This post is the body of an email I sent to my friends from the Uganda trip.
One of the things that struck me about the trip was that “macro” poverty – what we could see from the street, for instance – wasn’t nearly as bad as “micro” poverty – the glimpse inside someone’s home, the children playing with piles of burning trash. The more you dug the worse poverty looked and smelled and felt. The details are what matter.
I think that is what I’m struggling with in my own life – the details. I don’t feel guilty for my life. I don’t feel guilty about my comfort. I don’t understand the massive inequality between what I have and what others don’t. I don’t understand their suffering and my relative lack of suffering. I don’t understand how to pray given what I saw – especially in that cancer hospital. But I don’t feel guilty. Neither do I feel like I am supposed to pack up and move to Uganda. I desperately want to go back but I don’t sense I am supposed to move there.
But it is the details of how I spend my time – and, to a lesser degree money – that are getting to me. I feel like so many of the details of my life are frivolous. Reading an article or spending any mental energy on spectator sports seems absurd. Frittering away hours surfing the web seems like an affront to the time God has given me. Spending a nanosecond on the things of the entertainment world seems just pathetic. It isn’t that I am supposed to deny myself pleasure or enjoyment but the details of my life need to change. Asceticism isn’t the answer. But if poverty is ugliest up close, a “changed life” means the details of my life need to be radically different.
I need to spend more time volunteering to address the pain in my own city – there is plenty of it. It is very different in degree from what we saw in Kampala, but it is real. I need to spend time and energy addressing the needs I saw in Uganda – recruiting other people to Compassion, writing to raise awareness, using my contacts to try and help that hospital, giving much more money away, giving things away… the details… the details have to change. I think if I focus on these then perhaps I won’t fall into that seductive trap Bono talked about after he was in Ethiopia during the famine: “…you just get on with your life, and you slowly find a place to put Africa, this beautiful, shining continent with all its ups and downs. Occasionally, you’d take it out, you’d look at it again, and then you’d put it back in that safer place called distance and time.”
So please, please hold me to a change in details.