Jungle Book was a movie that my brothers and I watched almost every time we visited my grandparents for several years while I was growing up. I’m not really sure why it seemed to get turned on every visit. Perhaps it was the fact that my brothers are I were just a little crazy to have around the house.
In classic Disney tradition, the movie is a musical. Baloo, the bear, has a great song about the Bear Necessities. In his song, he says that it doesn’t really matter where he wanders, he is always home because all he really wants are the bare necessities of life. He doesn’t really have a plan, he just lets life happen. As the movie progresses Baloo learns that not everyone can live that way, and you actually have to do something with intention sometimes.
Here in Papua, one of the most frustrating things for me is to watch as infrastructure is built up, only to fall completely apart. A road gets built, but no one monitors the quality of the road since any old method will make it passable for now. Give it a few years, and it will fall apart since no one is caring for the condition of the road. Perhaps there was money allocated to that purpose, but it doesn’t actually make it to the care of the road.
In the west, we have expectations about how things are built and maintained so that they last. Any contractor building a road without making it to last a long time won’t be in business long. We value preparing for the future.
Baloo could get away with only living from one moment to the next because he didn’t care about anything. When he started caring about Mowgli the boy, he had to change. Another interesting aspect is that Baloo lived in a jungle where food was available everyday. If Baloo had a cousin who lived in a more moderate climate with winters, his cousin most certainly had to prepare in advance for winter if he only cared for himself.
In Papua, food is available year round. If one’s value system only involves existing from one day to the next, then there would be no need to save money, buy and store food. There would be no motivation to prepare for anything further away than tomorrow or even tonight. In this kind of setting, it’s far more important to simply enjoy what you have, since clearly tomorrow will also have what it needs. Giving hundreds or thousands of years of living day to day, it’s no wonder that people don’t feel a need to change value.
Western culture grew up in colder climates. Western culture was impacted by seasons. People who didn’t prepare for winter died, or lived on other people’s mercy. That kind of person could easily be labeled as lazy. It seems to me that it would follow in a very Roman Catholic influenced Europe that such a one would then become considered a sinner. As a result, preparing for the future has become core value of western culture. Some would argue that it is also a Christian value.
I’m not so sure this is true. In fact one could argue that both behaviors are “Christian.” Jesus clearly tells us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its self (Matt. 6:34) . In Thessalonians 3 we also read that “If you don’t work, you don’t eat…” (MSG). We as westerners claim our way is right, not because it actually is, but because we believe it is. Our culture determined this one for us. So what is the culture of Papua determining as right? What is the actual truth behind all of this?
I’m not sure I have the answer, but I have an idea. Both have truth to them, and what is right, what is most Godly is actually a combination of both. In the west, when one is given the option of giving $100 to a panhandler on the streets of Chicago, or placing that same money in a retirement account, I think we would most often decide the greater good would be to buy the panhandler a $10 meal and put the $90 extra in the retirement account. Ask a Papuan, and if the panhandler is any relation at all, they don’t feel like they have any choice. You give them the money because you take care of family first above anything, even if they are going to spend every last Rupiah on a pig roast rather then clothing for their kids. They value people far more then money or future security. On the other hand, because of that value, there is very limited concept or ability to save and financially prepare for anything. What plans that are laid for the future rarely come to fruition simply because the discipline of following through is not there. Both cultures have their down sides, but we can learn so much from each other if we would just stop pointing fingers and listen.
Westerners could learn to trust God more, and to be more generous. “Give, pressed down shaken together, and running over…” does not mean a $5 or $10 meal for the panhandler. It doesn’t mean providing an opportunity for him or her to improve themselves. It means giving generously with no strings attached. Our responsibility is to God for being generous, not to them for being a good steward. I think that Papuans have much to teach us about this.
On the other hand, people here in Papua could learn much about stewardship and self-discipline. Proverbs 6:9-15 has stern words of warning for those who do not work hard and plan ahead like the ant who prepares for winter.
I still find trying to work these two contrasts out a struggle in my own heart and life. My wonderful wife is way more disciplined and generous both with our money. Thankfully God has given her to me to help me learn. Being here in Papua has really helped me as well, since it challenges my preconceptions of what is “Godlike” rather then cultural norms in everyday life.