Raising kids is so problematic. We hear it all the time; children don’t come with instruction manuals. Most certainly, I did not have an instruction manual.
I was a tough kid to handle; scrawny would be the best word to describe me. I did not like food very much and my poor mother would employ all kinds of strategies to get me to eat. She loved me and did not want me to “wither away.” As I sit at my desk writing this, I am very close to an item she used to encourage me to eat, a Davy Crockett bowl. When I was a kid, Davy was extremely popular among the younger set. Fess Parker was Davy and in the bottom of my cereal bowl there he was with his coonskin cap, killing a bear. Mom would say, “Eat your cereal David and you will see Davy Crockett in the bottom of your bowl”. If that did not work, she would throw out the old saw “we will just have to pack up your food and send it to the starving kids in China.” The idea behind this was I obviously did not appreciate the food; so we will send it to kids who do. I was such a picky eater, I know I would have gladly helped her offer, helping her pack it up and take it to the post office.
I never really seriously considered if kids were starving in China. They were so far away. I just thought it was a persuasive strategy, but really there are starving kids everywhere, kids that really appreciate food. The most common place we see them are those gut-wrenching commercials for programs like “Feed the Children.” You know those kids who stare at the camera, looking very thin and often they are obviously dirty. A person doing voice-overs tells of the plight of the children and how for a ridiculously small amount of money you can save a child’s life. You can buy these children some food.
Pastor Labberton writes about the average American who is employed, housed and well-fed. The images on the television are so far away. In some cases they really are. The kids are in Africa, the Middle East or maybe Asia. Have you wondered what you would do if you were face to face with those kids? Labberton writes about traveling to Africa and India and the first impression he had when he encountered starving children. In India, he met them right off the airplane: “No longer mythic, no longer television images. Here were real children in tangible need. It was no guise. I knew, of course that these ones who had staked out the territory of the airport might be pimped, if not enslaved….in any case, they were real children, in real need.”
Right in his face…
There was no television screen between him and the kids, a screen where he could take the remote control and change to another channel. Labberton admitted that even though he could see them, “I could not emotionally access these children all that easily either.” He could not really understand their world. In other words, he could not feel their pain or relate to their situation. Immediately he also realized that they could not understand him: “someone with my skin color, without the wear of the sun, who arrived from somewhere and landed on their terrain like a visitor from space.”
He could give them money but that seemed to be too easy. Those kids needed more than just a handout. That would help their immediate need but for them to have a good life, they needed more and he knew it.
Just imagine confronting some of the starving kids of the world. How would you feel?
Here is the cold hard truth. It is too uncomfortable to have dire need right in front of us. What if Mom said “Ok David, we are going to pack up your food and give it to those starving kids in China and we are going to personally take it.”
It would overwhelm me.
Even one child’s needs would overwhelm me, much less a group. Pastor Labberton writes of the Dalit brothers and sisters who due to the Indian caste system are relegated to cleaning latrines for their lifetimes. He writes of the “land grabbers” in Africa who take the land from an HIV positive mother with children because the society there sees her and her children as having no future, no worth. He writes of the “nobodies” of Thailand, tribal people who have been stripped of their legal identity, not having the ability to own land or have police protection. Most have a life of social, political and economic death in their future. I have heard of the plight of children in Thailand due to the Thailand Methodist mission; starvation, drug running, sex exploitation are common for some of the smallest people in this land.
Just thinking of these situations make me feel so helpless, so sad, so unable to effect any change.
The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is beginning to truly be a dangerous book. It calls for a commitment. It calls for more than just a glace and then a look away. It calls for more than a grab for the remote and a quick channel change.
Taking action, getting involved…truly dangerous.