The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. 😉

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker – I’m behind the times, I know. The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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In honor of Black Friday

We’ve heard the jokes about the Black Friday irony. Contrasting one of the most materialistic days of the year against the day before – the one designated as a national holiday to give thanks for what God has provided. I agree, it is a little crazy.

I am a total fan of finding a good bargain but I have no interest in braving the wild realm of retail on this chaotic day. It is kind of funny that I am finishing up a 4-month personal challenge that has to do with consumerism this very weekend.

This blog post is a follow up on a post I wrote recently on defining enough. I wrote about an audio book I had been listening to and how it inspired me to start a challenge. I realized that I had more than enough clothes in my closet and that I still had a tendency to purchase more clothes almost every time I went out shopping. Something needed to change.

So, since August until now, four whole months, I have not purchased one clothing item for myself. (other than a couple things that my grandmother and mother insisted on buying me for my new job(s)… but that doesn’t count!) It might not sound like much but I think it has been quite a feat. I survived the tempting store ads for comfy and cute fall season clothing as we transitioned from warm weather to the wintery chill. I resisted the beckoning call of the shoe store to buy one more pair of those adorable and cozy boots that would keep me warm and look great with that one outfit I have… Not only have I given away bags of clothing that I no longer wear but I am learning to reinvent outfits with what I already own. (Well, I’ve kind of always done that)

I still have a closet full of stuff. :/ And I still have a tendency to accumulate more than what is necessary. I am not a minimalist by any stretch of the word. But I am making progress. I made the realization and I started somewhere. Traveling to and living in Central America and being faced with such desperation every day has completely wrecked my traditional consumerist worldview.

I still live between the two worlds of abundance and barely enough. I am constantly caught within the tension of Kim K’s 300 pairs of designer shoes and the child in Honduras who walks to school barefoot. I live with the realization that the money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed the starving children around the globe.

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I’m sorry… WHAT !!?? How ironic. (Of course with an obesity epidemic it would be foolish to say that if only every American stopped dieting that we would magically solve world hunger. I do realize that dieting can be necessary.) But it does put some perspective on where our priorities are. Each individual has to evaluate this for themselves. Each family has to decide if their budget allows them to help someone out who is in need or pour into a local or international ministry providing for the vulnerable. If we are living above our means, chances are we spend our time and effort scrambling around trying to pay for more and more stuff without considering the needs of others.

Here’s another great one:

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This isn’t saying that just by participating in Black Friday you have your priorities turned around… but let’s be real… I think a lot of people do.

I still struggle with keeping my priorities in line and not just with finances. One other thing I have personally taken a stand on is not using a smartphone. That isn’t to say that I will never own one. I just know that I can’t afford it now nor do I need it. Would it make my life more convenient? Of course. To put things in perspective I have made a list of things that I am able to spend money on each month instead of paying for a data plan:

  • new art supplies
  • a mani/pedi
  • seeing Disney on Ice with my little sister
  • donating money toward a friend’s adoption
  • a couple new books
  • putting money aside for my next trip to Honduras
  • gas for a road trip to see a friend
  • Christmas gifts
  • groceries for a family in need
  • a new purse
  • money toward new camera equipment
  • etc

Because of my current limited income, the demand of school debt, and the fact that I am raising funds to return to Honduras, it is reasonable that I would not sign up to pay monthly for internet on my phone. I would be living above my means. I am not stressed out because of this nor do I feel left out due to the fact that I can’t receive emails while driving down the highway. It is a fact of life.

The best way to kill your greed is to be face to face with someone else’s need.

I love the way Richard Stearns has re-written the famous passage of Jesus from Matthew 25:

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I don’t know about you but that stings. Together let’s redefine enough in our own lives.

*I’ve recently been challenged by sermons on generosity from churches in Alabama, Word Alive (to whom credit is due for the slides) and Church of the Highlands.