Awareness… not guilt

May 30, 2009 | Steve Fredlund

* One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses 400-600 liters of water each day

* Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14% of the food we purchase

* More than half of the world lives on less than $2 (US) per day while the average American teenager spends nearly $150/week (over $20/day)

* 40% of the people in the world lack basic sanitation, while 49 million diapers are used and thrown away in America EVERY DAY!

* By far, most people in the world do not own a car while 1/3 of American families own 3 cars

* Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half of the world does on all goods

Now, when many people get a glimpse of how the world really is, whether it is through travel or study or reading statistics like the ones just cited, it can quickly lead to guilt. We have so much, while others have so little. But guilt is not helpful. Honesty is helpful; awareness is helpful, knowledge is helpful. Guilt is not. Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal. America is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. We have more resources than any group of people anywhere at any time has ever had. Ever. God bless America? God has. And we should be very, very grateful.

Our response should not be motivated by guilt as much as it should be motivated by awareness of the growing chasm between those who have (us) and those who do not (them). When Jimmy Carter accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 (only a year after 9/11), he was asked to comment on what the biggest problem facing the world today is. He did not mention terrorism or world peace; he talked about the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor; which in 2002 stood at a magnitude of 75 times difference… and growing.

This local awaking of global compassion must start not with guilt, but with awareness. We must first be aware that if we make $25,000/year we are wealthier than 95% of the world; and if we make $50,000/year we are wealthier than 99% of people in the world. We must be aware that the United States & Canada make up only 5% of the world’s population of 6.7 billion. There is great need, but unless we first recognize that the vast majority of us are in a position of abundance and wealth, we will only be motivated by guilt – which does not transform us. We are a blessed people. I am blessed; and you are blessed.

– statistics cited from “Jesus wants to save Christians: A manifesto for the church in exile” by Rob Bell.