“Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous”—Hypocrisy, Guilt, and the “Realities”

Posted on July 16, 2008 by ELCA World Hunger

It’s the creeping feeling I get when I am drinking my $4.14 USD designer coffee as I snub a woman asking for change on the “L.” It’s the slight grimace I make when reaching for my favorite Gap t-shirt. It’s the sinkhole in the pit of my stomach that falls out when I finish a delicious meal and the bust person (who is usually a person of color, hopefully making minimum wage, maybe experiencing poverty or hunger) silently cleans my plate, the plate that I would not exactly enter into the “Clean Plate Club” competition.

I have come to recognize these sensations as personal guilt feed by my realization that I live, work, and breath a hypocrisy, of sorts. As workers for peace and justice…how do we wrangle with our own “guilt” that our “talk” is sometimes in direct opposition to our “walk?”

Last week, July 7-9, 2008, The Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial nations met at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa in Toyako, Japan on the holiday island of Hokkaido.

EXTRA! EXTRA! “THE TALK” Sounded Promising!
According to an article by Environment News Service, “climate change, world hunger, oil production and rice production, energy security and disaster reduction” were top agenda items for the summit. One news source went so far as to call it the “World Food Shortages Summit.” Additionally, an article from the online newspaper, Telegraph, states that on board his flight to the summit, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented:

“If we are to get food prices down, we must also do more to deal with unnecessary demand, such as by all of us doing more to cut our food waste which is costing the average household in Britain around £8 per week.”

It seems as though the Prime Minister is a fan of simple living and good stewardship!

EXTRA! EXTRA! THE WALK—Maybe Not so Much!
An article by The Guardian points out that dinner for the evening was entitled “Blessings of the Earth and Sea,” an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs. Click here for the full menu of the dinner, and just in case you’re wondering (because I know I was) according to The Guardian, the “G8 Fantasy Dessert” consisted of “a special cheese selection accompanied by lavender honey and caramelized nuts.” Mmm…

There were 15 guests present at the meal, mostly comprised of “key” leaders and their wives. Click here for a picture of the dinner. Now, notice who is not at the table– namely any of the African leaders, from countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Senegal, who were invited, but apparently only to the talks during the day. Additionally, since I’ve breached the subject already, how many people of color are seated around that esteemed table—at all?? Hmmm…

Oh, and, as a full-circle note, the plane that Prime Minister Brown was on when he made his remarks, was allegedly chartered out of Texas and had to fly, sans-passengers, to pick him up in Britain. Classy.

The total cost of the three-day, G8 Summit, according to The Guardian, £238m or about $473,765,280.54 USD. That amount of money:
1. Could, according to the ELCA World Hunger Good Gifts” catalog, provide a nutritious meal for about 172,278,283 people at a congregation-based food program– that’s a little over half the population of the United States.
2. Is over 23 times the ELCA World Hunger annual budget.

It is easy for me to cast blame about these world leaders’ hypocrisy and laugh at the ridiculous-ness of the monetary reality. However, I realized that the week-long, 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, LA will cost an estimated $30 million USD, which is 1.5 times the ELCA World Hunger budget for the year.

Don’t get me wrong, events like the G8 Summit and the Youth Gathering, of course, have incredibly positive aspects—I am in no way discrediting the importance of such events. There is most certainly much to be said about face-to-face, relational contact and cultural understanding, and the gathering of people together. After all, “wherever two or more are gathered in God’s name, the presence of God is with us,” (Matthew 18: 20)!

It all comes down to this. With the “realities” of costs and the limitations of resources and supplies available to us—hey, Prime Minister Brown couldn’t exactly have walked, biked, or swam to Japan, and I can’t always be certain that my Gap t-shirt is completely legit — how do we continue on without being overburdened by our hypocrisy and subsequent “guilt?”

Then again, wait, isn’t guilt a selfish sentiment to begin with centered on…ourselves??

In my estimate, we usually do the best with what we have. BUT—What if what we have simply just isn’t good enough? Some choices do seem “unavoidable.” However, just maybe, all the “unavoidables” are, in fact, avoidable if we make the choice to challenge ourselves to think prophetically, outside the norms and the seemingly all-encompassing “box.”

Call me an idealist, but I do think that “realities” can be relative, and I like to think that we have an important stake in creating new paradigms in which to serve and live as people of God. Amen!

References:

“G8 Summit Opens with Climate Target Up in the Air.” Environment News Service 7 July 2008. 11 July 2008 .
“Man-Made Hunger.” Editorial. New York Times 6 July 2008.
Winnett, Robert. “G8 Summit: Gordon Brown Has Eight-Course Dinner Before Food Crisis Talks.” Telegraph 8 July 2008. 11 July 2008 .
Winnett, Robert. “G8 Summit: the Eight-Course Menu.” Telegraph 8 July 2008. 11 July 2008 .Wintour, Patrick, and Patrick Barkham. “Just Two of the 19 Dishes on the Dinner Menu At the G8 Food Shortages Summit.” The Guardian 8 July 2008. 11 July 2008

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