Life with Jesus / Social Justice / The Church


“I bought a bag of chips but it was mostly air.”

“My housekeeper gave me a birthday card but she takes out the trash so I have nowhere to put it.”

“Just found myself complaining about wifi speed on an airplane.”

“The restaurant didn’t have Coke so I had to order Pepsi.”

“When my dishwasher is running, I have to turn the volume up on the TV.”

(took these from the #firstworldproblems twitter feed)

There’s a new current underfoot in the social media world. Okay, maybe it’s not that new, but my dad just asked about it this weekend so it’s hitting the “I’ll wait until I can buy it at Wal-Greens or Big Lots” technology crowd.

It’s a meme (definition of that word here), wherein the purveyor laments about some minor issue (I can never find a matching sock when I need it, My mascara is running, etc.) and then puts “#firstworldproblems” after their post, thus acknowledging that whatever they just complained about is miniscule compared to the problems of other people in the world.

A friend told me last week that she’d heard that in some places in the world, unmedicated HIV+ women must make the difficult decision to breastfeed their baby or let her child starve to death.

Let me say that again. Some women have to choose between giving their babies a terminal illness (terminal without meds) or watch them starve to death because there is nothing for them to eat.

Let’s consider my most difficult decision today. It was “What should I have for breakfast?”

My decision: Graham crackers with marshmallows or 12 cheese crackers?

Her decision: Risk passing on HIV to my baby or watch my child die of starvation?

Hmmmm. Talk about first world problems. There are some serious injustices going on here and joking about it just doesn’t seem appropriate. That some women have to make that decision is a total shock to my system. It makes me wonder if my child’s mother had to make that decision. It also really puts things into perspective for me on a daily, “let’s get angry about traffic” basis.

I read an article the other day written by some non-profit that said that #firstworldproblems statements downgrade the importance of our hurts and struggles here in the States. I agree to a point. If your dad dies, at the funeral, I’m not going to say, “Suck it up, cowboy. There are people that have never had a dad.”  I don’t think God wants to minimize your feelings.  Just because we live in nice houses and don’t worry about starvation doesn’t mean we can’t experience significant amounts of pain and suffering. We shouldn’t walk around flogging ourselves for being born into “plenty”. That’s not the point because it’s not helping anyone. What I do think He wants you to do is think twice about raging when you can’t remember the password to your Amazon account or you don’t have any cheese for your baked potato.

My pastor did a sermon on justice and trafficking a few weeks ago (don’t be jealous- you can come to our church too!). He said something interesting.

Oppressed people don’t necessarily want us to stand up for them. They want us to stand with them.

While I know that most people try to use #firstworldproblems to be humorous, I’m happy that at least, in some small corner of their psyche, people are acknowledging that we have it good and other people have it really bad. Baby steps, America. But if that’s where it stops, if our only knowledge of other peoples’ hardships is a vague sense that people are starving in Africa, then that’s a problem. If we only think about poverty when we joke at the dinner table about sending our uneaten food to Africa, then that’s a problem.

Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

Here’s the thing: How can we truly know what #firstworldproblems are if we don’t know what’s happening anywhere else? How can we stand with our brothers and sisters the world over if we’re too distracted with the American Idol finale and facebook status updates?  You can’t defend the cause of the fatherless or plead the case for the widow if you don’t know anything about them. 

At times, I can get overwelmed with our societal inability to acknowledge other people’s pain and suffering. I mean, the whole country shuts down when Michael Jackson dies, but who cares that 1.8 million people died this past year from AIDS, a disesase that is managable with medication (if you have access to it)?  Everyone knows who Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby daddy is and very few people know that slavery is alive and well and growing and probably just down the street from you.

We need to snap out of it, myself included. I’m not trying to say that we should walk around being depressed all the time about all of the world’s problems but we do need to know about them. Prancing around with your head in the clouds, pretending like everyone is happy, is NOT what God has asked us to do and it is NOT the example that Jesus set.

How do we get there? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Find an issue. I’m a bleeding heart, so anytime I hear about anything, it becomes something that I care about. The problem with this is that I lack focus and end up not being a good advocate for any of my issues because I’m too ADD. God has created us all differently, so your issues will be different than mine.  Currently caring about: orphans, HIV/AIDS, trafficking (domestic and international), starvation, access to quality education, domestic violence, fair wages, access to quality food, and the environment.

2. Get educated. Documentaries, books, websites, speakers, community coalitions, professionals, non-profit facebook pages (very useful!), find friends who care about the same thing.

3. Get active. Donate/fund raise, raise awareness by talking about it to your friends and online, attend events, volunteer. I’m very hands-on and so I really enjoy the volunteering part. When I can put a face with a story, I’m hooked. Depending on your issue, you might have to think outside the box a little. For instance, let’s say your issue is orphan-care. In the U.S., most of the orphanages have been phased out in favor of foster care. If you can’t become a foster parent, you could do respite care (taking the kids for a weekend to give the foster parents a break) or volunteer at events that foster care agencies have. You could volunteer at a child advocacy center. You could also be a Big Brother/Big Sister. While these kids might not legally be “orphans”, they might need to have someone stand with them.

My guess is that getting educated and active about an issue helps you keep things in perspective so that you realize #firstworldproblems aren’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Getting educated helps us stand with the oppressed. Get schooled, America.

What do you think?

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