Is Economic Inequality the Root of Our Problem?

29 April 2015

Is the growing gap between rich and poor--even in wealthy Luxembourg--at the base of rips in our cultural fabric?  Yesterday, 28 April, my wife and I made a visit in the city that illustrated the Bible's answer to that question.

Late in the afternoon Kathy and I attended the showing of "Blind Spot", a film produced by creative students at the Lycée Technique du Centre.  Inspired by a photo exhibit of George Edward Nixon, a Canadian photgrapher (and himself a homeless man featured in the film), the students worked on the project for two years under the leadership of Claude Lahr in partnership with the Service National de la Jeunesse. 

The documentary portrayed the everyday struggles of street people in Luxembourg city--unresolved personal problems, bitter cold, sleepless nights (or interrupted sleep), theft of personal belongings, etc.  Many of the local street population actually attended the film showing.  The atmosphere was a little rowdy and sometimes even a bit raucous.  At the end of the 35-minute presentation one of the men who'd been interviewed--an articulate Luxembourgish fellow who'd arrived a little under the influence--tried loudly to answer questions from the crowd and even sat down to play a few bars on the piano. 

George Nixon, the Canadian photographer who identified himself as the oldest one of the bunch, stated on film that half of a squatter's issues can be resolved when he stops blaming other people and starts taking his own responsibilities ("All the people on the street--it's their own fault. They're going to put the blame on somebody else, but believe me, it is their own fault.  It's not that people don't have, uh, a lot of problems, but they have a lack of solutions for their problems"). 

We walked away from the film venue and waited for the bus back home.  And that's when we felt the surreal grab-you-by-the-neck switch of worlds.  We stood on the Boulevard Royal by the exit from a bank's underground parking area and watched glossy Audi SUVs and Porsche 911 Carreras roll up out of the lot and purr onto the boulevard.  Once on the bus I listened (unwillingly) to a sportily decked out French businessman's phone conversation.  Seated right behind me, he counseled someone (a friend? a colleague?) on how to buy oil futures and play the dollar against the euro.  He was quite certain the next few months would see an increase in the value of something or other, followed by a steep dive by summer's end . . . so buy now and get out in July.  He stepped out the bus door and kept talking, still plugged in and chattering away.

That's our town--the dirt-poor outcasts and the rich have-it-alls. (Well, I can't say that even the squatters in Luxembourg are "dirt poor"--many seem to have mobile phones, enough cash to buy cigarettes, and the possibility of a place to stay, should they so choose).

But what struck me about both the film and the bus conversation was the common thread of covetousness and self-confidence.  The French businessman was pretty sure he knew what was coming a few months down the road, though he could not guarantee he'd be around to see July.  And even the street people were at the film venue plead for the rest of the city to "respect" them . . . and they said so. 

I've often thought about the wisdom of Agur, son of Jakeh, in this regard:

         "Two things I asked of Thee,
         Do not refuse me before I die:
         Keep deception and lies far from me
         Give me neither poverty nor riches,
         Feed me with the food that is my portion,
         Lest I be full and deny Thee and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
         Or lest I be in want and steal,
         and profane the name of my God".  (Proverbs 30:7-9, NASB)

How easy pridefully to boast that we know what tomorrow will bring.  How easy pridefully to blame others for our own choices.  In both cases we become prisoners--in the first case, prisoners of our greed, in the second case, prisoners of those who have sinned against us. 

The past may help explain where we are, but when we know our Maker through His Son, it need not determine where we go from here.

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 13:46