Many years ago when I was a youth minister, I began our regular Wednesday night gathering by asking the kids to write down the names of the ten people most important to them. Then I said, “’I don’t have time’ is just a euphemism for ‘I don’t care.’ Then I said, “Your sports team is taking more time than you thought; cross one name off the list.” Except for a few minor protests, they did what I asked. I continued to come up with things that took their time and continued to tell them to cross out names. The mood in the room became tense, even desperate. Some were close to tears. I took it all the way out, until we had crossed out all ten names, and then I said, again,
“’I don’t have time’ is a euphemism for ‘I don’t care.’”
We talked for a good while about the veracity of my statement, struggling with the ideas and feelings, and then we shared Communion together. Yes, it was outlandish. Yes, it was somewhat over the top. And yes, it was true.
The evening came to mind for me this week when I heard that our government has spent nearly $500 billion so far on the war in Iraq. Here’s an ongoing count:
I have no idea how to wrap my mind around a half a trillion dollars. If I had a million dollars and was told to leave my house, spend a thousand dollars a day, and not return until the money was gone, I would not be back for almost three years. We spend $200 million a day in Iraq; I would have to be gone six hundred years to spend that much. $500 billion is 5,000 million. As I watch the counter move at such a rapid pace, I wonder if it isn’t fair to say, “’We don’t have money for that’ is the same as ‘we don’t care.’”
According to UN statistics, 40 million people in the world are HIV positive, most of them in the developing world. At the end of May, President Bush pledged, with great fanfare, to provide $30 billion to fight AIDS in Africa over the next five years, which amounts to almost $16.5 million a day — less than ten percent of what we are spending on the war.
The genocide in Darfur, Sudan began the same month the US invaded Iraq. According to the White House’s own numbers, the US has provided $1.7 billion in aid to the region during that time – and our government is the largest donor. We spend that much every couple of weeks to fight a war.
If time and money are euphemisms for compassion, our government is making a very clear statement.
And, I’m afraid, so am I.
The last time I wrote about Darfur was back in April. I keep links here, but I’ve not taken time to do my part, nor have I sent money to anyone. 2.5 million people have been displaced (a euphemism for running scared into the desert where they live lives worse than animals) by the violence. Over 200,000 have been killed. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war there and those fleeing their country in fear and desperation are now counted in millions.
I’ve been busy with my own stuff. My car’s in the shop and is going to cost more than I expected. I have to go to work and then I have a lot of things to get done around the house. I haven’t had time. I haven’t had money.
I know this will probably be one of those posts that doesn’t draw many comments. I’m not sure how to respond to it myself. I wonder why we are so silent. Underneath the mindless chatter of the twenty-four hour news channels and their posturing pundits, we, the citizens, have been seemingly anesthetized by stress, fear, and overload to the point we are convinced our time and money can’t make a difference. Beyond the possibilities of mass movements, I realize I can easily go days without any significant conversations about Iraq or Darfur. How can that be? I’m paying attention. I think I’m a world citizen. I just haven’t had time.
Sara Miles talks about Jesus offering “a radically inclusive love that accompanied people in the most ordinary of actions – eating, drinking, walking – and stayed with them, through fear, even past death. That love meant giving yourself away, embracing outsiders as family, emptying yourself to feed and live for others.”
Man, I want to live that way. I want to love like that. I want people from Duxbury to Darfur to know that love. I keep saying that, yet, up until now, I haven’t had time to really live it out.
MBC – great stuff…if you don’t mind I am going to borrow a little for my sermon Sunday…your words match up great with the epistle reading from Hebrews this Sunday…running the race…love you my brother!
Great post Milton, this line rings so true: “Underneath the mindless chatter of the twenty-four hour news channels and their posturing pundits, we, the citizens, have been seemingly anesthetized by stress, fear, and overload to the point we are convinced our time and money can’t make a difference.” I am convinced that fear and overwork (which also feed each other) are the two primary reasons we as citizens feel paralyzed and part of why I believe the contemplative life is the first step toward justice–creating time and space to consider the possibilities and let the imagination break free.
Great post, Milton, and so true. I wonder if it takes a radical change of lifestyle to make time — or if little incremental steps work. Often I find my first little step doesn’t get followed up with a second. We’re on the verge of a big change — relocating to a new place — that always gives me hope I can start over in some significant ways. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I don’t have anything wise or practical to add to your words, as I am guilty of being not anesthetized, but certainly overwhelmed by fear and worry about our world. But when you quote Sara Miles talking about Jesus “being with” people, do you ever think that blogs such as yours and RLP’s (and others) are a way of “being with” for other people? I don’t have a blog myself; I am an enthusiastic and appreciative audience member though. Okay, in English that means that you help with your words, and thanks.
I think we have become fearful of our leaders, anesthetized to what’s happening “over there”, and overwhelmed to the point of immobility. I know I have certainly become overwhelmed by the issues that concern me most of late. But, there is this message that has been pervasive recently – no matter what I’m reading, no matter who I’m listening to, no matter what the problem is – “it” has to be dealt with on the community level. When you think about it, that’s sometimes tougher than throwing money at a faceless problem “over there,” no matter how big it is. Keep on wrestling. Later bro.
Milton, I so admire this post and also the comments others have posted.
It’s easy to be anaesthetised and overwhelmed and I share those feelings.
There are so many things in desperate need of “fixing” and they are all inter-linked. Maybe to stop being overwhelmed we each have to choose one or two for our activism and our focus. Then do what we can when we can – and accept it will vary.
Then we allow our lives and our prayer to bear witness to the whole.
But I’m not just now practising what I preach…
Thank you for this post Milton. It raises just important questions. I find, for myself, that just trying to keep my head above the mind paralyzing minutiae of day to day contrived “WAITS” renders me numb and exhausted. Wait on hold, wait to listen to all the number choices before hearing the one to punch, ten times the paperwork to accomplish a task that used to take a two minute phone call or one form sent in, hours spent having to read all the pages and pages of disclaimers on everything now. Just to name a few. My crackpot theory is that all this additional life minutiae is on purpose. So we won’t have time to organize and change things. The grassroots movements have weeded over, I think.
I have to admit that I often find myself rattled after reading posts like today’s (but I thank you for your courage to write them), because I too look in the mirror and see shadow…shadow that often talks a good game but spent most of the day worrying about how in the world I’m gonna pay this month’s installment of my two youngest daughter’s college tuition payments…I know they are not more important to God than those children suffering in Darfur, but I am spending the lionshare of my resources like they are…
rattled in austin
Alleged conversation from the annals of the NFL:
Mike Ditka: Are you ignorant or just apathetic?
Jim McMahon: I don’t know and I don’t care.
Excellent use of the graphic and the numbers to bring the point home, Milton! Yes, we are all busy. These problems – Darfur, the war, you name it – are out of sight and out of mind, but if our world was the size of the world Jesus lived in, we could not any longer ignore them. We might step over them but they would be right there on our street, and we would be demanding they be resolved.
The numbers are staggering and it makes me wonder where all that war money comes from or will come from. The number for Darfur and Africa in general are pitifully small in comparison.
Unlike the fish in the sea, we can always make more money (causing other problems beyond our scope here today). But every day we live with this gross imbalance brings us closer to our own demise.