Running to stand still…

3 01 2011

Treadmills are indeed a fascinating piece of exercise equipment. After watching too many daytime television slots in the holidays advertising exercise machines, it occurred to me how much of our lives in the comparatively rich West is devoted to getting off the shackles of our excess.

For the best part of four decades, these noisy little boxes that have long taken over from the hearth in the loungerooms of our middle class homes are the portal to covetousness. The world of TV shows us how to live our lives in excess and then, what to do when the guilt, fat or loneliness catches up with us. A recent conversation with an Australian Army Serviceman confirmed the tragedy of this fascination with that ‘other’ world. It appears that the US is installing grid electricity throughout villages in Afghanistan to places that have never had it, whether they like it or not. Why? He asks, with some good reason.

The Afghanis have lived without it thus far, have relatively small carbonĀ  footprints compared with any English-speaking visitor to their village and have no use for it, skills or safety awareness to maintain it, and have little desire for, perhaps, the most common use of it in the developing world: the Television.

Indeed, from shanty homes on the infamous ‘smoky mountain’ rubbish dump in Manila to the vast hectares of slums of Kolkota, briefly thrust into Western consciousness in the movie ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’, TVs are slowly creeping into the homes of the up and coming poor around the world. The result? Chiefly some A-grade envy, from the sounds of it.

You see, without television, the poor have no real idea what is apparently possible in terms of lifestyle. Unfortunately, because the images come through television, they still don’t, but gee it sticks in their gourd! Happy poor can become miserable, despondent and deeply resentful poor. Far be it from me to suggest that the world’s dominant culture desires to implement its most potent weapon of mass cultural destruction through history’s most potent advertising means in the war torn piece of rugged dirt known as Afghanistan.

In the words of Bono, “Am I buggin’ ya? I don’t mean to bug ya!”

After participating in what is colloquially known as the ‘refugee run’ at Crossroads International in HK during December, and another simulation simply known as the ‘paper bag simulation’, the plight of the poor overseas has become just a little clearer. Here was I, in the heartland of the Australian middle class, thinking that the Middle Class had dibs on the concept of running to stand still. In a place where the financial axiom that “a middle class mortgage will always grow to accommodate the repayment capacity of its owners’ holds truer than Pythagoras’ theorum, we see hard work terminating in garage sales, meal replacements and private health insurance to offset the expensive medical bills.

What had been less clear is that the world’s poor do precisely the same. With the one key difference that if they stop running, they die. Is there a solution?

No, but there are hundreds. Can we live more simply? Can we eat less, keep fit (without plugging in exercise equipment to lose it) and consume less? Can we buy differently? Would you visit the truly poor? Would you lend time, money, compassion, your own bedrooms to someone that needed it? Would you handle affordable accommodation in your street without protesting? Would I take ANY of my own suggestions?

I’m not sure, but I’d like to think so. 2308 times in the New Testament taking care of the poor is mentioned. Mostly by Jesus. I don’t think for some time that I have been comfortable professing Christ whilst doing so little for the poor. This has gradually, albeit belatedly, been changing over the last decade and I plan that it would change more.

So my treadmill stands in the corner of my loungeroom, a shrine to our propensity to run just to stand still. It would be nice, in 2011 to move at least an inch. Bless you all.