I’m writing this from my home in Costa Rica after spending the last ten days in Chicago and Grand Rapids. After two and a half years in Central America, visiting the US can be quite a jolt. One of the things that hit me hardest on this trip was way in which most college-educated people in the US are nearly totally insulated from poverty. It’s almost as though the quiet suburbs, trendy neighborhoods, and antiseptic offices of the professional class have been hermetically sealed off from the poor across town and across the world. Despite globalization, most of us still live our lives in “gated communities” that keep the disturbing faces of the poor safely out of range.
I am convinced that this sociological reality is one of the most important factors that make biblical giving to the poor so difficult. If a hungry family watched us eat through the windows of our favorite restaurant, how many of us would turn away? If a woman brought her daughter dying of diarrhea to our doorstep, we would not refuse the few cents it took to save her. But because these tragedies take place a car ride or a plane ride away from our daily lives, they become literally forgettable.
Many of us reading this blog do care about the suffering of others, and we want to make a difference, but we find daily life squeezing out our good intentions. So what can we do? Well, for a start we can do the same thing that Paul did as he kicked off his missionary career: “remember the poor.” (Gal 2:10) Paul’s commitment to remember the poor resulted in his massive collection for those suffering in Jerusalem, and left a strong mark on the New Testament. (See, for example, I Cor 16:1-4, II Cor 8 & 9, Romans 15:26-29.)
Perhaps it would be helpful to think of “remembering the poor” as a spiritual discipline—just like praying or reading the Bible. Of course, there are lots of ways to remember the poor, but let me just suggest one that you could act on even this week—watch a movie. For me, films have often not only served as windows into the world outside my middle class bubble but they have steeled my resolve to keep giving and stay involved. So, here are a few recommendations that
1) are not well known
2) are highly rated by critics, and
3) deal with poverty in a nuanced, non-sentimentalized way:
- Central Station. How the lives of a Brazilian street child and an office worker become intertwined.
- Sin Nombre. A harrowing account of gang violence along the Central American immigrant trail to the US.
- Dirty Pretty Things. A brilliant look at the life of African and Turkish immigrants in London.
- Osama. Growing up as an Afghani girl under the Taliban.
- Born into Brothels. Hopefully portrays the artistic potential of prostitutes’ children in Calcutta.
- Tsotsi. An intensely personal account of inequality in South Africa.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these films or others you’d recommend as a way to “remember the poor.”