We Americans have many choices, too many I think. If you walk into almost any supermarket, you can find a gazillion different types, brands, and colors of ketchup. A trip to the fast food restaurant offers a bewildering array of food and drink choices from triples to doubles and super size to small. A Super Walmart Center has so many choices of products and sizes that it can take a long while to find what you want. I find that I often get lost looking over the shelves when I'm looking for a specific product. I simply can't see what I want amidst all the choices. Sometimes there are so many choices I feel paralyzed and can't make a decision what I need or what I want.

What a contrast with our lives in Niger, where there are often few choices of any particular product. Is ketchup in town today? If it is, you will likely find only one or two brands, and it doesn't compare to American ketchup. There are no "fast" food outlets, and restaurants have some choices but not many. There are no Super Walmarts or Home Depots. There are only two "supermarkets" in the whole country, and neither has more than six aisles or has more floor space than a basketball court.

Our African friends are extremely poor and cannot afford the luxuries we buy, like ketchup and meat, or Cokes and toilet paper. They think we have it all. We can get the best health care available. We can buy anything we like to eat (as long as it's available in the country). We can travel freely from place to place without too much hassle. We can take a vacation, something only the rich can afford. They often cannot afford even the $1.60 they need to pay for malaria medicine. They eat millet (bird seed) three meals a day. They don't have adequate public transport or good roads and don't own cars. They often can't afford to travel anywhere.

Sometimes after four years in Niger, we come back to the US and are dazed by the choices here. We want to experience the things we have done without (cold season fruit or nice tennis shoes, for instance) and so are tempted to buy things we don't need or can't use (at least all at once). We want to pack four year's experience into one year at home. We're also tempted to buy something when we see it because "it might not be there the next time." This mentality comes from being in Africa where if you see it you'd better buy it because it might not be around the next time you go to the store. This applies to necessities as well as the little extras of life.

If anyone thinks we don't have enough choices, look at the world of telephones. We have land lines with a confusing array of local and long-distance servers. We have cell phones that come with text, photo capability, and a huge choice of ring tones. Each company or server comes with different options. Or you can use a phone card to do your calling anywhere in the world. Then there is the latest choice of bundling your phone service, tv, and internet all together. Where is all this going? Who can keep up with it? What ever happened to Ma Bell?

Then there's the way we use the word "choice." I deserve to have choices. We want to "choose" our destiny. There are choices of lifestyles and family situations. "The choice is clear," says the commercial. Some people even use the word to refer to eliminating an unwanted person. That seems more like a lack of choice to me, kind of like what my African friends experience every day of their lives.

One of the ways I define poverty is "lack of choice." When people have few choices, it's usually because they have little means or resources to make choices. So I'm not opposed to choices per se, as long as the choices are not evil or immoral or harmful. I just think we as a nation have more than our share of choices. We don't need them all. We are drowning in choices. When we have so many choices that either we're paralyzed, not knowing what to choose, or we want to experience every choice imaginable, something's wrong.

This is another reason I like Aldi's. It's not a huge supermarket. They sell only the top 500 or 600 items sold in the US. They generally only sell their brand of any item. There may be a normal or deluxe variety of each item (like ketchup), but that's it. There isn't a bewildering variety of items on the shelves. In fact, there aren't any shelves, just items in boxes like in a warehouse. You bag your own groceries, but it doesn't take long to get throught the checkout counter, even when there's a long line. You can't get speciality items, but you can get the necessities.

Another thing that bothers me is the number of choices of English Bible translations. Don't you think there are enough of them out there? Think of the alphabet soup of Bible translations we do have: NIV, NKJV, RSV, NLT, The Message, NASB, Darby, Young's, Amplified, NCV, TEV, ISV, Berkley, ASV, etc., etc., etc. Then there are all the variations of Bibles in each version like the Student Bible or the Men's Bible or the Study Bible. Do we really need all these versions and variations? I know language changes with time, and the translations may need to be upated after a period of time, but it seems like we've got enough out there to suit the choice and taste of any individual who speaks English! Get this: In the Zarma dialect of Songhai, there is only one version of the Bible. Granted, there are only about three million people who speak that dialect of Songhai, and many don't even read it due to illiteracy or lack of interest or difficulty in understanding it, but there is only one version. Thousans of languages in the world don't even have one translation of the whole Bible in the language. I would love to make a proposal to those who translate and publish Bibles. Let's have a moratorium on any new translations of the Bible in English for ten years. Let's then take the money we save from all those translations and let's spend it to give the rest of the world that doesn't have access to the Bible in any version a chance to hear the greatest message ever told in their own language. Is that too much to ask? I'm afraid the answer is yes, but I can't help but make the proposal. It seems to me like the time has come for something like this. And if Christians don't do it, who will? We need to strategically place resources where they can best be used.

I know, this was a long blog. And I've probably offended some of you. But can't we do without some things so that others in this world can have a few things? Think about it.


Hannatu said...

I've heard it said that the main difference between riches and poverty is the privilege of making choices. The poor don't have any choices. So, when are you going to get this one published?

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I'm usually nodding my head agreeing to what you're saying. Keep up the good (and interesting) work!
D. Penner