How is it that I still feel obligated to follow “the rules” in my dreams? I dreamed last night that I wanted to go outdoors to a field covered in snow, but I had to file paperwork for permission and ask two authorities for their permission as well. Hey - it’s a dream, isn’t it? Isn’t that why they call it a dream? Don’t you have complete and utter freedom to do what you want without punishment or consequence or even red tape? Even in my dreams, apparently, I’m a stickler for the rules. I never did get to go to the field. I never got permission.
I get bemused by the expression “in your dreams.” Someone might have an outlandish goal, or think something extraordinarily will happen to them, and another person comes along, laughs understandingly or sometimes derisively, saying, “In your dreams!” I wish the good things did happen in my dreams, but they rarely do. My dreams are usually a reflection of my life at the time, mirroring my frustrations at work, the way it takes me so long to finish a project, and other things that tend to weigh on me during the day.
I wish the news I heard yesterday was just another bad dream. Forget the sub-prime mortgage crisis, forget the price of energy and everything else that squeezes our wallets. At least we can eat. Millions of people are going hungry now around the world; rice, a staple of so many, has been hit especially hard, and countries who usually export rice are now keeping it for themselves to ensure that they have enough to feed their own citizens. The news report showed children in India on their hands and knees in the marketplace trying to sweep up grains of rice that had fallen a few at a time from baskets. After seeing several reports like that, Ed and I went to eat at an All-You-Can-Eat Chinese buffet. I looked at the little cup of rice on our table. I almost got sick thinking about how big that little cup would look to someone in India or Thailand or Africa. At the restaurant, I could get up and eat my fill of hundreds of foods on the buffet, yet others in the world were literally starving.
The next news report on ABC I heard was how the foods banks in Maine and the rest of the USA are depleting their pantries. They said the donations had stayed the same, but the need was greater. The very next commercial that came on the TV, featuring French bistro music, and a picture of a gourmet chef. It turned out to be an ad for cat food, trying to tell us that our cats, of all creatures, deserve not just to eat, not just to eat well, but to eat gourmet. I'm not against pets getting fed - our Babe certainly has eaten more than her share - but isn't this somehow out of whack? The news report and the ad following it had to be a bad dream - but it wasn’t.
A news story on PBS told about federal funds set up for helping ranchers and farmers in Texas during drought conditions - but due to members of Congress using appropriations to buy votes for the next election, millions of dollars from that fund were going to ranchers and farmers who had no disaster or drought or any kind of damage whatsoever. And to top it off, the payments weren’t going to the little guy, they were going to the giant landowners, the ones who made millions of dollars every year anyway. After all, they are the ones who can help fund the next campaign. Again, this should be a bad dream.
The last news story I watched yesterday was about our individual carbon footprints in America. From disposable diapers to plastic, from styrofoam to appliances, the report showed in pictures exactly how much waste we Americans generate every day. It is staggering. The final line of the report said that if the rest of the world lived the American lifestyle, we’d need 4 planets the size of Earth to accommodate us all.
So yesterday was a day of conscience for me. Maybe it’s good that I have such a conscience in my dreams, that, even uninhibited and free in a virtual world of fantasy, I still make myself follow the rules. Yesterday I learned several things. One, that Ed and I are not trying to simplify and downsize our lives just for ourselves or for an "experiment"; there is great need in the world. Second, that I need to send some money ASAP to charities that feed the hungry, if I have to skip a few meals to do it. Third, that most of us in this country have no idea how blessed we are, and, yes, how spoiled we are.
Ever since Reagan was running for president and asking the question, “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?” (referring to Carter’s administration), a lot of people answered have asked that question again and again - “Hmm...am I better off? How am I doing?” That question always troubled my conscience. Maybe I'm not better off, and that's the only way I will work for change, since I'm the one who matters. Of maybe I am better off, I may be paying my mortgage, I may have a good job and health insurance - but the question is still too limited. “Are others better off? Are we as a country better off? Are we as a world better off? Are we sharing what we have? Are we so used to being overly fed that we can’t cry at the pictures of the Indian children scavenging for grains of rice - or feel sad yet not try to do anything about it? Do we think our extremely comfortable lifestyle is to be saved no matter what other people have to suffer so we can maintain it? Do we sometimes agonize over a purchase, realizing the money could have bought someone else food, even right here in our own community?”
We’re asking the wrong questions.
Yes, it was a bad day for news, yesterday. It makes me want to avoid the news altogether sometimes, but I have a conscience (even in my dreams) and I know most of us do, too. We are comfortable, taking it for granted that we will have enough (yes, and many times too much) to eat. Shame on us if this crisis does not upset us enough to do something generous, even in a small way. I think sometimes the enormity of the situation paralyzes us, and we feel an inability to do anything that will make a difference. My goodness, even poor Bangladesh is still suffering. I remember reading about Bangladesh having floods and famines when we studied in Sunday School back in the '60s. There’s a lot we can’t fix, but, by God, we should do what we can.
Ed preached once on the expression "There but for the grace of God go I." He says that implies God's grace hasn't extended to those suffering, and that God is somehow favoring us over others. Ed changes the sentence: "There because of the grace of God, I go." Those who suffer are us, and we are those people, if you believe in the connection of humanity as the children of God. I have a dream today...