This year has been for me one of travelling to the west and to the east. This was not done in the spirit of Psalm 139 – where can I go from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. This was less an exercise in escaping from God, but rather in seeking him in two apparently very different places – Texas and Manipur state, India.
What I learned in India was to ‘expect the unexpected’. Every time I felt that I had become immersed in a culture that was truly alien from anything I had previously experienced, I was suddenly confronted with something banal and familiar.
For example, while sitting down to our breakfast of bananas and guavas, brought to us by the village market gardener, we heard music. Not the sound of exotic Indian music, but Seasons in the Sun, a song written by the cult Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. This musical surprise were matched by seeing the Haipi school football team run out to play wearing Arsenal’s away strip.
Another musical moment came in a church service when a band of 20-year-old lads got up to sing their winning song in a recent music competition. The service had all been in one of the local Manipuri languages, but the song was in English, I know what lies ahead, a Country and Western Gospel song.
This was one of those times when I found that life in Manipur was closer to life in Texas than it was to life in St Albans. A less palatable connection was in seeing people living in the gutters of the streets of Kolkata. These people tended to have the darkest skins of all the locals. This could be compared to the time I inadvertently drove off the main highway in Fort Worth and came across a soup kitchen with crowds of people outside. These people also had the darkest skins of all the locals.
It is nearly 50 years since Marshall McLuhan coined the expression The Global Village to describe how electronic communication has brought people into closer contact with one another. It is some times said that people are the same the whole world over. That is probably true, but especially in the sense that rich people in one part of the world will have a lot in common with rich people elsewhere and the same is also true of poor people. The poorest people in the world will have the same lack of opportunities with regard to education and healthcare and they will also share the same sense of powerlessness to effect change in their circumstances. Unfortunately the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and when we factor race into the equation the results are striking as over the course of the 23 years to 2007 the gap between the wealth of white and black Americans increased four-fold. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8690329.stm]
It must be the job of government and governments. It must be their role to level the playing field – unwelcome as that might be to those of us with more than we need. The most vulnerable in any society who, through no fault of their own, can’t maintain a decent standard of living, need help. Check out the Book of Deuteronomy for further information on this. It can’t be left to the individual to even out society. We might like it to be so, but the job is just too big.