Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Malthusian Nightmare

I live in a small town in southwestern Ontario. When forced to wait for more than a few cars at the main intersection I begin to wonder what’s wrong and why people don’t just stay at home and stop pushing my road-rage buttons.

Here most everyone knows your name. And that’s not just a cheesy Cheers cliché, they really do. Increasingly, however, there are new faces in our town of 900ish. That’s not a bad thing at all – it has the potential to deepen the gene pool which can only help – and, seeing as this is a great spot to call home, I suspect this gradual population hiccup will continue.

The United Nations predicts that 60% of the world’s booming population by 2030 will be city dwellers. Most likely the spill over will mean that boondocks like my back yard will receive increased bumper-to-bumper traffic, but can you imagine what cities will look like by then? To give an example of how potentially disastrous is the urban explosion afoot, consider that in 1950 Lagos, Nigeria had less than 300,000people. Today, only 58 years later, an incredible 10.9 million people live there and UN projections place 16.1 million within the Lagos city limits by 2015 – an incredible 15 years short of 2030. What awaits such mega-cities? What awaits us all?

Recently my wife and I had a conversation with my cousin and her husband who have been drilling wells in Haiti for several years. They had just escaped or been evacuated (depending on your perspective) from their Caribbean home as food shortage protests and riots caused the virtual shut down of the country they love. Their report was that almost overnight the price of rice increased by four times the already inflated amount. The result, understandably, was considerable unrest among the irritated and desperate population who are already among the poorest on the planet.

All this brought me back to 1798. Yes, over 200 years ago an English economist named Thomas Malthus introduced a theory that has become known as the “Malthusian nightmare” – the moniker given to the dreadful possibility that population growth might surpass our ability to feed ourselves. Malthus wrote his observations in light of the growing slums of London during the Industrial Revolution. Somehow we survived back then – or did we? Could it be that we are only now falling into a sleep deep enough for the nightmare to really become reality?

Truth is that places like Haiti and Lagos are only just becoming the industrial playgrounds London was 200 years back. What London was then, the whole world is now or is rapidly becoming. The staggering possibility is that, given the growing grip the “American Dream” has on the world, it may only be in these days that we begin to taste what hunger and want might really be like. What does this all mean for country bumpkins and city slickers alike? Even more important, what does it mean for anyone anywhere who names Jesus Lord?

While there a plenty of big problems in need of big solutions that will surely produce some big headaches for lots of big shots, let me say this to the body of Christ: we may be entering one of the most crucial times and fruitful seasons for the church to really be the Church as Jesus intended.

Imagine the witness of hope Christians can provide these days and years to come in light of the need, rampant selfishness and price-gouging that is sure to hit numerous places? The work of organizations like Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), Ten Thousand Villages and other such Christian organizations is at a critical juncture. They need our support and prayers.

Furthermore, where Christians in locales of any size work to grow godly, healthy and even prosperous businesses and household practices and then share and give away their God-given abundance, this will increasingly become an astonishing counter-cultural declaration. In addition, it may mean that not only our potlucks, but our gathering around the Lord’s Table will take on deeper and more evangelistic meaning than we ever imagined. So, the establishment of strong missional churches and the making of radical disciples who think both globally and locally is a job of mega importance.

From small towns to big cities the nightmare may be our great postmodern opportunity to demonstrate now what the banquet table of the Lord will be like forevermore.