Friday, July 6, 2012

How Many Mosquito Nets Could Your Beer Budget Buy?

During the 4th of July, during a lovely afternoon in the pool, talk turned towards pricey vehicles.  During one day of the last week of school, we'd heard not one, but several people talk of high end vehicles that they'd bought or planned to buy.

My friend said, "Just think about how many hungry children you could feed with that money."

Let me pause here to note that I didn't introduce the social justice turn into the conversation. But once she steered it that way I could not resist.

I had mosquito nets on the brain, since we spent last week raising money to buy them during our Vacation Bible School.  I said, "A mosquito net that protects a child from malaria costs just $4. How many children could we save with our monthly beer budget?"

There was resistance. I knew there would be. I don't want to give up my wine either. My friend said, "Yeah, but a Lexus costs, what, $40,000? That's a lot more than my beer budget!"

I gently pointed out that people drive their cars for many years. How much do we spend on alcohol every year?

My friends conceded my point. I offered to take alcohol money and transform it into mosquito netting if anyone wanted--money laundering of a different sort! The talk moved on to other subjects.

I'm not going into details here--my mom might read this blog!--but suffice it to say, if we donated just half of our alcohol budgets to buy mosquito nets, we'd save a great many children. And we'd be healthier in all sorts of ways.

We could also think about our charitable giving in terms of our retirement plans.  In Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (a theological book I highly recommend), Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat have this interesting approach to charitable giving: "One guidepost we work with is that if we ever find in a given year that we have invested more in our won future by way of retirement savings than we have given away for someone else's present need, there is something terribly wrong. We tend to think the ratio should be at least two to one: for every dollar we invest in retirement savings, two dollars should be given away to an agency that will serve the poor" (page 189).

They have solid theological reasons for their giving, but even my atheist friends feel a strong yearning to bring some justice into this lopsided world.  Most of us have plenty of money that we could be giving away to help bring some balance.  And it's so sobering to realize how far a small amount of money can go, especially in non-industrialized parts of the world.

Once upon a time, I set up all my charitable giving to happen automatically, and then I didn't have to give it much thought unless special fund drives came up.  But earlier this year, my credit card was stolen, and I'm still trying to get my spending back in balance.  I'm spending too much on discretionary items, like beer and books, and not enough on social justice.

Today is the birthday of the Dalai Lama, a good day to recalibrate my spending towards justice.  Our family budgets say so much about us.  I want my family budget to say something different:  fewer items that will be consumed and then forgotten, more mosquito nets!


Hannah Stephenson said...

Always a good reminder, Kristin.

Kristin said...

Thanks for commenting, Hannah. I always worry about sounding too preachy. Of course, I'm often writing to remind myself that I need to recalibrate, not to berate others into changing behavior. I worry, however, that readers feel berated. Your comment leaves me hopeful that I've struck the right tone.