Unpacking the Anger

kinnon —  December 2, 2005 — 6 Comments

Re-reading the post below causes me pause, as I recognize a level of anger in my writing – which continues in the comments on the post. I feel a need to unpack that anger – at least for myself.

Wednesday night, our 17 year old son, Rylan played us an early version of a song he’s writing called Ashamed. The word pictures painted in the first verse are of a North American mother complaining about how annoying her kids are in their life of leisure, juxtaposed against a third world mother who hopes her children die before she does – so that she can be there for them. Beautifully written, the song was like a punch in the gut.

Earlier in the week I’d read Soulpastor’s post on the McChurch of Canada – Gerry unpacks the decadent nature of how we live in the West – and how those of us in the church are no different in our consumption – we just add the church to our menu.

We live in an incredibly rich country. The North American church tries to make following Jesus attractive and we try to get people into the door and tell people it is great, we tell them that we have ALL the programs just for them. “Just come to our church and all your dreams will come true.”

Gerry goes on to detail some of the third world facts we choose to ignore. One of his readers/commenters who we’ll call RSB, suggested that the problems in the rest of the world were the fault of those people; "sometimes*, it is their fault, just like the spread of aids." Over the course of the discussion, RSB wouldn’t be budged from his uninformed, comfortable Western position(s). I responded to RSB and have included most of that response at the end of this post. His position is not unlike many in the West – and fueled my sense of anger.

And then, yesterday I read the joint announcement from Hybels and Warren that they are sorry for not having focused on the HIV/AIDS issue sooner – they don’t understand why they "didn’t get it." My friend, leadership consultant and pastor Ed Brenegar responds:

What an odd mea culpa! It is a confession that carries no consequence, and one that draws far too much attention to confessor, not the issue.

As well meaning as these guys want to be, the problem is that as men who have created a religious enterprise that has made them fabulously wealthy, the only way their confession of ignorance ultimately makes a difference is by their demonstrating some sacrifice that is dramatic and remarkable, and sacrificial.

I don’t believe that Hybels and Warren are bad people. They’ve just been leaders in a system that tells people, as Gerry notes (and I’ve already quoted), "Just come to church and all your dreams will come true." A perfect religious package for the boomer-consumer focused on the "I". The church is about meeting the felt needs of the seeker – and we sell this as the kingdom of god. (If we just seek first the kingdom, then we’ll get everything – Matt 6:33 in some warped paraphrase – from a passage that actually instructs us to not be worried about our lot in life – God loves us and knows our needs. If we can only get our focus off ourselves, he’ll take care of us.)

HIV was first identified in 1983, twenty-two years ago:

Over the past 20 years, more than 65 million people have become infected with HIV/AIDS. More than 25 million have died. Roughly 14 million children have lost one or both parents due to AIDS. By 2010 it is estimated that approximately 100 million people will have been infected and that there will be 25 million AIDS orphans worldwide. (From the Milbank Memorial Fund report.)

My childhood friend, Ron, died of AIDS in the late eighties – but at that time much of the church thought that people in his community deserved their fate. (God forgive us.) Ron wasn’t interesting in talking about my God – he’d already experienced Him through His people.

How many thousands of evangelical/charismatic church conferences have happened in the last twenty years? And what have been their primary foci? Church growth, the Father’s blessing, Prosperity, Leadership, etc, etc. Sure the liberal church was raising the issue – but they’re always looking for issues, right! And I don’t doubt that prayer went up for the HIV/AIDS issue – only God could sort it out, after all. But how exactly does God respond? Aren’t we His hands and feet?

We are wealthy beyond measure – living in the lap of luxury – and there is no doubt that we have issues of our own to face. (Many native Canadians live in conditions that rival those of the third world.) But working on those issues (which the evangelical church hasn’t exactly been the best at) doesn’t preclude our responsibility to the rest of the world.

The Gospel is not about getting your needs met. It’s about getting your eyes off yourself. What are Jesus words, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Perhaps we can begin to teach the truth to people that real freedom comes when we take our eyes off ourselves and our needs, and focus on the incredible work that God has placed before us. This Pilgrims’ progress won’t be easy – but it will be incredibly satisfying – for it is what we have been designed to do.

*note that I inappropriately left the "sometimes" off the original quote when I first posted this.

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What follows is my abridged response to RSB from the comments section of SoulPastor’s blog post – The McChurch of Canada

Now as to your response to African issues – I’d like to you to come with me to Naivasha in Kenya. It’s approximately the half way point on the road that runs from the port of Mombasa to Kampala, Uganda. The town is close to Lake Naivasha – one of the prettiest spots in the Kenyan Rift Valley – a popular tourist destination. But the tourists have little impact on the Naivasha economy. This town is the main truckstop on the Mombasa-Kampala Road. The two economic engines of the town – gas and prostitution. Now, your writings would indicate that you have a simplistic solution to the prostitution problem – people should just stop having sex, right? And this should stop the spread of HIV/AIDS for which Naivasha is the Kenyan capital (as a percentage of population).

But RSB, herein lies the rub. For some unknown reason, the Creator has designed us in a certain way. We require food to survive. And the only way to get food in Naivasha is to attempt to grow it (below subsistence farming), purchase it or steal it. The only economic option for the women of Naivasha town is to sell their bodies to provide food for themselves and their families. If they don’t eat, they die – a little quicker than their approaching death from AIDS.

And these same families have to cope with malaria – a disease that is responsible for at least one-fifth of all the deaths of African kids. Africans know when they have contracted malaria – they recognize the symptoms – they just can’t afford the medicine. You see, we westerners used junk science to stop the use of DDT around the world – the only real effective (and cheap) tool against mosquitos, the carriers of malaria. Here’s a stat for you – malaria kills 400 Ugandans a day – equivalent to a 747 crashing each day in that country. Families are decimated by this disease – which further exacerbates the issues of poverty and the social chaos it creates.

Now, RSB, I don’t just know this because of my research on Google. I’ve been on the ground in Africa numerous times. I’ve worked with a medical missions team up country in Kenya – and seen the mothers who’ve walked for three days to get to the free medical clinic the American doctors have provided. I’ve seen the men, women and children who are dying because of the lack of simple medications we take for granted here in the McWest. I’ve shot hours of videotape of these God-loved people – footage that includes people weeping at the gates of the property where the clinic was set up – because the doctors would not be able to see them – time and meds had run out.

SoulPastor – in some ways RSB has hijacked the discussion here. Unfortunately, his ignorance is not atypical of those of us blessed to live in North America. It’s much easier to blame the sick and impoverished for their conditions – and there are huge issues of personal responsibility in these countries. But those issues are put in perspective when you watch adults and children scraping through stinking piles of garbage looking for food.

Jesus responds to the question, "Who is my neighbour" in his story of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps, RSB, you might want to read it. Whether you care about "overseas stuff" or not, they are your neighbours.

And Luke 12:48 reminds us that "to whom much is given, much is expected." We waste our lives on ourselves, living life large in the West – we are professional consumers – yet never satisfied.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

6 responses to Unpacking the Anger

  1. I may be no better or worse than Hybels and Warren. I’ve not done anything about HIV/aids. I know it is a heath care crisis that is devastating the African continent. I could give money, but frankly, my charitible money is going to kids and hurricane victims right now. So, I’m probably like millions of Westerners who have compassion for African, but don’t really know what to do about it. So we are sort of paralyzed into non-action.
    The predicament that Hybels and Warren find themselves in, whether they recognize it our not, is a situation where they are trapped by their own success. They have to be who their success has made them to be. Warren is trying with his P.E.A.C.E. campaign. But there again, the danger is that he becomes the focal point, and not African poverty.
    Bill, keep unpacking, there’s another moving van out back waiting for your attention.

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  2. Keep it coming Bill…
    Let the anger roll!

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  3. Its good to see what i said is spreading, funny thing, people who dont believe in what i am saying are talking about what i am saying. Before getting angry at me why not get angry at the Sin that is being done in these countries, prostitution, sex outside the confines of marriage. Im not saying we should let them wipe themselves out, but the money we are giving them isnt solving the problem, if they money was providing enough food would there be reason to continue the Prostitution? Before you all think that i am a heartless fool, consider this, with all the methods that are being used right now in these countries:

    Why arent any of them working on a Grand Scale?

    Why hasnt the money been used to buy and distribute condoms as well as food and water? (i could be wrong becuase i dunno if they get condoms or not)

    and finally, Why are we so against taking more drastic measures to end a evergrowing problem. WHY WHY WHY

    This is one thing no one has answered me yet. everyone just rather bash my sometimes harsh ideas, but i dont see the ideas of yesteryear working yet either.\

    And also, i never said it was all their fault, i said it is partly their fault so if ur goign to quote me do it RIGHT. People have to take responsibility for their own actions sometimes before anything can change, this is the problem with 3rd world countries, Food = Quick Fix there. Population control + condom distribution along with education about these things + the food and water = a better chance.

    I have ideas, and i am angry about the problem over there, but i am also angry at the poverty in my own city, they are the same, because everyone is Equal so if i choose to help out the city i live in istead of 3rd world countries, then there is no difference, and if u dont believe that then open ur Bible.

    RSB

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  4. First, RSB, let me apologize – the “sometimes” before your quote should not have been omitted – it’s been added to the post with a mea culpa at the end of the post.

    That being said, don’t believe that your opinions are being discussed on their relative merits. Rather, please understand you are typical of uninformed North Americans who believe, first that they even understand the problems in the 3rd world and second, that their simplistic solutions can solve the problems.

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  5. I understand that poverty and AIDS is upsetting to you. Believe it or not, it is also upsetting to many of us stupid Americans. But Willow Creek Community Church is not the enemy here.

    “I go to Africa at least once or twice a year and I see a continent ravaged by AIDS. Our defense spending, our space spending, a lot of what we are spending our money on, I think, would be better invested in human lives. I’m not trying to be critical of an administration, I’m just saying that Jesus taught ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ What you care about, you fund.”Bill Hybels to Fox News Chicago

    To read more about Willow’s work in third world countries you can check out their ministry, Global Connection

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  6. Hmmm. link didn’t work. the address is link to willowcreek.org

    Reply

What do you think?