best cake you've ever eaten.

"Do you want to experience the best cake you have ever eaten? Seriously... ever eaten?!
Come to the newest Cafe in Phnom Penh & get ready to go to Cake Heaven!"

I subscribe to the ICF InfoFlow, a weekly newsletter of announcements, classifieds, and the occasional advertisement. Last week the above ad ran, and I felt a bit challenged.

It's not even a question of wanting to experience the best cake I've ever eaten. I just don't know if I'm ready yet. I mean, seriously.... ever eaten?!

If I soar to such great heights would I be able to come again to the lowly plains of bundt and sponge? Would New York cheese still please? After eating the best cake ever, I don't think I would be able to enjoy any other cake.

I'm scared.

... Mindy, however, is not. The same day I got this e-mail, a friend called her asking explaining that if we didn't get our wedding cake from this shop we were fools! So, she's off today for the experience of a lifetime. I hope it doesn't change her too much.

As a side note though, if you come to Cambodia for our wedding be prepared to experience the best cake you have ever eaten. Seriously... ever eaten.

the poor

This weekend I went on a trip with some teachers to Oudong - the former capital of Cambodia. It's scenic and lovely, perched on a hill overlooking field and farm. It was nice.

As with most things of touristic value here, there were beggars.

What is the correct response to poverty? When an old woman comes up asking "Sohm muh-roi" (please, 100) they aren't asking for much. 100 Riel is literally 4 cents. It's well within my power to give. But why don't I?

Most people say things like "It's not sustainable, we should be teaching them skills so they can survive on their own!" But, it's easy to say that. And, as soon said and heart sated it's just as easy to never follow up. To never take the step to teach. To avoid thinking about the plight of the suffering. To convince ourselves that we're good.

Others might make it more economic. "I'm here, giving my time and energy to the development of this country. I live and work here, sacrificing what I could be making at home. The opportunity cost that I pay annually is in the range of $40,000! I'm giving so much!" (Never mind that the 1,600,000 beggars that you could give 100 riel to with that would rather have the money than you in their country)

Others might feel that, like with birds or squirrels, that feeding them encourages them to stick around and forever exist at the whim of others. And in the process dismiss and devalue humans the same as themselves, but for circumstance.

They all seem valid, don't they? Logically they makes sense. Spouting heady ideas makes us feel better. It doesn't make us feel good though. But isn't that, at the end of the day, why being confronted with poverty makes us so uncomfortable? When a beggar comes and you refuse them you're forced to either admit that you're a bad person or to come up with a way to convince yourself that you're not - that what you're doing is in their best interest, or the best interest of the nation.

Who are we though? Who are we to choose who should sacrifice themselves for the good of the land? Why should this beggar not eat tonight or tomorrow? Is it our job to decide, through our action or inaction, who is worthy to live or die? Who put me in charge?

It's frustrating. I don't like the poor because they force me to evaluate my position. The force to me to admit that the problems I have aren't so important. They force me into a position where I have to make a choice and defend it. Or worse, put me in a position where I have to devalue the existence of another person so that I don't have to devalue my own.

Jesus went to the poor. He treated them with respect, placed value on their lives and let them live with dignity. Sometimes I feel that straight giving, with no relationship, does the opposite. Simple giving puts the giver in a role of power, and the receiver in a place of powerlessness. Simple giving destroys the chance of a relationship, destroys the chance for dignity and humanity on both ends. Just as the rich de-humanize the poor, so must too the poor de-humanize the rich.

And isn't that the real problem? If my friends are hungry, or even people I know only casually, won't I be compelled to help? Won't I share what's on my plate? Wouldn't I gladly not order a Coke so my friend could join me at my table? When the sacrifice is small and the gain is great, it's easy to be generous.

What does that leave us with though? I think that giving with no relationship is a missed opportunity for both. I think that the best way to approach the poor is with humility and a heart seeking a relationship first. But it's the same as every other argument if I don't act on it. "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." says James 2:17. Ideas without implementation are useless. If I convince myself that simple giving isn't good, but never go with what I think is good, then I'm just fooling myself. At least the person giving is doing something!

I don't know what to do, or where myself should and and others begin. I won't pretend that I have any answers, but I'm happy that I at least have the question. I think Mindy said it well: "In our countries we don't see the poor because they're few. Here we don't see the poor because they're many."

Can you see them?