Archives For The Poor

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch refuses to make women’s clothes in XL and XXL sizes. Why? In the words of Abercrombie CEO Michael Jeffries:

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends…A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.” (Read a recent article about this here.)

Whoops. Of course, the company can target any demographic it wants to. No big deal. But that’s a pretty sleazy thing to say (Abercrombie’s overall image does nothing to soften the sleaze), and it’s caused a bit of an uproar. Jeffries actually made this statement in 2006, but his words have been passed around with greater intensity recently, and a backlash is forming.

A video recently came out in which USC graduate Greg Karper calls the world to rebrand Abercrombie’s clothes. In the video, he explains that many companies will donate their defective or unsold clothes to the poor, but Abercrombie burns them so as to preserve its cool-kid-only image.

Karper’s proposed rebrand involves gathering up Abercrombie clothes and giving them to the homeless. “Together,” he says, “we can make Abercrombie & Fitch the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”

I’ll be honest, I find the video hilarious and clever. And there’s a sense of poetic justice to the whole thing. But in reality, Karper’s idea is a pretty awful. On the one hand, he wants to give clothes to the homeless. So it sticks it to Abercrombie, and it also helps the poor. Okay.

Don't Fitch the HomelessBut on the other hand, he’s advocating giving the clothes to the homeless because he wants to embarrass Abercrombie. In essence, Karper’s strategy validates Abercrombie’s assessment of the homeless: they’re gross. Abercrombie doesn’t want ugly people in its clothes? We’ll show them! We’ll clothe these nasty homeless people with their cool-kid-clothes.

Plus it’s one more way to further alienate the homeless. Let’s stand against this brand by getting homeless people to wear it! Rather than standing together with them, coming alongside them in their pain and alienation, this strategy uses them to poke fun at Abercrombie. And anytime you find yourself using people, you know you’ve taken a misstep somewhere.

It’s one thing to point out the sleazy nature of Jeffries’ statement. Or to choose to buy a different brand of clothes. But to manipulate a marginalized group of people in order to make your point is itself a bit, well, sleazy.

Asleep on a BenchYesterday, I wrote about what it means to love our neighbors and help those in need. Today I will continue with some additional thoughts.

Another factor pulling on us in this discussion is how much more connected our world is than it was during Lewis’s time. Many people, especially in our American nation made up of immigrants, see the rest of the world as “our people.” We are all part of the human race, right? So, why shouldn’t we want to help when disasters strike elsewhere or when we become aware of a famine in a distant land? I’m not saying that we should care about Americans more than we care about Mexicans or Canadians. It is not really about whom you love more. You should love everyone. It’s more about who is closest to us. My neighbor is closest to me and Jesus told me to love my neighbor. The child in the village in India is not really my neighbor until I come into contact with him. He is someone else’s neighbor. And that Christian neighbor, if he has one, is the one with the responsibility and the call to love him. You may actually make it more difficult for Christians in other places to love their neighbors by competing with them and their limited resources.

Do you know that you do not need to have an abundance of physical resources to love someone? You may actually be challenged to get creative or to really sacrifice something of your own to love someone. That’s what Christians are doing in India and China and Uganda. That’s when love really shines in contrast with the darkness of self-preservation.

You may be overwhelmed by all the troubles of the world today. You may feel overwhelmed because of the way people are suffering on an island 3,000 miles away from you. Do you trust that God is sending people and already has people in a lot of the places about which you are worrying? Today, there may even be someone 300 miles from you who is worrying about her sister, who is also your next door neighbor, and you are the one God has placed in your neighborhood to serve her. Don’t allow the problems of the whole world to blind you and make you feel like you have to pass by the man in the road who was beaten and lost everything to thieves. Don’t allow your politics to get in the way of loving the alien who lives in your neighborhood and works the fields everyday to care for his family, and provide fruit and vegetables to your table. When you get very good at loving your neighbor who you can see, then maybe you will be ready to understand how to love your global neighbor who you can’t see.

The second part of Lewis’s quote is also a good reminder that worrying about the rest of the world will do very little to actually confront or solve the problems. If you are so consumed with the problems of the world that you have no joy, or are unable to enjoy the good things God has given you, you won’t be much help to people who are suffering. They need hope and they need a picture of what it looks like to live the abundant life with God. Don’t lose sight of the hope of the kingdom to come; and keep praying for that kingdom and God’s will to be done in both your neighborhood and the slum across the ocean, as it is in heaven.

PovertyC.S. Lewis is easy to quote because he almost always gets it right, and he has a way of saying things that forces us to think more deeply about everyday issues. Many of us are involved in donating, volunteering or working for organizations with stated missions of “caring for the poor” or “serving people in need” in other countries. The news we see everyday and the clamoring by thousands of nonprofit organization for our attention communicate to us that there are never-ending global problems which can only be solved if we would simply get involved by giving our time, effort and money.

On the issue of local versus global charity Lewis said,

“It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know).

A great many people (not you) do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don’t think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise.” -from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis (Volume 2, Letter of Dec. 20, 1946)

This whole movement to feed people or build infrastructure for people in other nations besides our own, with or without their help, is actually a very modern development of the past 60-75 years of world history. The idea that we need to help all people everywhere is often driven by a wartime mentality. It is also often influenced by an arrogant assumption that the world’s problems will not be solved unless we are involved. The modern movement to do international charity work is largely a result of the aftermath of our wars. Older organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been around for over 100 years, and they were also started in the midst of war and conflict, or with a wartime mentality. Even the name “Salvation Army” makes us think of fighting a battle.

The creation and proliferation of nonprofits in America didn’t really start to take off until after WWII and then again after the Korean War. Lewis wrote this statement in a letter in 1946, after the end of WWII, when news of all the world’s problems was streaming in like never before. The British were also hit like never before on their own island and saw the devastation and suffering all around them, in addition to news about the rest of their country and the world at large. People who felt compassion (or maybe guilt) felt the need to help the suffering children and families of Europe.

We often want to help in areas where we believe someone or something else was the cause of people’s suffering; but how often do we look to make the personal or communal changes necessary to promote justice and mercy in our own communities where we and our neighbors are the causes of, or contributors to suffering? You may have noticed that Lewis is not saying we should not be involved in helping with problems far away, or supporting those who do. He, and I in agreement with him, are only saying that with all the information we are gathering to ourselves about all the evils going on in the world, we should be careful that we don’t deceive ourselves into believing that we need to be involved in helping in all of those situations, or that it is better than doing something for someone in our own community. He also warns us against the danger of imagining that our great knowledge or anxiety over all the problems is equal to being involved in providing solutions. Worrying about all the problems doesn’t do anything to fix them. It actually becomes more difficult to help people in your own neighborhood or right in front of you because you will become so overwhelmed with all of the other problems of the whole world.

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Think about the men who passed by before the Samaritan stopped. They had too many excuses or other things to do that they used as reasons for not helping the one in need right in front of them. You may be so heavily invested in devoting your thoughts, time and money to a charity or towards the thought of helping someone far away, that you miss a real opportunity you have to personally help someone living in your neighborhood. If you really want to help and give your life to someone far away, the best thing for you to do is probably to move there or partner with someone who lives and works there among the poor.

We’ll conclude these thoughts with another post tomorrow. Stay tuned…

The Jerusalem Collection

Preston Sprinkle —  February 7, 2013 — 1 Comment

A few blogs ago, I made a statement that may have been a bit provocative. I said: “The apostle Paul spent more time in his letters talking about the redistribution of wealth within the global body than he did on justification by faith.” I thought it would be good to put some ground under this claim by showing from the NT why it’s true.

It all starts in Acts 11:27-30, where a prophet named “Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world” (Acts 11:28). In res220px-Saint_Paul_Ananias_Sight_Restoredponse to the famine, “the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers and sisters living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29-30). The “relief” was a financial gift collected from various churches in Greece and Asia Minor and sent to the impoverished churches in Jerusalem. This gift has been called “the Jerusalem Collection.” About this collection, Paul has much to say. Sometime between Acts 12 and 15, Paul met with the Peter, James, and John (leaders of the Jerusalem church) to talk about Paul’s future ministry to the Gentiles. At the end of the day, the one thing these leaders told Paul was: “remember the poor” in Jerusalem, which Paul was “very…eager to do” (Gal 2:10). And by “remember” Paul didn’t mean cognitive recollection. Rather, Paul set out on a mission to bring financial relief to the poor saints in Jerusalem. So in late Autumn of AD 49, Paul embarked on his second “missionary” journey (Acts 15:36-21:16), which was largely aimed at collecting money from the wealthier Gentile churches in Asia Minor and Greece to give to the poor believers in Jerusalem.

This was Paul’s “Jerusalem Collection.” And he talks about it quite often in many of his letters. For instance, while Paul was hanging out in Corinth, he sent a letter to the house churches in Rome and spoke about the collection with much excitement, boasting that “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Rom 15:26). The gift was more than just financial relief, but a symbol for racial unity. “For they (Gentiles) were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom 15:27). The church at Corinth too was eager to participate (1 Cor. 16:1-4), as were the churches through Galatia (1 Cor 16:1), Philippi (2 Cor. 8-9), and probably Cenchrea, Berea, Derbe, and Thessalonica. The latter three churches even sent delegates to present the gift along with Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, and Luke. So important was this gift that Paul spent an entire two chapters talking about it in his second letter to the house churches in Corinth—2 Corinthians 8-9. Some scholars think that this section of 2 Corinthians was originally a separate letter, which was later pasted into “2 Corinthians.” If so, Paul devoted an entire letter just to talk about the Jerusalem Collection.

According to New Testament scholar Moyer Hubbard:

It is true that Paul’s primary mission was to spread the message of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. It is equally true, however, that along with being a missionary and a theologian, Paul was a relief worker trying to make a difference in one corner of a poverty-stricken world, Jerusalem (Christianity in the Greco-Roman World, 157).

So what do we do with this? For starters, you know that famous line that “God loves a cheerful giver?” Well, Paul said that about the Macedonian churches sending money to poor believers overseas. Next time you’re passing the plates and hear the pastor say “God loves a cheerful giver,” it would be more true to the text to keep passing those plates right out the back door, into the church van, all the way to the nearest Fed Ex to send them to poorer churches in Nepal—or wherever.

Hardly any statement that Paul makes about giving money has to do with Giving money to your own local church. The ones that do, talk about giving money to people with needs. But most of the time, when Paul talks about giving, he’s referring to the redistribution of wealth across the global church.

In a previous blog, I made a plea that wealthier American churches should be more concerned with helping to financially empower poorer believers across the globe. The biblical ground for this assertion is the Jerusalem collection. Now, when I talk about the redistribution of wealth, I’m not making some sort of Obamic plea. I’m trying to align myself with Paul. Paul doesn’t say that rich believers should financially help poor believers because, well, there needs to be equality in our country. Rather, Paul grounds such giving in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

The Jerusalem collection occupied more space in Paul’s letters than his explicit teaching on justification by faith. I’m not trying to be provocative, nor am I downplaying justification. Lord knows I cherish this doctrine. I don’t want to diminish justification, but elevate financial generosity toward believers—especially those with (perhaps) greater needs outside our congregations. Paul talks about Justification by faith in Rom 3:21-26, 4:1-6, 5:8-11, Gal 2:16-21, 3:6-12, 22-26, and Phil 3:6-9 (implicitly). He mentions justification by faith in 3 of his 13 letters. Paul talks about the Jerusalem collection in Rom 15:25-33, 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8:1-9:15, Gal 2:10, not counting the vari16gospel_600ous places where Paul talks about various churches/people supporting his missionary endeavors (Rom. 16:2; Phil. 4:14-20), passages in Acts that talks about the financial need in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30 and others), and that annoying verse in Ephesians 4:28 that tells us to work—watch this—so that we can give to others in need. In nearly ½ of his letters, Paul talks about the redistribution of wealth across the global church.

My dream would be that churches in America would be more aligned with Paul in how they use their money.

Behind Enemy Lines

Preston Sprinkle —  January 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

We saw two worlds collide in our last couple days in Kathmandu.

on moterbike

Me and Beki, ready to fly!

On Thursday, we visited a small village up in the mountains between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. The road wasn’t as deathly as our trip to Hetauda, but I was able to offset my safety by riding on the back of a motorcycle. The others guys piled in a clown car; I’m not sure who was more risky. The ride was exhilarating, though I choked down enough exhaust to take 5 years off my life. I now know why Beki’s pastor-mentor died a couple years ago of lung cancer, even though he didn’t smoke. After a 3-hour ride, we arrived in the village and Beki began to tell us about how the gospel had reached the city a year and a half ago.

Long story short, an old lady had a serious stomach problem, and after six months of unsuccessful medical treatment, she met a Christian who healed her and the word spread throughout the entire village. Shortly after, her daughter and son-in-law came to Christ, and they are now helping lead the church. Currently, there are about 40-50 converts in this small village: old people, young people, upper caste and lower caste. The gospel has scaled these remote mountains and reclaimed them for Christ. The scene reminded me of what Jesus told Paul in Acts 17: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking…for I have many in this city who are my people.” God’s people were tucked away in those mountains, and the gospel found them.

I left the village with a bit of that “frustrated joy” I had when I left the jungle church. These zealous believers are living out their faith publicly for all the villagers to see. But they are without a pastor. The first converts help lead the people, but they need more oversight, someone who can nourish the people with wisdom, teaching, and encouragement. Beki hops on his motorbike to visit the village twice a month, but it’s a 6-hour journey round trip. Plus, Beki oversees 9 other such fellowships in and around Kathmandu. There’s a lot of work to be done, and the local pastors are doing it. But they are spread quite thin with financial resources.

old lady in village

A recent convert in the mountain village

To put it in perspective, there are over 50 pastors in training at Himalaya School of Theology—a master’s level theology program overseen by Beki in Kathmandu. Once these aspiring pastors graduate, they’ll be ready to go out into mountain fellowships like the one we visited. The problem is that many of the believers in these churches can’t afford to support a pastor, and finding work is already tough. Beki told us that some people in the village were selling their organs to buy food. Others are able to keep both kidneys, but still live far below the poverty line by any standard. So there remains a thick wedge between zealous pastors and needy young converts. Frustrated joy—I don’t know how else to put it.

The gospel was victorious in the mountain village. But this world collided with the one we saw the next day.

On Friday, we visited two significant religious sites: the main temple to Shiva (one of the three primary gods of Hinduism), and the Boudhanath (think: temple)—one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Shiva’s temple was the most sobering. I don’t know if it was the smog, the cloud of incense, or the burning of dead bodies over the holy river, but there was a spiritual thickness in the air. Smoke from flesh mingled with incense filled the air. Shrines with phallic images filled the hills. Steady drumbeats filled my ears. Sadness and fear filled my heart. The trendy, hippie, coffee-shop Hinduism that Californians toy with doesn’t exist in Nepal. Satan still has a frightening foothold on this country.

Buddha Temple

On the balcony of a Buddhist monastery in a stare down with the Buddha.

The Boudhanath was a bit more serene. Bubbling with tourists and Buddhist monks, this beautiful temple has a seductive lure to it. The all-seeing eyes of the Buddha stare at you wherever you go, and the idols that fill the monastery radiate a placid glow. The hope that gleams from the believers in the village is absent here, however. Tourists and worshipers frantically spin prayer wheels, burn incense, and give money to local monks to pacify their guilt, grope for unattainable perfection, or just scratch a spiritual itch that never goes away. The façade of peace doesn’t produce many smiles in this temple. Only anxiety.

It’s now Saturday morning as I write this blog and we will be boarding the plane in just a few hours. Mark, Adam, and Dathan will head home to California, while I’m heading on to Zambia with a stop in Delhi to visit some friends. My heart is filled with so many thoughts. After I get my head above the smog I’ll write another blog summarizing my reflections. For now, pray for Beki, pray for Babu, pray for the local pastors who are joyfully furthering the kingdom of God here in Nepal—behind enemy lines.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...