Too Many Options, And Too Few

One of the central ironies of life in our
mediated culture is that some of us have too many options, and some of us have
too few.

One of the central ironies of life in a mediated culture is that some of us have too many options. Messages competing for a share of our attention cascade toward us non-stop. We tune them out, not even considering their offering because we already have too much input. The iPod culture is clearly a response to an over-stimulated environment. It’s a way to tune out the unwanted stimuli with the comfort of self-chosen sounds.

A common feature of life today is a feeling of stress. We’re overloaded with tasks, over-loaded with demands on our time, over-loaded with claims for our attention and commitment. At least some of us are, those of us who live in developed economies where material goods are plentiful and someone wants to sell to each us at virtually every price range. (The disparity between the haves and have-nots in developed economies is real and growing, but that’s a subject for another day.)

He asked me
to have sex
with him, and
he guaranteed
everything I
would need
–Flora Muchave
age 14

What struck me with ironic force yesterday was an article on the limited options of young girls in Africa where HIV/AIDS continues to race ahead of all efforts to contain it. It’s due in major part to the limited options of poor girls left to survive by their own wits after the death of parents to HIV/AIDS. The story says they get conned into sexual activity in hopes of finding a secure relationship, or they are put onto the streets by hard-pressed or unsympathetic relatives. The age for these turned out girls is creeping downward as AIDs claims more lives and ravages families in under-developed countries.

We have the irony of an over-stimulated developed world where people seek to escape the intrusion of too many options and the under-develped world where desperate young girls sacrifice their bodies because they have too few options.

I’ve long thought that my own denomination needs a focused, comprehensive global economic policy combined with its mission personnel placement. The challenges the young women in Africa face are more than individual initiative and personal morality can overcome. These are important, but they don’t address the full range of systems that affect these young lives.

To my knowledge the only religious organization with a sophisticated “foreign policy” is the Vatican which is a nation-state. But a church need not be a nation-state to address systemic issues. It needs to be aware of its own power and responsibility for quality of life globally.

If I think too much about it, the ignorance of citizens of the United States about global issues depresses me. But a church that takes globalization seriously, must also take seriously the quality of life issues that affect the lives of its community members in every part of the world. It’s not about “foreign missions” anymore. It’s about an interconnected and interdependent world community.

The young girls of Africa, and many other places, are caught in a systemic vise that is squeezing them and their governments. Every meaningful system that could help them–education, health care and economic development–is broken or beyond their reach. Many organizations have programs to strengthen components of societies, some more comprehensive than others.

But the challenge is multifaceted. It’s necessary to influence political, economic and social policies of developed governments toward developing nations and to provide inputs–education, health care and economic development. It’s essential to equip those at the margins to become self-sustaining. It’s necessary to help those in the developed world understand their influence on the developing world, and why it’s important to be globally aware.

This requires a comprehensive approach; it takes the hands and minds of many. That’s why I believe a connectional system is necessary. It brings the full complement of resources to bear. The challenges the children of Africa, Asia and Latin American face cannot be met by individual projects. They are deeply systemic and they require the kind of wholistc response that is multi-faceted and comprehensive. We who have many options need to provide more options to those with too few.

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