By Religion News Spokane Blogger Daryl Geffken
I’ve been waking up early a lot. Not so much “early” in the sense of watching the sunrise and all that… early as in 330am. I’m not totally sure why. I tend to wake from a strange dream (I was just asked by a bartender if I wanted my pint of beer in a spider man mug to commemorate his passing, for example). Waking up isn’t so bad; it’s the not-getting-back-to-sleep that is the killer. I know that in a few short hours, my two rambunctious young sons will be awake and running up the walls (yes, literally). I know that I will need to focus on them. I know that I will needing to carve out time to write another draft of my introductory chapter for my dissertation before Saturday, call a few local news rooms about an upcoming conference, drain my sprinkler system before we have too many more cold nights, prepare some oration for my emcee duties at my 20 year high school reunion, draft a proposal for an organization I care about deeply, scheme a way for my Washington Huskies to make it into the top 25, and clean up what is amounting to well over half a million acorns that have been strewn about my front yard by those squirrels (they really are just rats with good PR).
And maybe that’s the point. I wake up at this point every night to do a brain dump. It seems that this quite moment affords me the opportunity to allow the whirling dervish of my schedule and its component thoughts to run amuck (who doesn’t love that word?) unimpeded, because God knows that when the world wakes up, I will be required to be in each moment wholeheartedly, almost in a myopic fashion.
Worst case scenario, I lay in bed and allow these thoughts to fly without any resolution and they just build up pressure and stress that, aside from getting fewer hours of sleep, I have done nothing about. Best case, I can put together a skeletal frame of how I can give each demand some priority, otherwise, my schedule will run me.
This is not a poor me column. I am certainly not the busiest person in the world, greater Spokane, or even on my block. I presume that many of us are caught up in life that often moves faster than we want; a life that carries stress and pressure (both good and bad) and asks for a great deal of our time, energy and passion.
When I pause and sift through all this, what is my passion? The resounding answer is working to end the great level of disparity existent in the world.
The statistics associated with poverty and hunger are staggering. Often times the numbers are too large to truly comprehend. For example, in the last 50 years, 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. This is three times the number of people killed in all wars fought during the 20th century, yet the coverage is minimal at best compared to conflict.
More than 852 million people in the world are malnourished, with over 90 percent in the developing world. More than 153 million of them are under the age of 5. Every year, nearly 10 million children die before their fifth birthday; most of them from preventable or treatable causes such as measles, diarrhea, malnutrition. Approximately 500,000 mothers die each year from complications during child-birth, and tens of millions more suffer from pregnancy related illnesses and injuries. Africa’s child mortality rate is 20 times that of the United States and its maternal mortality rate is 65 times that of the United States.
These statistics are bad enough. Further statistics show that there is an even darker side. The wealthiest fifth of the world’s people consume an astonishing 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consume 1 percent. In fact, the world’s 3 richest individuals exceeded the combined GNP of all of the least developed countries combined (a population of over 600 million). Four-fifths of American adults are high school graduates, while one-fourth of the children worldwide have to go to work everyday instead of school. More than half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 a week. Forty percent of people in the world lack basic sanitation, while forty-nine million diapers are used and thrown away in America every day. Lastly, the U.S. spends more on trash bags annually than nearly half the world does on ALL goods. Christian author and pastor Rob Bell stated that America is an empire. It is clear from these statistics that there is a vast chasm fixed between the poor and the wealthy in our global community. Disparity and injustice have reached colossal proportions.
Looking at disparity in my life is very hard. I see things, pictures, statistics, webcasts, concerts that all implore me to stand up and take action. I charge people within my sphere of influence to live differently than they currently do: to give up some of their standard of living in order that we may spread our wealth to others who are fighting for their survival. That doesn’t change the fact that I will soon be heading to Disneyland for five days. In fact, I own a timeshare on that property and intend to use it until the lease runs out in 2060. I wrestle with the feeling that I am a part of a system that promotes infantilism and consumption. I find that I am unwilling to give up certain things that I cling to. I am not nearly as willing to challenge my manner of living as I am to argue for others to live up to a standard I myself find excruciatingly difficult.
The challenge for me has become more acute lately. Seeing suffering children has become a very agonizing thing for me since I’ve had kids. I respond with great emotion when I encounter the results of disparity in the world. I want to see these children live. I want to see them flourish. I want them to have every opportunity for life, just like my sons. The crass reality I have discovered, though, is that I want my sons to have more. I want my sons to have the best life possible. I do not want them to be lacking in any area. I desire for them to have opportunities for joy and fun and respite that most others do not. I want him to be aware of his privilege and work for others’ care, but I do want him to be privileged.
I don’t think that I’m alone. I want security and safety and fun for my children more than I do for others. Yet, more and more, I want to partner with those who need opportunity; who will teach me about the overabundance of my own. I have come to the point that I realize I must do something. I must serve others. I must sacrifice my own status for the sake of others. Yet, I am reluctant. I struggle to believe that I am worthy of this calling due to my weakness.
Sometimes, change must start small. We must identify roadblocks and remove them one by one. Most people cannot just dive in, it would seem. Certainly I have a difficulty with this. I find myself thinking, “I wish I didn’t know what I do,” because then I would not by culpable for my response or lack thereof. I wouldn’t have to deal with my fear of letting go of the life I lead and the love I have for my sons growing up in a privileged manner. My hope is that this blog may be one avenue for discussion, thought and ultimately, action. A way to identify and remove roadblocks that prevent us from sharing with and learning from other people; people whose value requires our priority.