December 21, 2010
Four Exploitative Words
We're well into our "Twelve Days Before Christmas" series here at Strangely Dim, wherein we propose practices and purchases that contribute to a more just, more peaceful world. December's a particularly good time of year to undertake such an adventure, since it coincides roughly with the onslaught of year-end appeals by nonprofits. During a recession such organizations find it harder than usual to generate their operating budget; people's perceived discretionary income shrinks and their concerns become increasingly localized. It's tempting for people doing good work throughout the planet--good but often mundane and inherently unappealing--to sex up their appeals with big promises:
As much as I enjoy the song, there's probably no more brazen an example than "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (Hey, remember the 80s?!?)
There are, for the record, literally chimes of doom clanging while a bitter Sting, Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon and U2's Bono sing along. Even songwriter/organizer Bob Geldof regrets this one.
It's a delicate balance charitable organizations must strike. They do good work, they need money, and they have all these pictures of the people they help. And their pitch is, essentially, true: there is a world outside most of our windows that bears little resemblance to the comfort and joy people of means experience as everyday reality. The sad fact is that there are ways of exploiting people in unfortunate circumstances that extend well beyond forced prostitution and political oppression. Sometimes we exploit those we love, unwittingly, simply in the way we talk about them.
Chris Heuertz, author of two IVP books (most recently Friendship at the Margins) and contributor to a third (Living Mission), has written a helpful reminder for the Washington Post. Those pictures in those mailings feature people who have names and lives; they're not "the poor," "the unfortunate," "the slaves" or "the blank." They're flesh and blood and soul and spirit. We need them as much as they need us; our redemption is caught up in theirs.
So on this fourth day before Christmas, as we go through our mail and consider our last-minute 2010 tax deductions, we would be well served by remembering that the faces peering at us are not mere props; in the eyes of God "the slave is our brother . . . and in [Jesus'] name all oppression shall cease."
If, by the way, you're looking for a last-minute gift, take a peek at Think Out Loud, a collaborative project put together by Minneapolis/St. Paul musicians and led by poet Tyler Blanski, to raise awareness and funds for the needs of homeless people in the Twin Cities. Tyler just sent it to me out of the blue; heck of a way to make a new friend. Anyway, it's great music in a variety of genres from a state that's been home to some of the biggest names in pop music. (To wit: Prince, Dylan, Westerburg, et al.; none of those folks appear on the album, for the record, although a cover of Dylan's "Ride Me High" is on there.) Pay for the CD here and forward the link to someone you like who likes good music. At least I think that's how it'll work; if not, I suppose you'll have bought yourself a little treat at the end of the year.