Define Poor

As I sit in the office I set up in the spare bedroom in my house without a job, with less than $40.00 of accessible cash, it’s easy to label myself as poor. If I don’t figure out how to pay my cable TV bill soon I’ll be stuck watching Netflix and will miss the new Season of Mythbusters. Horrible, right?

wretched_man-213x300This still sticks in my head like a stray cocaine addled ex-girlfriend who won’t leave. When we say we want to end poverty, what do we mean? Half of the world lives on less than $2.50/day. I feel impoverished because after I buy my cup of coffee from Starbucks I’ll only have 23¢. Who is really poor? Am I poor because I don’t have enough cash to buy my usual list from our local supermarket? Those people who live on $2.50 a day, are we saying those are the poor folk?

Let’s just make that claim. That for things to be fair everybody has to live on more than $2.50/day. Thus the answer is to dump cash into their country so that everybody can have oh, maybe $10.00/day to live on. We’ll make some sort of UN resolution that imposes sanctions or whatever on nations that we consider wealthy and force them to give their wealth to our designated poor countries so that everyone can have their daily Alexander Hamilton. Good plan, no?

Best Laid Plans

No. The places in the world where we in the first world have diagnosed the problem as a lack of cash and thus the solution is to empty the coffers of the first world into the third are cesspools. The sudden influx of cash breeds crime & corruption. The well meaning, utopian ngo’s & government officials responsible for administering the flood of cash are too easily corrupted. Something like 90% of the money sent is swallowed up in costs and corruption. I know, a rapid fire paragraph of seeming glittering generalities. Don’t believe I’m factual? Check out Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid”. Go read the old news articles on the Symbionese Liberation Army and their food drop. Ask a local soup kitchen how many of those in line for a meal are regulars the staff suspects are not as down in the mouth as they claim. Redistributing assets to make things fair too often escalates the unfairness.

Lists seem to be a fad among bloggers. They show up well on the little 4.3″ screens of everybody’s iPhones. I am a bit mobile unfriendly on this site. I tend to write long, at least 1,000 words or so. You have to scroll down (so fustrating) to read all of one of my posts. +1 way in which this blog is a pain in the ass. Before I finish this I have a list below for you:

Things Alan Owns
# Item Days to Earn @ $2.50/day
1 1 Can Bustello Coffee 1.5
2 Oscar Meyer Beef Franks 2.0
3 ½ gallon Soy Milk 2.0
4 Whole Chicken 4.0
5 Melita Drip Coffee Maker 5.0
6 Peet’s Coffee Whole Bean Major Dickenson’s Blend 5.2
7 TFal Pot & Pan set 50.0
8 Microwave Oven 36.0
9 Convection Oven 37.0
10 Vacuum Cleaner 40.0

These are just a few small things. I also own a laptop (600 days), a smart phone (160 days) and live in a single family home (240 days for one month’s rent). I drive an old car that by the standards of my friends, is a hoopty. At $2.50/day it would take 14 years to earn enough money to replace it. One mechanic offered to fix everything broken for 2 years wages. I have friends paying a mortgage on $250,000.00 homes. For 80% of the world 100,000 days (274 years, 14 generations) would pass before they could pay that off.

Color Blind Privilege

That’s one aspect of this. What I feel as poverty is wealth by a large percentage of the world’s population. This happens every once in a while and makes the news. Someone from a remote corner of the world where they hunt & gather is flown to a place like New York City and they have a meltdown. Something as simple as a small corner grocery is such an abundance of food at such extraordinary prices that they cannot believe what they are seeing. For most of their lives if they don’t go hunt something today they don’t eat today. And here they are among millions of people staring at the shelves of a small grocer with enough food to feed their village for a long time. And it’s just one small store. Walmart? OMG! Walmart makes them run in tears from the store. Walmart makes their head explode.

Yet these people have lived in hunter gatherer cultures for thousands of years. They are doing something right. Something else to consider–UN Relief and other foreign aid efforts have sent several trillion dollars to African nations over the last half-century or so. You would think that by now everybody there could be assured of their daily Hamilton and four times the amount of money they live on. Yet, over 50 years the cash has fostered incredible corruption and violence as the money is stolen by those who are able. Those for whom it was intended for absorb yet another sandpaper dildo shoved up their dignity. Go read Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid” if you want to hear more about this. I met someone from Uganda who giggled that when we send cash and food they just eat it and leave us good hearted folk with nothing to show for our well intentioned generosity.

I hope none of what I write here is news. If you want to know why I don’t give to UNICEF or respond to those heartbreaking TV ads for various NGO’s feeding the poor it is because mercy is one more thing that scales badly. Once governments get involved and there is substantial cash in play it’s hard for the establishment to be humble and do the right thing. To often their SumYung HotTea wants a fur coat and gets it for an equivalent price of 20 years salary for a lot of the world. Instead I’ve advocated working small, in our own neighborhoods, seeking to foster the gifts of my neighbors. Yes, yes, this does come from Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“. I like the book.

As we sit in our local café and bemoan the miseries of the third world it is easy to take another sip of our doppio-half-caf-soy-hazelnut cappuccino (2 days wages) and accuse the rich of our first world of having too much. I have a suggestion I make frequently. Grab somebody sitting next to you in that café and ask them to hold your table. Go outside and give $20.00 (8 days wages) to somebody who looks like they need it. Each time you feel the urge to shake your fist at the evil rich, do a small act of kindness with great love. Then do another and keep doing them.

Rome was an empire for 1400 years. For the first millennium it was an invincible force. Then a no account bastard Nazarene son of a carpenter was born in Bethlehem. At about age 30 he was crucified by the Romans at the request of the boy’s church leadership after being accused of blasphemy. Followers of this no-account boy were tormented, murdered, brutalized in the most vicious means imaginable. What could not be done by any in a thousand years was done by a few who sacrificed themselves over 4 centuries. His Way leached its way into the heart of Constantine.

Rome was sacked repeatedly until it fell for the last time around 440AD. You will hear that followers of Jesus of Nazareth were not the ones who brought down the great Empire. It was the Visigoths. Maybe so. Four centuries of speaking to the hearts of those in power, four centuries of asking them to follow the way of a ragamuffin boy from Nazareth, had its effect. The kingdom of Jesus lives in the hearts of billions of followers. Rome is a ruined city tourists visit to eat pizza and stare at fallen sports arenas. I think that carpenter’s boy won.

That’s my answer to those smoking Galious cigarettes, sipping that organic, fair trade latte and eyeing the “kill the 1%” protest sign proudly hung on the café wall above the flyer for river tours of the Douro. Christianity won against Rome by invading its heart. We won by small acts of kindness and uncommon grace.

You can be part of this revolution. No flags or riots needed. You know the drill. No, that old six word prayer is only a small part of it. I care more about these simple things: Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. Love friends, family and enemies alike. Forgive first, beyond 70 times 7. Wash feet. If you don’t understand what I mean by washing feet, ask one of us who follow Jesus. We invaded Rome’s heart and live in it rent free. I’ll take that as a win you can be part of for less than a day’s wages.

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