Saturday, March 18, 2006

a honey-loathing, gruel-gobbling, crying shame...

I've decided to really try and soak myself in the Proverbs this year. Reading them every day. Seeking to memorize and internalize their meaning for my life. Their wisdom for the world... And the soaking is slowly starting to soften my skin. Peel away some callouses. Open the blood vessels of my spirit.

One of the Proverbs that I've been reflecting upon recently is from chapter 27, verse 7: "He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet..."

The other day, on the television, I watched an evening program on MTV that featured people living "True Life: I Live on the Edge" -- freestyle motocross, kite-boarding, base jumping.

Sarah is a professional motorcyclist who spends thousands of dollars to fly to Maryland for three days of trying to become the first woman to ever master a backflip on "the big bike." She does this by jumping over and over from a ramp into a 100 meter pit of foam cubes. And unfortunately, she never gets it. And of course, wanting so desperately to develop as a freestyle motocross rider, this failure makes her cry. She becomes sore from hitting the foam so many times, having the motorcycle land on top of her repeatedly, and yet never getting the perfect back flip. She is so disappointed by the failure -- but she's going to keep her chin up through another season of racing on the dirt tracks, and she'll try for the backflip again at the end of the season, as all her fellow motocrossers nod approvingly: "Good for you. Way out there..."

Jesse is a guy consumed by his passion for the budding sport of kite-boarding. Every windy day causes him to beg off work and head for the beach, so he can practice his tricks. He dreams of becoming a professional kite-boarder. He is thrilled by an offer for a clothing sponsor -- crushed by a finish outside the top three at the Islamorada Invitational. He can be happy for his friend Mikey, who pulls off some "sick" maneuvers and enjoys "mad props" from all his peers -- but you can see that he's sorely disappointed at having to "trudge" through his daily existence until his next opportunity for glory and greatness...

Gunnar is a guy who has skydived some 327 times but who is in deep despair because it just doesn't do anythin gofr him anymore. For awhile he tries "skimming" -- skydiving with elaborate landings over water or on the ground -- and it does bring a bit more adrenaline from the addition of a bit more danger (one of Gunnar's peers even dies in the act of skimming)... But it still just feels so empty... So he decides to try base-jumping. Maybe it will bring something that his career in race-car driving won't bring. Maybe it will bring something that skydiving and skimming won't bring. So he books a flight and a hotel room and two days of instruction from some of the premier base-jumping instructors in the world. And the teach him how to jump from a bridge. Gunnar becomes an officially-recognized base-jumper. And fortunately, Gunnar discovers that base-jumping is more exciting and fulfilling than he had even imagined. "Totally rad," even. Definitely "Living on the Edge."

Yet it's all so shameful to me. Motorcycles, automobiles, airplanes... How many gallons of oil were poured out for these experiences? Hotel rooms, equipment, instructors, insurance... How much money was poured out for these exeriences? Tears, anxieties, hopes, dreams, satisfactions... How many emotions were poured out for these experiences?

The shame of it all is highlighted by another television program that I saw earlier on the same day. A program highlighting the severity of famine in Niger from a couple years ago. Small children malnourished, starving, slowly dying in the arms of their parents. Leathery skin stretched over wickery frames. Wandering eyes, seemingly following the circling patterns of figurative buzzards flying over the makeshift clinic in the middle of the wasteland. The children's faces manage weak smiles as they're fed scant spoonfuls of bland gruel. Their malnourished systems can only take small amounts of the most basic foodstuffs.

Habu is a little baby boy who is covered in sores from multiple infections facilitated by the severe malnutrition that has plagued him for most of his young life. Rashidu is another child, a toddler, who suffers from "water in his tissues." And Aminu is a boy who suffers from edema that is causing his skin to literally peel off. The images of these three children are astonishing -- a sickening contrast to the well-toned muscles and designer clothing worn by the three extreme athletes. Later on in the television program, in fact, it is revealed that Habu, Rashidu, and Aminu do not even survive beyond the day in which the footage was taken. And yet Sarah, Jesse, and Gunnar are surviving and smiling from the rush of escaping designer deaths at the hands of an overturned motorcycle, a shallow beach, or a rocky gorge.

It's just all so shameful to me. That our society is rich enough and bored enough to support such habits as base-jumping. That Americans can make a living at riding motorcycles. That people are given free clothing and discounted equipment to "professionally kite-board." That a television program would glorify such lifestyles. That I spent an hour of my life watching the program and allowing my purchasing patterns to be subconsciously influenced by the commercials between breaks. That I can afford to pipe cable television into my house to watch the program -- along with high-speed internet so I can write about the program...

All while millions of others in the world suffer and die for lack of a couple of dollars or euros worth of food and medical care.

Indeed, "he who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet..." The sad thing is to realize that I'm closer to the honey-loathing end of the spectrum than the gruel-gobbling end of the spectrum. And as pitiful as Sarah, Jesse, and Gunnar's lifestyles may seem, I don't know if I have the moral integrity to pick up the first stone to strike them down.


At 6:58 PM, Blogger seth said...

So, what's the next step? I struggle with these questions and yet I never seem to commit to real change.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

That's the real question, isn't it? What's the next step?

First, I think we need to simply quit loathing honey. Whenever we catch ourselves whining about slow service at a restaurant, or "suffering" from boredom on a Friday night, or complaining about a movie or a concert that didn't live up to our expectations -- we should stop to consider our attitudes and realize how sweet our lives really are.

Second, I believe we need to start by taking baby steps to turn some of our excess honey into nourishment for the hungry. Honestly, I feel quite clueless about this. But one baby step that has come to my mind is to fast one day a week (probably on Fridays, when I typically eat out at least once and sometimes twice) and take that money to start financially supporting a young Nigerian man that I know who is working to rehabilitate teenage prisoners at a maximum security facility in South Africa.

As time goes on, I suspect that I (or anyone else who is willing to take such baby steps) will find more areas where such substitutions can be made. And in time, it will be like the farewell scene from "Schindler's List" where we'll realize how each watch, each cufflink, each adornment could have been another life saved.

But it starts with incremental steps of faith. Sustainable change is most typically begun in such a fashion.

I know that Zolder50 is currently working to develop a more comprehensive strategy for combatting social injustice in our world today, and I look forward to stepping forward along with the rest of my community of faith. If anyone else has other ideas, though, I'd be very open to hearing them...

At 12:46 AM, Blogger Maura Grunkelmeier said...


Your observations and questions have deeply resonated with me. I think it is not only easy to loath the honey but to be lulled into sleepiness by it; a sort of apathy to make a difference. I often find myself frustrated and think “I can’t really make much difference anyway so why try.” It is so EASY to sit on the couch and be a spectator.

I really, really like your stand to fast one day a week and save that money for another in need. The grumbling of your stomach a physical link to those who are suffering much worse and the money saved going as a contribution to people who can really use it.

I was reading an article on Dennis Ojok, a young man in Uganda who has been a victim of the "children's war" there. The article said he was trying to save up $2.50 for fees to go to school and $4.00 for a uniform. So, basically to forgo one value meal at McDonalds for me is a semester's worth of education for Dennis.

Amazing...and yet, overall pretty disgusting that the disparity should be so great.

Thanks for the post.


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