There’s times when I just want to leave the self-centred, politically correct, emotionally sterile and heartless Western ‘civilisation’ of Australia where inward-looking churches, bureaucratic Government agencies, and morally bankrupt society appear to be doing their utmost to quell any sense of love, emotion, commitment, or community. My personal preferred destination would be Philippines, though I’m sure almost any impoverished country would do.
It’s not that I am unthankful for the material blessings I am privy to in Australia, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that the Philippines offers a better standard of living. It’s because I don’t want all vestiges of human compassion to be leeched out of me by a culture and community who have become numb to the real priorities in life, and, as Michael W. Smith says, “love isn’t love ’til you give it away”. The Filipino people experience terrible hardship, which provides a great opportunity for me to make just some small contribution to the betterment of their lives, but they also make many sacrifices for each other and exhibit, in my view, an intrinsic sense of family, community, commitment, and love — where would you rather be??
A combination of events in recent weeks, including of course a number of triggers in my personal life, have focussed my attention on how far people are prepared to go for others. It’s my sad observation that, generally speaking, our selflessness quotient tends to be pretty low. For a number of years now I’ve been passionately encouraging others to consider the needs of the impoverished in Philippines, Africa, Colombia, and so on — but it seems to be that the underlying cause for Australians’ limited involvement at a global level, is a numbness of heart that pervades every relationship in people’s lives starting right at home. There’s a perpetual tension between our own self-preservation/self-interest, and the desire to compassionately attend to the needs of another. It shows up in our divorce statistics, it shows up in the number of people struggling with abandonment, mental health issues, domestic violence, and (relative) poverty. It shows up in the fact that finance given to or through Western churches is almost all used locally, with some reports indicating as little as 1% makes its way overseas.
The question hovering incessantly in my mind for the past few days has been, where’s the evidence of God at work in the church? Jesus said in no uncertain terms “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” — John 13:35. There is no other way to interpret this than to expect that, if God is really at work in a community of people, they will distinguish themselves by their love for each other. To be indistinguishable in actions from the secular community around is not an option.
Maybe that’s why I like Bono so much. He’s a man of faith, but not of ‘religion’. Long before I was disenchanted by the navel-gazing of the church, he was unashamedly critical of them and felt no need to align himself with them in order to appease any religious guilt or be seen to be aligned with the God camp. Having a Protestant father and a Catholic mother in war-torn Ireland, he knew all too well how religion has in fact been used as the justification for hatred, bigotry and killing.
In this video, Bono puts a very compelling message to the US President and many other distinguished guests at a combined prayer meeting. He highlights that the USA currently spends less than 1% of their annual budget on international aid, and puts an inarguable request that the USA increase their international aid by just 1% — an amount which would pretty much solve all of Africa’s extreme poverty issues. I applaud him. It’s such a little thing to do. And he rightly highlights that “This is not charity. This is justice.” Maybe the word ‘justice’ doesn’t resonate with everybody, but it’s just another way of saying that nobody should be allowed to die under our watch when there’s something we can do about it. Just as you wouldn’t turn your back on a drowning person.
Why wouldn’t we do something?
Perhaps because our hearts are hardened. Maybe we don’t want to make a sacrifice for somebody else. It could be that, even in our own relationships and friendships right here in Australia (or equally USA, UK, Europe, etc…), our own needs ultimately come before anybody else’s. We don’t want to feel the discomfort, take a risk.
When was the last time you swallowed your pride, did something you didn’t want to do, at an emotional cost to yourself, because you cared for somebody else?
Where’s your heart land?