Thursday, July 5, 2007

Q & A

What is all this exactly?

Take the Poor With You is a way of thinking, mostly centered around awareness of the many people in this world who are much less privileged than I. When I am aware, I am grateful. When I'm grateful, I want to give back. My goal is to always be thinking globally, so that everything I do benefits the world instead of just myself.

What does that mean in practical terms?

The general guidelines are explained best in the "Three Rs to Remember" post. Basically, I am trying to reduce my consumption and live more simply, support companies that are responsible to the poor, and balance my spending on myself with donations to charities.

Why not just sell everything and go live on a commune in Africa?

Some people are called to that vocation. Others are called to support them. Jesus called us all to be His disciples, but He only called twelve to leave their families and walk with Him as He proclaimed the Gospel. In my vocation as a wife and mother, in my location in America, in my own capacity and with the talents God has given me, I want to do as much for the poor as I can. So while taking care of my family and providing a loving, God-centered home, I'm trying to live simply, be responsible with my money and time, and donate where I can to assist those who are directly ministering to the poor.

Is this some sort of religious thing?

I am a devout Catholic. Everything I am and everything I do will be impacted by my faith. Take the Poor With You is not about religion, it is about love. For some, the two are synonomous, but you don't need to be a Christian to understand that there are those who need our help, and we are morally bound to provide it if we can.

I work hard for my money. Why should I give it away?

If hard work were the only requirement for wealth and prosperity, then most of the world's rich people would be poor and most of the poor would be rich. The real disparity is not in effort, but in opportunity. So if we've been blessed with opportunities and talents, it's our responsibility first to make good use of them, and then to turn around and share them with others. That means building schools, providing food and humanitarian aid, working for justice and democracy, promoting fair trade and international business ethics, working to cure and prevent deadly diseases and ensuring that basic human rights are met in every country around the world.

If everyone adopted this method our economy would tank. We need motivated workers for businesses to succeed and active spending to support commercial enterprise. Living "simply" and giving to charity sound like good ideas in theory, but people just won't work as hard if there's no benefit for them.

There's plenty of benefit. It's the difference between enough and too much. Imagine a restaurant with two tables. The first is piled high with food: omletes, salad, roast beef, smoked salmon, honey glazed ham, onion rings, green beans almondine, spinach pies, bread of all kinds, drinks of all kinds. The people at that table are eating, laughing, talking with their friends, pushing back from the table and rubbing their stomachs. "Oh, I ate too much!" "I'm so full!" The other table has nothing but bread. Does it make sense for the first table to call out for dessert and tip the waitress to add extra chocolate sauce, when they are already so full they can't sit comfortably? Does it really matter in this scenario who has money and who doesn't? Will the restaurant go under if the first table buys a decent meal for the other table instead of ordering dessert?

The purpose of money is to buy things. Of course. But it's what we buy, why we buy it, and for whom that matters.

But you're taking things too far. Your posts sound like you consider it wrong to buy a chai at Starbucks. Shouldn't you enjoy life once in a while?

I think there's room for a discussion on why we enjoy buying things so much. We truly do not need most of the things we own. So why do we buy them? To impress our neighbors? To feel the pride of ownership? To soothe an anxiety or distract us from a worry? Simply because we can? Why do I want that chai latte? It isn't the caffine fix. I can spend 7 minutes boiling water for tea at home and it would jolt my system in the exact same way, and for pennies. A treat from Starbucks fills a desire in a specific way that homemade tea or free office coffee does not. THAT'S what we're buying. Starbucks, for the most part, treats their employees well and offers fair trade varieties of their coffee, so I'm not saying we shouldn't support Starbucks! I am saying that we cling to our rituals and our freedom to spend frivolously for the wrong reasons.

Of course we should enjoy ourselves once in a while. God is a loving father who wants to provide us with good things and see us happy. But we can think before buying that chai: is there someone who needs this money more than I? Can I buy a tall instead of a grande and donate the difference? Can I get a plain coffee instead of an iced frapuccino with caramel swirl and donate the difference? Can I donate the same amount I'm spending to charity? Can I go without coffee today and strengthen my will? How can I take the poor with me, right here, right now, and make a difference that matters?

And that's the point.


Jennifer F. said...

But you're taking things too far. Your posts sound like you consider it wrong to buy a chai at Starbucks. Shouldn't you enjoy life once in a while?

This really highlights what is so unique and fascinating about your blog (and your philosophy in general). As Americans, it's SO hard to take a step back and objectively look at what we *need* versus what we *want*. And, as I've discovered, when you try to do that it seems like you're surrounded by voices saying, "C'mon, lighten up! It's not that big of a deal to go eat at restaurants a couple times a month or buy a nice house!" Which is not to say that that those voices are always wrong, just that it's extremely difficult to clearly discern these matters in our luxurious environment.

Your blog is such an inspiration for those of us who are struggling not to fall into the gluttonous mentality that our culture facilitates, to take a HARD look at what we truly "need" vs. what we just "want".

Keep up the good work!!

Abigail said...

Wow! I'm so glad you're letting us take then journey with you. I'm on this path as well-and checking in on this blog will be a great help.

I'm a retired poverty law attorney. I worked for four years in rural Appalachia, while all of my friends from law school made $100,000 & were unhappy. Now I'm a SAHM mother of three age 4 and under, living off a smallish husband's salary in a major city.

Every time I embrace the "virtue" of poverty, I am unexpectedly blessed. But as a convert to Catholicism and ingrained middle class America, that is SO HARD.