by Stewart Vriesinga
Consider the lilies. Well its not a lily actually. I don’t actually know what they are called. But I did consider them. Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these! And there are two of them growing out of the wall on our patio, and several more out front. They thrive on nothing! No soil, no shade from the scorching sun, and they don’t even seem to mind if it doesn’t rain or if no one waters them for a week or more. In fact they are they only plants we have that are still happy when my teammate Gladys returns after having been away for several days and rest of us have forgotten to look after the plants.
These very beautiful plants seem to make the most of a very small budget. I wonder if as a team we could learn to be more like them. As it is, we have had to curtail some of our activities, including our peace-making activities in order to stay within our budget. We now have strict budgets that limit how much we can spend on transportation, on food, on household supplies, on accompaniments, etc. But even so we sometimes go over the allotted budget for food, or for transportation, or for accompaniments, etc. When this happens we try to make up for the shortfall somehow in the following months. I’m finding it quite difficult to flourish like those amazing non-lilies.
If it sounds like I am complaining, its because I am. But at the same time I realize that my present complaints seem incongruous with my thinking on the subject several years ago, when I wrote:
At team worship this morning we got into a discussion about our CPT project here in Colombia, and how well off we are in terms of resources and things when compared with our Colombian friends and partner organizations. For a while there we were feeling quite blessed!
But then the discussion—as it often does in our team—turned to un-earned privilege. Why do we have better access to these resources than do our Colombian partners? Is it God who bestows this easy access to resources on us while she denies them to our Colombian partners? Of course not! We cannot accept un-earned privilege as God’s blessing without implicitly saying that we think God considers us to be more deserving than our Colombian partners who don’t enjoy such easy access to the things they need to do their (God’s) work.
…Only when we recognize our relatively easy access to resources as un-earned privilege and a symptom of structural evil and injustice will we be able to properly allocate the resources we control—will we put those resources in the service of the under-privileged who clamour for justice!
How then do I explain this apparent inconsistency in my thinking? Why am I now so bothered when we have to calculate whether or not we can afford to feed guests and partners who come to visit late in the month? Why am I embarrassed when we, an international organization, have to ask some local organizations when they ask us for accompaniment if they can help cover our food, lodging and travel expenses? Why do I find it disturbing when my Colombian teammate Gladys—not a person of property by any means—feels obligated to personally pay out of her own pocket for half the ingredients of a delicious dessert she made for us all? Have I been deluding myself? Am I in fact so accustomed to the privilege that comes from being white, North-American and male that I am unwilling to give it up?
Perhaps. Our Colombian partners have had far worse cuts to their budgets. They too are finding it difficult. Yet many of them are willing to help us with food, travel and lodging expenses when they ask us for accompaniment. Whatever else they may be thinking, they apparently do value and appreciate our work.
I think it would have been easier for me to accept a decrease in our own privilege and financial resources had there had been a corresponding increase in the privilege and resources of our Colombian partners. That would have been consistent with what I had foreseen and predicted as the consequences of a positive change in the global imbalance of power:
If we in CPT do our work well our ready access to resources will diminish, while those of our Colombian partners will increase.
But that has not been the case. We have all been impacted by the global economic crisis—our Colombian partners even more than ourselves. Our collective budget deficits are more likely due to choices made by the relatively privileged. They have divested in justice, human rights, and environmental protection in an attempt to recover, retain and protect their membership in an ever-decreasing minority of super-consumers. They are over-invested an reliant on maintaining an oppressive and violent world order that has traditionally conferred special privileges on them. It is not the Kingdom of God they are seeking first, but rather their own economic recovery, security, growth and membership in that over-privileged class. Only after they have secured these things would they consider re-investing in justice, human rights, environmental protection, undoing oppressions, and the Kingdom of God. For where their security lies, there will be their hearts and investments also. Apparently we can no longer count on their support.
Can we count on yours? Where does your security lie? If you aren’t already, won’t you consider investing in the just and Peaceable Kingdom?