Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Human Wealth

     The Hawaiian song “Kanaka Wai Wai” (Human Wealth) by the Sons of Hawaii is one of my favorites.  Most locals don't even know what it's about, and neither did I until a few years back when I borrowed the CD from the library to learn the song on guitar.  The CD's insert had the original Hawaiian words and their English translations.  Turns out it's about the man who runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and asks what he must do to have everlasting life?  Jesus answers follow God's law.  The man says I have done so since I was a little boy.  Jesus says there's one thing more:  sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me.  But the man walks away sad, because he is rich.
     The part of the song that paraphrases the Hawaiian bible and quotes Jesus as saying (English translation):

     “To give...to give it all
     Of your great wealth
     But turn with caution
     To receive your everlasting life”

really got to me.  Having grown up as a fourth generation Hawaii resident, I feel emotionally attached to the Hawaiians and grieve their plights.  Though my ancestry is Japanese and I consider myself Japanese-American, I feel more at home in Hawaii—largely due to its people and culture—than anywhere else in the world.  Hearing the chorus, I felt as if all the Hawaiian people were being told to give everything away, which they already have, generous beyond reason.  They did so by giving first of their love and aloha, then of their possessions, then of their lives, then of their land.  They now have so little and things look so bleak, yet it's as if they're being asked to once again give it all—pride, dignity, resistance—everything.  Must they?  Should they?
     By the way, I don't believe the Sons of Hawaii wrote the song as political polemic or rallying cry (there isn't a note of bitterness or irony throughout the entire song that I can detect).  To the contrary, it strikes me as a straight-forward Christian song of the moral imperative of generosity.  After the rich man walks away sad, the bible says that Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
     They ask him, “How can anyone enter the kingdom of heaven?”
     He answers, “Through God, all things are possible.”
     We Americans are rich.  Filthy rich.  No one likes to admit it, but we are.  None of us will likely ever have to go a day  hungry, or without clothes or shelter.  This places us within the upper echelons of the wealthy in the world and especially throughout history.  And with today's medical technologies (vaccines, penicillin, drugs, and surgery)—things people would have paid a king's ransom for in the past—not to mention access to modern transportation, communication devises, heating, cooling, and cooking appliances, clean running water, indoor plumbing, beds, comfortable footwear, prescription glasses, etc., we're incomprehensibly wealthy compared to those living in Jesus' time.
     So we must give generously.  Until it hurts.  If it doesn't hurt or require sacrifice, it's not generous enough.
     Can we afford it?
     As John Steinbeck said, there are only two states of money:  no money and not enough money.  Or as Pastor Wayne Cordeiro said, “The problem with saying, 'If only I had this much, then I'd be satisfied and give generously,' is that we'll always raise the bar, again and again, and enough will never be enough.”  Mother Theresa defined true love as, “Through God's grace, a starving woman received a bowl of gruel.  Rather than go in and partake with her starving children, she crossed the street.  When asked where she was going, she replied, “To the neighbors—to share some with them.”  Generosity, then, can be seen as a key not only to humanity, but also to happiness, for nothing brings greater happiness to self and others than true love.

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