Danger in Twenty-five MilesSocial Justice — By Hui-wen Sato on September 3, 2012 at 7:32 am
The middle class is a tricky category to fall into. You are not poor enough to have the tight confines of an extremely restricted budget – spending to survive with anything more hardly being an option. You do not feel you are rich enough to be associated with the superficial, self-absorbed Real Housewives of Timbuktoo. You work hard, you pay your taxes, pay your bills, and you try to enjoy some nice things here and there. Nothing too over the top, most of the time.
But I think there is a very real danger of then just doing things, buying nice things, and avoiding the hard things, just because we can. The danger is in the deep, sharp claws lurking in the corner of Pottery Barn, disguised in pretty candlelight and flowers. I rarely go there but I had a gift card, and could feel myself being wooed, beckoned, seduced into it all. Start with decorating the living room, but if you’re going to do that, then you want to redo the dining room, in which case the bathrooms need touching up. And suddenly the bedroom looks awfully dull and outdated too. Do it. You can afford it. Others can’t. But you can.
“This place is dangerous,” I said to the stylish but not overly uptight gentleman at the register.
“That’s what I hear. But we’re safe. We don’t bite. Come in, come in.”
I remember an interview with Bill Clinton shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A reporter asked him, “Why did you do it?” His simple but unsettling reply: “Because I could.” It wasn’t that he could because he was the President of the United States. She was there. She was not saying no. His ego, fed by a woman’s eyes who said he was everything he longed to be, edged out his conscience. His loins burned away the red flags of self-restraint. Do it. You can afford it. Others can’t. But you can.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have lived most of my life fighting to learn how to be nicer to myself, fighting to learn that it is ok to rest from my labor, my striving, and enjoy the grace and blessings that God intends for us to enjoy. But when I walk into Pottery Barn and feel the strong, intentionally designed pull on not just my wanting but my sense of needing these things, I have to wonder what that is, where it comes from.
I think part of our susceptibility to that insidious pull comes from the fact that we are not, on a visceral level, entirely convinced that our world is much bigger than the 25-mile radius that encircles the majority of our days. Within my 25-mile radius, I would say most homes have some pretty Pottery Barn purchases. I’ve got to keep up, because isn’t it a part of who I am, who I am becoming as a working, middle-class woman?
Then, for a moment, I look at the fine print. “Made in Thailand.”
And then I remember the men, women and children whom I spent a summer with in Chiang Mai. I remember pledging to them that I would not forget their stories. How they fought the cycles of poverty so that their children would not have to see sex slavery as their only option for an income, for survival. How the orphans traveled unbelievable journeys to be free from abuse and the threat of the sex trafficking industry. How they didn’t need Pottery Barn to feel settled, content, respected, valued. They needed safety, love, and people who would hear their cries and advocate on their behalf.
They feel so far away now, in both time and space. But then I look at the fine print, and here they are, in my 25-mile radius. Reminding me. Humbling me. Asking me to think, not full of cynical criticism, but humbly and critically again about how I am letting my 25-mile radius reduce my vision and my ambitions to something so much smaller than what God ever intended for my life. Hopefully they are still a part of who I am, who I am becoming as a working, middle-class woman.
What if I were to turn from my sin, because that’s ultimately what it is, sin. What if I start to do the less selfish, rather than the more selfish things, because the grace of God in my life now says that I can? It could be dangerous. And it could be really, really good.