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“First World Problems”

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I think we have all heard that phrase by now – “first world problems.”  It refers to things like when your iPhone Starbucks finder is broken and you are forced to drink a simple cup of coffee from 7-11.  The purpose of the phrase is to grant one perspective on their problem.  It is meant to tell you that the problem, while perhaps irritating, hardly registers on the scale compared to what is faced by people in the third world – starvation, disease, etc.

We often ignore that perspective.  When my smartphone is on the fritz it feels as if my life is over.  Oh, sure, the data is safely tucked away somewhere and I can afford a replacement or repair, but there are those precious hours lost in that process.  Hours where I might forget something on the grocery list or I might get stuck in traffic because I do not have the traffic avoidance app or worst of all – I might miss a challenge on the latest game I am infatuated with.   Who has time to worry about starvation death in sub-Saharan Africa?  My crops might rot in the virtual Farmville field!

I bet everyone reading this has at some point in the last few weeks read something about the Paris climate talks.  The fact that you have while there are very serious, and acute environmental problems in the world tells me that when it comes to climate change we seem to be stuck in one of those broken cell phone panics.  Yesterday, a waste dump in China let go, creating a landslide and currently 80-90 people are missing and quite possibly dead.  That is an environmental disaster.  Two days ago Beijing suffered “red alert” levels of smog.  We are not talking “carbon pollution” here – we are talking particulates, NOX, SOX – things that can cause healthy people to develop respiratory symptoms in a matter of days and things that can cause people with respiratory difficulties to die.  And Beijing is not even the most polluted city in the world!

Do you honestly think that countries like China and India that face such massive, acute, and deadly environmental issues are going to worry about something that might happen out there in the future?

I cannot help but wonder how we get ourselves into these pickles.  But then it is not that hard to understand really.  It is simple pride.  Pride not only makes one think you are better than the person next to you, pride makes you think your problems are the biggest problems anyone every faced.  Pride destroys perspective because pride makes your perspective the only perspective.

It’s funny, when Christianity was one of the forces that bound the West, which pretty much meant the so-called “first world,” together  we had perspective.  We might have been a little slow on the uptake but we did things like defeat slavery and Nazism.  We had perspective on ourselves, each other, and where the real problems in the world were.  We recognized evil and fought it.  We solved problems that were killing people here, now and knew that that the future was in God’s hands.  Knowing that there was a God, God that chose to reveal Himself to us in the most humble of Christmas circumstances, allowed us to find the humility that grants perspective.

Christmas is fraught with first world problems – late deliveries of something ordered online, mall mobs and traffic nightmares.  But if we look to the “reason for the season” we gain the perspective we need to bear with those problems and perhaps, just perhaps the perspective to fix the genuine problems in the world.

Orwellian afterthought:  Apparently, according to the BBC, the landfill letting go in China is not an environmental disaster, it is an “industrial accident.”   But then word games where solutions are needed is a first world tendency too.


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