inequity

If one had taken what is necessary to cover one’s needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.
~ Saint Basil, fourth century theologian and monastic

I received this quote from  Sojourners the other day and it brought a couple of stories to mind. The first comes from a friend who is on a speaking tour in the Middle East. A keen observer of culture, he writes:

There, [The Gulf States – Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain] with glass skyscrapers, shopping malls, and every conceivable American fast-food outlet (KFC, Cinnabon, Chili’s, Pizza Hut) you get the sense of an alien, modern culture imposed on a fake society. The class divisions are appalling. Depending on the country, there may be 50,000 Filipinos, 10,000 Nepalis, and 70,000 Indians doing all the labor, while the Bahrainis or Qataris or Kuwaitis collect a monthly government subsidy and travel the world. Churches tend to work among the internationals, who need all the help they can get. A construction worker from India, say, pays a huge fee to some agent who finds him a job in a labor camp. He leaves his family, moves to a place where he sleeps in an open dorm with 8-10 others, shares a single toilet, and works for the equivalent of $50-100 per month. If he complains, leaves the compound at night, or causes any trouble whatever, the host country simply revokes his work permit and sends him back to India. Due to the economic downturn, thousands of these workers are dismissed every week.

The other story is an old memory from when we lived in a southern city during our seminary days. I periodically visited a single mom living in the projects and listened to her stories and prayed. I was in far over my head (Why do we go to seminary so young? Wouldn’t it be better to go when we’re older and finally realize that we don’t know nothin’?) As hard as I tried I really had no idea what her life was truly like. She had four children from different fathers, and her oldest daughter was already starting to repeat the pattern. I stepped over rusty needles in the scraggy yard her children played in. She often looked at me bemused, as I sat teetered on the edge of her couch, legs on tiptoe, waiting for the next rat to poke its face out at me.

Sometimes we’d chat outside when inside became too hot in the stifling weather. Her little house stood almost literally in the shadow of one of the biggest churches in the country at the time. It boasted 10,000 members and this was in the days before the term “mega-church” was coined. It was attended by some of the wealthiest people in the city. They admitted that they felt a certain status in being one of its members. From her yard, my friend and I could gaze at the stately brick facade. Looking back at her place from the church building, her house disappeared neatly into the sea of small splintery homes in the distance. Like the Gulf States described above, it was a startling portrait of the division of class and race.

Our focus in church lately and also in some of my posts here has been on looking at Church and trying to explore who/what we may be beneath all of what we have stacked and nailed together over the millenia on top of our Foundation – Jesus. That curious passage in Acts 2 describes believers having “all things in common”. I honestly don’t think this is something we can pull off. We doggedly believe that what we have or earn belongs to us. We fear someone taking advantage and as we know, there are plenty who believe they are entitled. (Of course, these are all the same people – us.) Our hearts are very blinded when it comes to this stuff.

In the Star Trek Universe, (I am a shameless Trekkie) they have eliminated the problem of poverty by eliminating money. Everyone has access to what they need. In doing so, they believe that they have also eliminated greed. Now, I do not believe that greed is uprooted so easily, nor the fear that often fuels it. But as we rethink and imagine Church in these days, this idea of  “no rich or poor” is something to lean into, consider and pray about as a community. This can only be a work of God in us. But we have the responsibility to learn to lay our hearts bare before Him, not withholding anything. That’s a true act of “discipline” for me and I suspect, for most of us. True Christian transformation must include a shift of heart on some level that will lower the walls of “yours and mine” and begin to enjoy the simplicity of having what we need and the sweet forgetfulness of laying down and leaving behind what we don’t.

justicecharity

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Showing 6 comments
  • Skip Newby
    Reply

    Ellen,
    again I’m glad to read your take on things.

    Justice, I think, is things being how they’re meant to be, as our Father intends them to be.

    I think in the minds of this society,including the church, perhaps especially the church, justice has more to do with punishment for wrong-doing, for “getting what you have coming to you,” than it does making things Right.

    Until hearts are broken by the Love of God, there will be no True Justice. Justice is the End, not the Means. Until that time, those who have will see themselves (ourselves?) as deservedly blessed, and will see those who have not, as deservedly cursed.

    May the Spirit continue to break the hardness of our hearts.

    Peace, Skip.

  • Michelle
    Reply

    I long for the day when more of us think *this* way than the way we presently do… oh, wait – isn’t that Heaven?

  • ellenharoutunian
    Reply

    You know, I really believe this is who we are meant to be and can be now, in this life. This life, this world matters to God. I just don’t think it can be imposed; it truly must be a work of God in us, if we will allow it.

  • Ronda
    Reply

    Ellen:
    Part of the mystery of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit’s choice of those who minister in His name, and how He weaves a “ministers” life with those he/she is best suited to minister to. We can all be grateful on this earth, and in heaven, for the Southern mother you ministered to. And we can all be grateful on this earth, and in heaven for that mega-churches sponsorship of more than twenty local mission churches (via money, love, hands-on labor and involvement), the largest homeless shelter in the metropolitan area (via donations, hands-on labor and volunteerism), and other Spirit-work done by the body of believers at the mega-church. Most of us are still being His active hands, feet and heart in this southern town. It is our home. We do not have the detached perspective of time and space.

  • ellenharoutunian
    Reply

    That is a gift of a large church to be sure It has the resources (both literal hands and money) to share. I am talking about the actual Church – people, not the institution. I am dreaming that the Church may eventually realize that she is called to take down the walls and administrative structures that we have constructed around us and God, and to enter into what is already sacred space everywhere, repenting of our separate kingdoms and strongholds, taking only what we need and giving everything else away. Within the institution we do our good works (nothing wrong with that) but I do think we can avoid true transformation. Perhaps the mega-churches could lead the way. It sure would get noticed!

  • Skip Newby
    Reply

    Ellen,
    again, you hit the nail on the head. I too am glad that people are being served by “mega-churches” or individuals for that matter. The problem lies as you said with transformation.

    As Paul said in the beginning of 1Cor.13, we can DO radical things, but they mean nothing if they’re not done with love.

    Jesus Himself painted a picture of those who would claim relationship with Him based on there deeds, even miraculous ones, and yet he said, “Step aside, I never knew you.”

    It seems that if we aren’t being transformed
    into His likeness as a result of a love relationship with Him, the deeds that flow from our lives aren’t in fact His.

    If we are going to live “In His name,” we must re-present Him in every relationship, including serving the other.

    Peace, Skip.

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