Not an Accidental American
Who knows what goes on in the editorial offices of the New York Times. A week ago David Brooks wrote a provocative column questioning some of our assumptions about how best to help Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake ten days ago. Then in today’s edition Nicholas Kristof answers, if not Brooks directly, then the many aid skeptics.
Brooks’ point is that how and when we give aid often perpetuates dependency and the cycle of poverty, and that there are features of Haitian culture that have made Haiti not only the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but one of the poorest, most dismal countries on earth. Kristof counters that Haiti’s problems lie largely in a history of international oppression, exploitation and neglect. Both writers know that some of the aid we give in this time of overwhelming need will rot, rust or be pilfered before it ever reaches those we hope to help. They know that something is wrong.
Okay, for those of us who don’t have all the geo-politics stuff down, but who believe that the God of justice and mercy calls us to do something, what are we supposed to do? I think we are to give and keep on giving, but not just to Haitian relief. Keep on giving all the time and to places not (yet) in the headlines.
We sometimes talk about the “accident of birth,” especially in terms of the privileges and opportunities that are ours as citizens of the United States. We say that what separates us from a Haitian child wandering through the utter chaos and hopelessness of the streets of Port au Prince is just the accident of birth. I don’t believe it.
Of course, I understand what is meant by the phrase, but those of us who know the God described in Psalm 139 should have nothing to do with “accident of birth” talk. Not if we believe that David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, knew what he was talking about when he said, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
It’s no accident that I am an American. It’s no accident that I have received one of the best educations available on the planet. It’s no accident that I have access to superb health care. It’s no accident that both Becky and I are well and happily employed. It’s no accident that I (like you) am among the wealthiest 10% of the entire planet’s population.
It is no accident that I have been given the privilege of calling God “Abba, Father.”
And if it’s not an accident, then it must be for a purpose. The Catechism teaches that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. My education, my health, my wealth; all the opportunities that are mine have not come by accident. They are to be used to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And how, among the many ways, do we glorify and enjoy God? The prophet Micah suggests that we “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” James, the Apostle and the brother of our Lord, writes that an acceptable response to God’s grace and mercy is to “look after widows and orphans in their distress.”
It is no accident that I am an American. It is no accident that I am a Christian. Both are a blessing from God, though the latter is of infinitely more worth. That I am an American Christian is for a purpose to which I am obligated to respond. I have no choice.
Each of us has a prayerful responsibility to seek God's direction in our particular situation. Here’s what Becky and I will do:
- We will give to Haiti Relief either by giving directly to LPC or to a particular ministry we happen (but not by accident) to know of. In giving to LPC we know that the Mission Committee will make a wise and faithful decision on how best to use our gift (probably through the good work of World Vision or Samaritan’s Purse). Or we may give to an organization that has invested over twenty years in development work at the very epicenter of the quake. If you happen to have some time this weekend, I would encourage you to view this video (first) and then read Father Joseph’s blog entry written in the aftermath of the quake.
- Most importantly we will give to LPC in support of all its programs. They are making a huge difference in our world, beginning with 19047. And we will continue to give extra support to Hunting Park Christian Academy (where American children do not enjoy the prosperity and opportunity we have just 17 miles to the northeast). We will give to Jonathan and Kristy in Honduras and PLM in Guatemala as they work among people whose plight does not make the headlines, and who, while as not desperate, have more in common with the people of Haiti than with us. We have long term commitments in Brazil that we will honor.
I hope there is no pride in sharing this, just the sense that since it is not by accident that we are blessed beyond all measure, there must be purpose. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
See you Sunday.