Sunday, December 11, 2011

Koyaanisqatsi And Me

When I was a senior in high school, I saw a film called, Koyaanisqatsi. That's a Hopi word which means, "life out of balance."


I lay awake the other night, thinking, like I sometimes do. I know, melancholies are weird like that.

I was in Boston, staying at a swanky hotel. If you know me at all, I'm pretty sure you would know that "swanky" is not really my style. I was there because the company I work for got hired to photograph the Christmas party of a very large, swanky  company. I promise I will not us the word swanky anymore in this post. These people, virtually all 800 of them, were young, beautiful professionals. The party was at the absolutely gorgeous Boston Public Library. I brought Carly along so we could do some of the Boston-at-Christmas thing the next day.

The company put us up in a, um, fancy hotel, called The Colonnade, and it was very euro-sleek and stylish. It had a view to the North - right toward the 50-story Prudential Center. Fabulous.

The next day, Carly & I took a stroll through the mall in the Pru, walking past the Anne Taylor store with the eight-foot tall posters of Demi Moore wearing (presumably) Anne Taylor's clothes in the store windows. We moved along to Copley Square and ended up, inevitably, on Newbury Street, aka the Rodeo Drive of the East. Everyone (that's not hyperbole -it's really everyone) on Newbury Street was beautiful. Their stylish clothes, their up-to-the-knee boots, their carefully managed handsome/pretty faces, and especially their silky and properly product-ed hair, was beautiful. I'm not troubled by the beauty - that's not what I was
losing sleep over.

It was just the contrast that got to me. The seeming extreme contrast between the multi-million (billion?) dollar company, the hotel, the shopping, the luxury cars, the Pru, the Anne Taylor posters, Newbury Street, all of it was such a gigantic contrast to all of the focus that I have had recently in trying to make Janie's Christmas Stocking a reality for 2011. In reading statistics, I've been seeing lots of pictures of the world's poorest people. They are very affecting pictures, pictures that stay with you after you've moved to a new web page. The pictures you see when you're flipping through the TV channels and you see a dirty, malnourished children and you skim past because they make you uncomfortable. Those pictures. Those are the ones that were in my mind the night after the big party.

Now don't get me wrong. I technically don't have a problem with people being wealthy. That big company I mentioned gives away a lot of money to worthy causes. I am not asking people to despise the very-wealthy, the pretty wealthy, the somewhat wealthy, the average wealthy, the middle income folks, and so-on. I get it that the world is broken and that a very few have ended up with most of the world's wealth and a massive number - I've heard 1.4 billion - is in dire poverty, and that there is a good number somewhere in the middle.

I don't even know that I want to say about all of that. I just feel troubled when I have the contrast glaring right before my eyes, and to have had a foot in both worlds, in a way. I've heard it said that if your family income is above $23,000 a year, you are among the richest 2% of people in the world. I just don't even know how to process that. That means that 98% of the world lives on less than $23,000. And I'm sure there is another statistic that would show that a good percentage of that 98% is subsisting and dying. This is Koyaanisqatsi, life out of balance, and it's ghastly and troubling.

No, I know that we won't fix world hunger and poverty overnight, but I guess for myself, I'm still trying to come to terms with how rich I am. It was a little shocking to realize that I'm far closer to the world's 'rich' than to the world's poor. I live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. I have a lawn. I have a lawnmower. I have a car. I have a job. My kids are healthy, and so am I. I have a TV. I am typing on a computer. A nice computer. My home has heat, and air conditioning. And food in the fridge. I have been extremely blessed, and I know I shouldn't live in constant guilt. After all, God chose to bless King David, and especially King Solomon with material wealth. And He's blessed me. Now don't worry, I'm not going to go all Joel Osteen on you, but I do get it that God seems to (inexplicably, to me) bless some more than others. But I feel so bothered by the question, "why me?" I asked that a lot when I was losing Janie (it was, "why Janie?"), and I ask it again now in a different context: why me? Why am I so materially blessed? Why are others so needy?

In thinking about it, and to be reactionary about it, I suppose I could stop eating to try to better sympathize with those who are hungry. And I could quit my job and sell everything I own and give the money to the help them and to better sympathize with them. But in the end, what good would I have done? I'd have helped a few, but then I'd have become one of the sick, needy people myself and I'd become a burden to others. This doesn't make any sense.

So my thinking right now is this:

1. God has placed the well-to-do in a unique position to be able to be Jesus's hands and feet here on earth to help those in need.
2. We sin when we selfishly keep what He's blessed us with and don't use it to help others. Maybe we could do a lot more of this than we sacrificially. Just thinking out loud here...
3. When we help others, we're 'helping' Jesus himself, right?

Is there more to this equation?

It's been a joy to see the interest from so many in Janie's Christmas Stocking project, where we're raising money to get a well installed in a village in Kenya through an organization called Food For The Hungry.

Will this one well solve the all of the world's problems of famine, drought, disease and hunger? No.
Will this one well end all of Africa's troubles? No.
Will this one well reverse Koyaanisqatsi and provide clean water in Jesus's name for a village in Kenya?

So I'll still struggle with the problems of poverty, hunger and disease, but I'm not about to sit on my hands and do nothing when God has blessed me so much. Maybe He's calling you to do something too. If He is, then...what now?


  1. Wow, Chris, I was having these same kinds of thoughts driving into town today for my weekly grocery run. Thinking about Haiti, mostly, and the people I met there and have talked with since...people who are literally always hungry. It just felt so stupid that I was about to stock my own larder so that when my kids have the slightest urge to munch they can be instantly satisfied. It felt very much like Koyaanisqatsi (glad I'm typing that and not trying to say it).

    Even more stupid, there's just not much room in our budget to give lavishly (like I'd like to do...ahhh good intentions), yet there MUST be, because I have way too many clothes and we throw away leftovers. :/

    I'll just have to take heart that we help when we can and pray for the will and the means to do more OR sacrifice more deeply.

  2. Yeah I wonder if we (I) have ever really sacrificed for the sake of another person...especially strangers! It's one thing to sacrifice for your friends and/or family, but for someone you don't even know?

    Anyway, yeah, I flew over a shanty town in's an unforgettable image: the tin and cardboard and plywood shacks..that's all the home some of these people have known or may ever know. It gave new meaning to the word, "sprawl." And all amid such a beautiful setting..Haiti is gorgeous.

    Anyway, thanks for your heart Blaine and for commenting. We won't fix the whole world, but it's good to know that the One who multiplied fishes and loaves can multiply our meager offerings hundred-fold too.

  3. Oh, and you say it, coy-ah-nee-scott-see