“Crumbs From Your Table”

“. . . Child drinking dirty water from a river bank. . . ” -U2, Cedars of Lebanon

The dark, dusty face of an African orphan kid with the muddy trails of recent tears winding down his cheek. Hot sun beating down on his weary head. His mother just died from AIDS, and he is also infected . . .

. . . A father enters a small hut in India. His wife looks up from the pile of rags that they call clothes. She has been mending them since this morning. Two small dark children run to him and he holds their gaunt bodies in his own thin arms. He barely has the courage to force smile at them. He knows, that once again, his children will go to bed with hunger gnawing at their stomachs. . .

The last several days I have wondered why the thoughts of these scenes don’t change more about the way I live my life. I get really ticked at myself sometimes because I am constantly buying things I don’t need while there are people, real people, people with eternal souls, people with real feelings whose eyes are filled with real pain who could be using the money I use to buy the latest gadget, CD, clothing item, four dollar cup of coffee , or go on an unnecessary trip in the name of experience. . .

This list isn’t exhaustive but these are some things that are tempting to me. I have really grown to hate this part of American culture. Its consumerism. Its throwaway mentality. Its “let the rest of the world rot, so long as I’m comfortable” ideology. And what makes me hate it even more is when I look at my own heart and see the same things in myself.

Sure, I feel pity for people when I see pictures of their poor battered bodies, and their sad, sunken eyes filled with unspeakable pain and despair. But does it go beyond a feeling? Does it actually change the way I live so I have more money to give to causes that would help these people? Rarely.

My giving to other people has cost me almost nothing. I have given: maybe more than some people, definitely less than others. It almost never hurts me when I give. It almost never makes me sacrifice my personal desires: not going out to a nice restaurant so I could pay for an African’s food. . . for weeks; to not buy that CD so a kid could have the proper medicine to keep him from dying of malaria, to leave that pair of jeans at the store even if they are on sale so I could use the money to make so a man doesn’t have to wear rags as he ventures into the cold every day and tries to make a living for his starving wife and kids at home.

There’s something that’s just not right about me living in complete comfort: no material needs whatsoever, and the people across the ocean are dying because they don’t have enough to eat. How can I do this? I don’t like to think about it. It’s easier not to. But come on! This is life and death to these people. Honestly. How can I be so callous? I don’t think twice about a twelve dollar meal anymore, and it’s sickening to think how many people that would feed and for how long.

This money I spend on this stuff without a second thought could be used to buy medicine, clothes, food, clean water, and a host of other things that I don’t even think about because it’s been given to me: only because I was born in America and because God put me in the right family–not because I deserve it, not because I’m such a good person.

I open up the fridge and pull out a variety of foods to snack on between meals and I open the spigot in the kitchen and clean water comes out. I go to bed every night in a bed that is comfortable in a room of my own that’s in a house that has plenty of room for all of us teachers. I don’t deserve any of this but I barely even think twice about how blessed I am.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required. . . ” Luke 12:48

I have been given so much and I live like it’s all for me. . . and I sometimes border on hating myself for it. I like to think of myself as socially conscious, because right now it’s kind of cool to be known as socially conscious. People admire you for it.

Yet, rarely, so rarely, does it change the things for which I spend my money. Rarely do I actually sacrifice personal comfort or want for the sick and the poor. And as I look around me, I am fairly convinced  it’s an understatement to say I am not the only one that has this problem.

I think we all have our weaknesses: these things that pull at our hearts, saying, “Buy me! I will be fulfilling for you. You will have fun and be comfortable. People will look up to you and value you more because of this. Buy me!” It doesn’t matter what it is, but if I know you, you have some things like this. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these things we buy don’t have uses. Some of them are very useful. But it seems we often get confused between things we need, and things that simply make our lives more convenient. There is a difference. Shame on us! And shame on the name of Jesus Christ because of us!

I wonder how He feels about all this.  I think I know, but I really wonder what kind of look goes across his precious face, the pain in his eyes, when He sees His people, His church, using the unspeakable prosperity and wealth He has given them to be used for stuff that is, to say it truthfully, complete crap compared to what He wants us to use it on.

I know we think we need to be respectable in society, but come on! Where are our priorities? There are people that are dying everyday of starvation and disease and we are worried about whether we are respectable in society and how comfortable we should be before it is sin. I don’t think I need to point out which one might be more important. It’s not even close. Which brings me to another point.

Why do the things, whether it’s quantity or quality, that we give to the poor have to be the things we scrape out of the barrel after we are done giving to ourselves? It’s like we somehow think we are enough better than them, that we should give them our half-worn out clothes and the like. Why do we feel like we should consider charity after we are comfortable and all our wants and needs are well taken care of?

Incidentally, a lot of these thoughts were brought on by a song. Yes, as you may have guessed from a decent amount of my posts, music often inspires me to write. I listened to this song earlier this week and several times since. I have not been able to quit thinking about it since then. I cannot push it from my mind and I don’t want to. The song is Crumbs From Your Table by U2. The song sounds very good and has a priceless guitar line, but it has a sobering message.

Bono wrote it about Christians from rich countries, especially America, who are only willing to give the poor “crumbs from their tables.” We somehow think that if we try to provide for their spiritual needs we are exempt of responsibility to them. Wrong. Our acts of love should pave the way for the Gospel. I think the poor from other countries have a hard time seeing our love for them when we tell them they need Jesus. They must be thinking, “No actually, we need food and medicine and clean water.” It doesn’t change the fact that they need Jesus, but I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t cracking jokes when he told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. No kidding.

Bono was inspired to write this song after he visited America. What he had to say about it was sobering:

Bono (from Q Magazine November 2004): “I went to speak to Christian fundamentalist groups in America to convince them to give money to fight AIDS in Africa. It was like getting blood from a stone. I told them about a hospice in Uganda where so many people were dying they had to sleep three to a bed. Sister Anne, who I mention in the song, works at that hospice. Her office is a sewer.”

Three dying people in a bed! Do we have any idea how gross and how awful that is? We don’t. We have no idea and we can’t imagine. But I think we can try.

This song talks about America being the the brightest star and the blackest hole(not giving stuff, only sucking it in). It also talks about how we are the things we “deny for others,” we “demand for ourselves.” (the things we take for granted every day, we don’t allow others to have at all). This song is packed with preaching for the affluence in America and I could talk about numerous other things in it but I will let the song do the rest of the talking. Here it is.

Crumbs From Your Table

From the brightest star

Comes the blackest hole

You had so much to offer

Why did you offer your soul?

I was there for you baby

When you needed my help

Would you deny for others

What you demand for yourself?

 

Cool down mama, cool off

Cool down mama, cool off

 

You speak of signs and wonders

I need something other

I would believe if I was able

But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

 

You were pretty as a picture

It was all there to see

Then your face caught up with your psychology

With a mouth full of teeth

You ate all your friends

And you broke every heart thinking “every heart mends”

 

You speak of signs and wonders

But I need something other

I would believe if I was able

But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

 

Where you live should not decide

Whether you live or whether you die

Three to a bed

Sister Ann, she said

Dignity passes by

 

And you speak of signs and wonders

But I need something other

I would believe if I was able

I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

Lyrics by Bono

Get Lyrical : http://lyrics.wikia.com/U2:Crumbs_From_Your_Table

I realize that some churches have charities that they like to support, but really, people, have we ever given until it hurts? I don’t think I ever have and that has to change. I don’t know how I am to go about changing my lifestyle to match up with what Jesus says about money. I mean, what exactly does that look like? But even if the change is gradual, I will be heading in the right direction.

To that end I will give a shout out to an old man from my church by the name of Ervin Stutzman. He and his wife live a very simple life and would not have to. He had a successful greenhouse business and when he sold it, from what I hear, he could have lived in comfort and luxury for the rest of his life, but instead he got interested in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. I don’t know, but I think, in some ways, this looks a lot like what Jesus had in mind. When I think of someone that has sacrificed personal luxury and comfort, I think of Ervin. He lives a simple life and has a heart for the poor. This not to flatter, but to affirm, and to tell the truth about the matter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not diminishing the giving we are doing. I’m not diminishing how much these people need Jesus. They do. I also think the church has done a lot of good things. We could just do a lot better. It seems we have allowed cultural norms for affluence to come in almost unchecked. It’s interesting how we get hung up on some things but we kind of act like the money things wasn’t quite as big a deal as Jesus made it sound. If you wonder how often he mentions it, check it out some time. He talks about it a lot. We think we deserve comfortable lives because in America it’s easy to have, but that’s not the case.

Jesus didn’t give us so much so we could be comfortable and take it easy. He gave to us so we could bless others with the abundance with which we have been blessed. God forbid that we sit on our riches thinking they are to give us an easy and comfortable life. We like to talk about our wealth in the guise of good stewardship. It sounds a lot better that way, but I doubt God sees it that way. Why did God give us so much and others so little? I think it’s so that we can be his hands and feet on earth. He wanted us to be on His team: to give us a chance to help Him to help out the poor people. Join me and let’s take a stand on this. Please. Let’s not let Him down on this one.

Photos found on: needyafrica.blogspot.com/

Advertisements

3 comments on ““Crumbs From Your Table”

  1. Carla Barkman says:

    Very thought provoking and challenging! A very good post….it’s something I’ve thot about too and yet not done anything about. I’m gonna be musing and digesting this one for a while.
    Btw, way to go on all the posts the last while!! You’re doing good cuz!

  2. Sue says:

    Very well written, and thought out. I have a friend who talked a lot about giving, and she thought she did it willingly and generously, until things got rough for them and she decided she was giving out of her abundance. It looked entirely different when giving called for sacrifice on her part. To much like we all are we can feel good about how we are giving, etc. but it isn’t hurting us when we give from our abundance. Not sure if this is relevant to your post, but I thought of this as I read it.

  3. paula says:

    Ryan, I “never” comment on people’s blogs, but here goes. I’m crying. I don’t know what to say. So many memories of the suffering I’ve seen, and I know I’ve not seen nearly the worst of it… and even then I’ve done so little. Three women in labor sharing a single bed, my friend on a hard stool at the end because all the beds are full… TB patients and AIDS patients all mixed up in one hospital ward, a friend dying of AIDS, her lips and teeth orange because all she could eat or drink was orange pop… listening to a tearful friend who had in one day watched 3 or 4 lifeless babies being laid behind the screen in the corner of the ward, wondering if her baby would be next. A stranger, lying alone in the hospital for months, can’t be dismissed because her family doesn’t have money to come (public transport) & pay her bill. And so much more, not the least of which is clean water. We thought it was bad to have to haul it 1/2 mile in the car, so we (the mission) dug a cistern and added an electric pump. Poverty and suffering is so real for so much of the world, and living in the middle of it can be overwhelming. Here in America it’s so easy to forget, and “We think we deserve comfortable lives…” I wrestle a lot (on both sides) with that one. Thanks for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s