I've been preparing to leave for China, travelling to China, and getting set up in a new apartment with my wife in China for the past some weeks, so I haven't had the chance to blog. In addition, blogspot is one of the many sites that are blocked from viewing in China. But for the moment I've found a way around the Great Firewall and am blogging again.
China is getting along fine compared to many countries in the world. Few people are starving to death, and if you're intellectually gifted you have a chance to rise in society. There is a sense of order and progress of sorts here, not the hopeless despondency hanging over many places on our globe. But still, compared to the American suburbs I frequent, there is a lot of raw poverty here.
So how do you respond when you walk past a girl sitting in a huge pile of trash, smiling? What do you do about the man in tattered clothes standing over there, picking some leftover food out of another trash pile in the alley? And what do you do when you try to give him some food but he refuses it? And what about the crippled boy with open sores lying on the sidewalk, begging? Most likely the sores were purposefully given to him by a beggar boss, and all his proceeds go to the local Fagin. (It feels like Oliver Twist here at times.)
Once I bought an ice cream cone from McDonald's for one of these boys, preferring to give him food instead of money. He violently refused the ice cream cone, and when I put it in front of him, he batted it away onto the sidewalk. I suspected his boss was watching, so I went back inside and kept an eye on him. After a few minutes, the boy looked around, and cautiously crawled over to the ice cream cone melting on the dirty sidewalk. As I left I saw him licking it hungrily.
If there were one or two such sad cases I could try to handle it. But in a country of 1.3 billion they seem limitless and this Ugly American realizes how tiny his fists are that beat against the vast iron wheel of the world.
So should I sorrow or not sorrow? If you allow all the sorrows of the world into your heart you will be broken. I have done that before. Yet tomorrow I'm going to an IKEA to buy some modern furniture or appliances for our new apartment. How does that fit in with the squalor nearby me?
Somehow I must find life with sensible compassion. I must do what I can in my small way to bring the kingdom. But is there a place for beauty and brightly furnished apartments? Where is the place for laughter and even pleasure? If I lose all my joy what do I have to give those without joy?
How wide do I open the door of my heart to the world's sorrows? How often should I allow my smile to become a grimace?
And in the back of my mind I always hear the warning:
"You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter."