Whenever my new issue of Relevant Magazine arrives in the mail, I head to a local coffee house to devour it cover to cover, then I try to read back through all of the dog-eared pages throughout the month. Publisher/Editor, Cameron Strang, always seems to push me to think differently about things in addition to uncovering issues that I know I need to do something about but yet always seem to find ways to ignore. Even with the good intentions of dog-earing pages so that I’ll come back and remember how inspired I was about a topic, my daily distractions become daily excuses to do nothing – or at least nothing close to what I’m capable of doing and want to do.
Today I picked up the November/December (#36) issue with Thom Yorke on the cover. Three sections jumped off the pages at me. One was about Scott Harrison and his Charity:Water organization, another was an overview of The Mentoring Project founded by Donald Miller, and another was about human trafficking.
I’ve seen countless commercials, mass mailings, posters, flyers, articles, sermons, and outreach programs that give all of the gory details of worldwide social injustices. The statistics have always been staggering and even shocking. But they can also come so hard and fast that they become numbing and unbelievable. I’ve often felt that if you added up the totals of the number of people who die each week due to Cause X, that the total would be about 100 times more than the actual number of people who die each week. I’m not accusing anyone of lying, but it is just a perception that creeps in. I’m amazed at my own ability over the years to justify not doing more.
During my late-teens and 20s, I’m certain that I was much more concerned with my own future than anyone else’s. How in the world was I supposed to do something about billions of other people when I was worried about the pressure society was putting on me to be “successful”? Every moment was filled with how to get on the right career path, have the right house, in the best neighborhood, with the coolest truck, find the perfect wife, custom build the raddest BBQ grill, go on the most envious vacations, and have the smartest 2.5 kids. As the treasurer of my fraternity in college, I used the fraternity’s money to sponsor a child in Africa for $20 a month. His name was Aphu Abaru. I had done my part (even though we spent tons more on pay-per-view TV and alcohol).
During my 30s I started to feel the need to give back more, but now I realize it was all in self-interest. I got on boards of several charitable organizations, but looking back, I realize it was only to be able to say, “Hey, look at me. How great is it that I’m serving others by being on the board of an organization that serves homeless families?” Yeah, I thought it would help my resume too. Then, the first time I was asked to actually go serve some of the families, I ran for cover for fear of the inconvenience of my time and the awkwardness of dropping off clothes in a “bad” neighborhood.
Now, in my 40s, I thought I had it all figured out. I’m absolutely convicted about helping youth become all they were intended to be and have served in a high school youth ministry for over three years. Week after week, stories of suicide of high school and college students dropped in my lap and I became convicted to help prevent it. Yep, I’m doing my part. I’m good. When people start talking about Africa or AIDS or poverty or any other social injustices local or international, I just sit back with my head up high and think, “Those aren’t things I’m called to do. I’m glad others are, but I’m already doing my part right here, thank you.” Well, it just dawned on me that all of that is one big load of crap.
There are those who don’t know any better. There are those who know and don’t do anything about it. There are those who know and convince themselves they are doing their share when they’re not. And then there are those who get it – and day after day – struggle after struggle – celebration after celebration – do everything they can to put others’ needs before their own. I’ve been all of the former and would love to be one of the latter.
In the “Fountains of Life” article (Relevant issue #36 page 60), by Chris Goodson, it talks a lot about how Scott Harrison is doing his part to bring clean water to those who don’t have it. I don’t know why, but when I read in the article that 1.1 billion people live without access to clean water and that 42,000 die EACH WEEK with 90% being under the age of 5, I was struck. I’ve probably heard bigger numbers before related to many other problems, but this one woke me up. Harrison said, “What that actually means is that millions of people walk hours each day to get water that makes them sick.” Crap, I still drive 4 blocks to by two tacos and a bean burrito at Taco Bell and complain that the price went up a few pennies – but millions of people are walking hours only to find water that makes them sick? I get irritated that my cable company dropped NBC so I have to watch 30 Rock on my computer, but millions of people walk hours a day only to find water that makes them sick? I’m a wretched fool.
In the “The Mentoring Project” article (Relevant issue #36 page 22), by Jahred Schmidt, it mentions how people think of slavery, poverty, and the environment as our urgent issues, but that other important issues lurk in the shadows – such as fatherlessness. The stat that grabbed me here was that there are 25 million children a year in the United States who grow up without a positive male role model. I’ve known about this for a long time and love all of Donald Miller’s books. His book titled To Own a Dragon talks about his own fatherless childhood and he is the founder of The Mentoring Project and Belmont Foundation. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that fatherlessness is at the heart of so much that’s hurting in the U.S. and elsewhere. What if these 25 million children each year had positive male role models and grew up to be leaders in society to fight injustices and raise their own families accordingly? It would probably mean that Scripture would be realized and that the Lord’s Prayer would be answered by having His kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.
So why stop at lack of clean water and fatherlessness. Let’s move on to slavery. I’d love to take my video camera over to South Congress and ask people if slavery still existed. I’m sure I would get some yes answers, but I bet there would be plenty who think it no longer exists. I’ve heard people mention it and even seen news specials on it, but somehow I’ve managed to believe it just isn’t my calling. The “Stephanie Fisk – Adventures in Missions” article (Relevant issue #36 page 28) talks about how Stephanie and some friends rode their bikes from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon and back to raise awareness for human trafficking.
The article mentions that the world slave trade is still an estimated $30 Billion per year industry. She said, “it shocked me to find out that an estimated 27 million slaves exist in the world today in the form of sex slaves, domestic laborers, and child soldiers.” Her goal is to continue to meet people and tell their stories. Yeah, I get pissed when homeless guys get too drunk and pass out on my lawn (yes, that happens in South Austin), but I don’t get pissed about 27 million slaves in the world?
I know the answer isn’t me selling everything and moving to Africa. I know the answer isn’t giving all of my money to these organizations. I know the answer isn’t starting a new organization to champion some similar under-served cause. I know I can’t solve everything. I know these things can be overwhelming. I know I might care about all of this today and forget by tomorrow. I know these aren’t the answer for me personally. Why? Because I haven’t been asking myself the right questions.
How much can I afford to give? Who should I give it to? How much time can I commit? Who should I commit it to? Which cause am I called to serve? How will I know that I am doing my part? Are these the questions I should be asking myself? I don’t think so. Are we supposed to live miserable and sad lives while we suffer and give everything to “the least of these”? That seems almost like asking if you’ve stopped beating your wife.
I’m going to try to figure out the right questions for me. For starters, I think it has to do with asking God, “What is the BEST way I can use my resources today and tomorrow” instead of asking “What is the RIGHT way…” I think we all have an unlimited capability to justify something as the “right” thing to do no matter how limited or shady it might be, whereas it is real tough to deny what the “best” thing would be – both for others and ourselves. As I figure it out, I’ll let you know and hope you will do the same.
If you read this and think that Relevant Magazine is all about social justice, I’ve misled you. It is an awesome magazine about everything that’s…well….Relevant. From an interview with the band, What Made Milwaukee Famous, to album reviews, including one of my favorites, Only By The Night from Kings of Leon, to book reviews, to movie reviews, to current events, to a preview of 2009 trends, and many more. And if you would like a subscription for Christmas, send me your address and I’ll get you one. Seriously. Or, if you want to subscribe on your own, then click here.