Today's Lenten prayer focus in the guide produced by the church I'm attending now is The Poor.
A couple of weeks ago I linked to this article about the collapse of the Montana Hotel. I took the time to read some of the comments, and many of them reminded me of one of the big reasons I remained anonymous, and kept Haiti anonymous, when I first started this blog. Judgment. What, some commenters wondered, were people in Haiti on a mission team doing at a luxury hotel like the Montana? What was Haiti doing even having such a hotel when so many struggled for the basic necessities of life? I cringe at such questions, not because I disagree with them, but because they form a daily part of my thoughts. Living in a third world country as a privileged person (and let's be honest, my American passport and my education and the fact that I can afford to feed and clothe my children and live in a nice house - all these things and so much more make me privileged) forces you to ask these questions constantly. How can I justify anything I own? How can I make a frivolous purchase when someone at my gate hasn't eaten today? How can I go to the beach for a rest when others must work every day?
Throughout my time in Haiti I have gone back and forth on these issues and how to deal with the needs in front of me every single day. When I first got there, I used to stand at my gate and listen to these stories and cry and hand out cash. Later I tried to help people in a more focused way, or through organizations. I started saying no a lot more, honestly out of self-preservation sometimes. I felt I couldn't continue living there if I were so emotionally involved in everyone else's pain all the time. Sometimes I just didn't look; I couldn't. Sometimes I justified luxuries in my life (like eating chocolate, like having an air conditioner in our bedroom which we hardly ever used, and I won't go on because I don't want you to judge me) by saying, But I'm staying. I'm not just camping out for a year or two. This is where I live and I need to find a way to make it work.
Others are struggling with these issues. Ben and Katie just experienced their first time leaving Haiti and going somewhere richer, and also read a book detailing some of the history of Haiti's poverty and explaining how the US and France had a lot to do with it. Tara's been grocery shopping in Texas and taken her kids out for shaved ice and is finding all the choices to be overwhelming. John and Beth are telling wrenching stories, day after day, about people whose already difficult lives have been thrown into worse chaos and suffering after the earthquake.
How to deal with it, the mess and injustice and deep, deep sadness of it all? I don't know.
I have been working through the sermons about the Beatitudes from Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. I listen to them when I'm going to sleep because I've learned that I can't lie awake and think. Last night I listened to the one about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I don't know that I have ever heard this interpreted the way Bell did but it struck a chord with me. (I can't seem to find a way to link you to it but I got it for free on iTunes.) He said that it doesn't say: blessed are you when you have it all figured out. It says you are blessed when you hunger and thirst for things to be different, when you struggle with it. He used the example of a couple trying to figure out which couch to buy, knowing what they know about how so many in the world don't have clean water to drink. A couch might seem like a silly example but it isn't. That's the kind of thing I struggle with. Why do I have a comfortable couch when I've visited in a home where there were no chairs at all, and someone went to overturn a bucket for me to sit on?
Today, as I focus on praying for the poor, in Haiti and everywhere else (and oh, they are everywhere), I hunger and thirst for things to be different. I long for a world where everyone has enough to eat, and shelter, and, yes, books to read. Don't judge me because I sometimes ate at the Hotel Montana. I do that enough to myself. I think all of us on this planet are under the same obligation to remember the poor. In Haiti we see them everywhere and it's a lot more obvious to us that life isn't fair. But Haiti is our neighbor, even when we're here in the United States. There are people living in fields there, with no more shelter than some sheets or old clothes (and yes, the rainy season has started). And I hunger and thirst for that to change.
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