(Or “Jesus came: Did we get what we expected?”)
In early November last year, Christine Sine invited bloggers to join a “synchroblog” for Advent. She proposed two questions for consideration:
- On November 23rd: Jesus is coming: What do we expect?
- On December 28th: Jesus came: Did we get what we expected?
I’d like to take on the second question now, even though I’m a month and a half too late. I apologize for the messiness of my thoughts…
A few weeks ago, I shared how the first question was in my mind in the days leading up to my family’s travel to Cambodia. I was disillusioned with American consumerism, with Black Friday, and with stores opening at 10 pm Thanksgiving Evening so that the holiday shopping season could get off to a roaring start. And so, even though Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were atypical for me (since we were in Cambodia), they were very welcome. Those were days of genuine thanksgiving.
In my last blog post, I mentioned how my family’s time in Cambodia was nearing an end. As we returned from Kampong Som, we stopped at a rest area where I purchased some jackfruit chips. From there, we continued on and as we approached Phnom Penh, we began to pass trucks full of women. These were pickup-sized vehicles that may have had thirty people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back. Essentially, the trucks were serving as buses. The Guests Complacent told us that the women were coming from their jobs in clothing factories that were nearby – factories contracted by companies like Wal-Mart.
They make about two dollars a day…
This little fact from Mrs. Guest Complacent sent my mind in about a million directions at once. I thought about the connection between Wal-Mart and my disgust with American consumerism. Then I remembered the bag of jackfruit chips in my lap – the bag that I had purchased for $2.50 – and thought, “guilty as charged.” Then I thought about my yearly salary, and how I am paid about as much in two days as they’d receive all year. She continued…
But before you go judging Wal-Mart, consider this: two dollars isn’t a bad wage. It isn’t a good wage, either, but it’s not bad for someone who doesn’t have education. So before you begin your Wal-Mart boycott, think about the jobs you affect here.
I’m not sure if that’s exactly what she said, but that was the gist of it. I don’t even know if she was aware of my feelings about Black Friday sales (and the stores offering them), but she managed to ensure that I couldn’t settle for easy answers.
Just this evening, I took a survey of the clothes in my closet to see where they were made.* This map shows the results…
* This idea isn’t original with me. I saw someone else do this, but I can’t remember who. You’ll have to forgive me for not giving proper credit.
(Click for a larger image.)
Each pin is a different country – 29 countries in all, or 31 depending on how you count Hong Kong and Macau. And it wasn’t an exhaustive survey. There were more clothes in the house.
What happens when I purchase my clothes? Do I see only the product? Or do I see beyond to the person who made it? Am I able to receive my clothes with thanksgiving for the hands that made them?
As I wrestle with this discomfort about wealth and poverty, as I struggle to discern God’s voice, and as I try to understand how to use this knowledge that some people are paid $2 per day, I think it’s helpful to begin by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Clearly, I have neighbors living where each of those pins is located.
Two dollars isn’t a bad daily wage. It isn’t a good wage, either, but it’s not bad for someone who doesn’t have education…
“For someone who doesn’t have education…” That stuck with me, whether it was intended to or not. The Guests Complacent work with Mennonite Central Committee in southeast Asia. In Cambodia, MCC has a program that supports Angkearhdei Primary School – a school in the same province as my brother-in-law’s host family. My family decided that we wanted to help support the school, as one way of expressing concern for people making $2 a day.
Charitable giving can be a tricky thing. I think that if we’ve been blessed by God, it is so that we can bless others. But the temptation is to give some money somewhere, and then say that we’ve fulfilled some obligation. So what’s the difference here? How can we resist the urge to give and forget? Hopefully, we ask, “Who is my neighbor?” And when we answer that, we remember the people we saw in Cambodia; the homes we ate in; the hands the welcomed us in.
This is a lesson that we try to pass on to our children. This past summer, Oldest Daughter earned a little money by running a lemonade stand. After being in Cambodia, she decided that she wanted to share it with the same school.
So – getting around to the original question…
Jesus came: did we get what we expected?
Well, probably not. Not if I expected a rubber stamp on my righteous indignation with consumerism in the United States. I should know better by now…
I should know that I’m not the 99% (as it’s currently popular to claim). I’m the 1%.
I should know that it’s easier for a camel to go through the of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom.
And in spite of that, this is the image that keeps coming to mind…
This was our meal the day after Thanksgiving. How is it that we received such generous hospitality?
When Jesus comes, there is always grace.
That is my only explanation.
Am I able to receive grace when it is offered?
That is my hope.
Up next: The final day in Phnom Penh