The Message of the Church and Poverty

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.

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Saying Goodbye

Since today is Friday, part of our peleton meeting included saying goodbye to the riders who are leaving the tour this week. There were about 25 riders giving their goodbyes. Many riders had been with us for one week.

After sharing my comments I realized there were things I Had meant to share that did not come to me at the time. So let me repeat what I shared And what I had wanted to share.

This ride has heightened my awareness of the different faces of poverty. This struck me when I Was at the SAG stop at the Homer Watson carpool in Kitchener. As we pulled in on our expensive bikes a run down car pulled in to a parking Spot near our snack table. The driver stepped out of her car with a small bag of household Garbage. ┬áThe sign on the garbage bin read “no household garbage.” My initial response was one of minor indignation. Almost at the same time I realized I had no idea what this woman’s story was. Maybe she could not afford the tag to put her garbage At the curb. Or maybe she had no curb at which to place her garbage.

There were many people to thank in helping me meet my challenge of unicycling 200 km of the 1400 km that I Had the privilege of riding. To complete those 200 km I received the Gracious help of many a cyclist that happened to come upon me in a moment of need. Not having learned to free mount a 36″ uni prior to this ride I had to rely on a fellow rider with a sturdy shoulder to offer assistance.

I also want to thank the SAG volunteers for exchanging my bike for my unicycle so I Could pick the most suitable sections to ride. This was not always convenient. Yet I saw a Real willingness. It highlighted for me that poverty is also a real inconvenience.

I appreciated the riding time as an opportunity to catch up on people I Had not seen in awhile and meet new people and hear their story. The tour is an intentional community organized so people would look out for each other.

This has been my first experience with a multi-day cycling ride. I had done a reasonable amount of training but had no idea what to expect. The experience of the past two weeks would want me to do a full ride, the Lord Willing, the next time a Tour like this is planned.

The challenge, coming from this tour is how to continue to advocate for the poor, how to recognize the systemic changes that need to happen to address the issue, and how to make Personal lifestyle changes that leaves more room for The poor. This includes recognizing what purchases contribute to the issue of poverty.

Some of the tour people thanked me for using the unicycling to give the tour and the cause greater exposure in the press.

Today I decided to take it easy. Leaving historic Brockville I took the time to take pictures of the unique house designs, the historic sites,  the stone walls and the incredibly rich and varied vegetation.

Tomorrow we ride into Montreal. Very a fitting destination a We will be hosted at a First Nations school for the weekend. The appropriateness of this has not been lost on the riders.