crisp taka to those people. Instead, even then, it was burning a hole in my wallet. Now the memory of my wallet has spontaneously combusted. Why did I return from that trip with so much money left over? Why was I so negligent to their needs?
I can say that I was a good house guest to the women who spent more than they had on lavish bowls of rice and even meat in service to us. I ate bowl after bowlful as was expected and pleasing to our hostesses. But then why was I so reticent in dining with the family who housed us? Often we would retreat to bed early instead of sharing in quality time with them. While we were certainly tired and the language barriers difficult, still, there were ways to be together that I avoided. What missed blessings and occasions for learning for all of us.
I am sincerely remorseful. I want to say that I didn't know. I want it to be okay that I missed so many opportunities to serve. I want to say that the trip was less about me and more about the people we met. And to some extent, I think God understands all of this. On the other hand, I seek forgiveness now for mistakes then. I don't want to repeat them.
The homeless individuals that I see at the end of the exit ramp in Pasadena on my way to school each day are a helpful reminder of my affluence and need to simply live, share, and serve more passionately, sincerely, and holistically. But still, I ask the question, how do we radically separate ourselves from the ways/lies of our materialistic culture, yet stay engaged enough so as to enact change and show the world that we Christians love the world's inhabitants without contempt.
P.S. Sider is really theologically conservative, and this was a little annoying every now and then. But geesh, the book speaks for itself and compels me to examine so many aspects of my current theology that still need a nip and tuck. Nurse, another shot of morphine please.