On Sunday morning most of the 125 cyclists found their way to the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in the heart of Montreal. Here we were welcomed into a church that is taking it’s calling seriously about being the hands and feet of Christ in ministering to the poor.
The message was shared by the Rev. Dr. Glenn Smith who is the executive director of Christian Direction. It was his message more than is title that left a mark on me.
The key point of his message is that poverty is not an economic matter. Poverty is not a matter of lack of money. Poverty is a matter of relationship, it’s a matter of connection. That’s why poverty is inter-generational.
In speaking about Jeremiah’s letter to the Israelites who were taken into the Babylonian captivity, the message was, despite the shame of being taken out of the promised land, make Babylon your home – build in it, make it their own. Or as he put it more succinctly, work diligently for the peace of the foreign city, the city of your oppressors. He challenged them to intercede for the wellbeing and peace of Babylon.
The job of Christians is to pray for the leaders, for the elected officials and to help them bring about an order so that the poor, the orphan’s, the strangers and the widows are taken care of. That there is a place that meets the needs of all the people who make up the community.
What would happen if each and every Christian took this message seriously? What would be different?
I believe more of us would be focused on face to face relationship with those who experience poverty. We would be able to put a face to it and name it. We would be able to provide hope, one at a time to people who live in poverty.
I believe more of us would recognize how systemic change is needed so that the focus is less on GNP and more on quality of life, policies that are there to help those who need support, socially, educationally etc. One indicator of this would be a decreasing gap between the earnings of the rich and the poor. It’s not the money difference that counts, but rather, leaving time and resources for each person in the community to be able to access.
I believe more of us would have our eyes opened and see how our misuse of resources, usually motivated by greed or a desire to take care of ourselves very well, is denying opportunity and resources for others. How does our purchasing of goods we don’t really need contribute to sweat shop labour? How does our discarding of cheap things we buy contribute to the gradual devastation of the earth, creating pollution, defacing of creation and destruction of habitats that support life.
I believe more of us would recognize the idea of having enough. Having enough goods to look after our needs (as opposed to wants), having enough time to connect with others in our community, having enough time to see and reach out to those who are isolated, either through their own doing or being intentionally shunned by the community.
The big idea of the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty is not the money it raised. The big idea is creating a personal awareness of what poverty really is and then making personal lifestyle changes to change the reality that grows out of that awareness. The money raised ($1.8 million to date) can be the catalyst to help fund systemic change or provide resources to empower those who experience poverty.
Break the cycle of poverty – in the name of Christ – that is the liberating message.
On the way to church on Sunday morning, I drove through the Mohawk village of Kahnawake and saw “no casino” stickers in many places. That surprised me because in my experience, because many casinos that I recognize are on Indian reservations. The “no casino” signs arised out of an understanding that casinos create systemic problems. The community of Kahnawake have citizens who understand that message.
The “no casino” stickers is one sign of hope. The challenge is to look around and recognize other signs of hope, signs that challenge the systems that make poverty an engrained reality.