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poverty

They said they found you on the 20th floor, sleeping in the hallway. By the time I saw you I was stepping out of the elevator in our building’s lobby and there you were, sprawled out on the floor. The lobby was packed with firemen and paramedics, building security (4 of them, you must have posed a real threat) and curious onlookers. As I walked past you on my way out the door I heard you mutter something incoherent. It sounded agonizing.

By the time I came back 10 minutes later you were in the same spot. As I stood and waited for the elevator I overheard a couple of the firemen chuckle to one other. To them you were probably just another Aboriginal junkie, worthless, equivalent to the pigeons that defecate all over the sidewalk outside our building. Perhaps equivalent to the shit itself. But as security scribbled furiously in their notepads and the paramedics tried to ask you questions (“So, whatcha been drinking tonight?”…really?) I couldn’t help but wonder how you got here.

Not how you ended up here, in the lobby of an apartment building, but how you ended up here on the streets of Toronto fucked out of your mind. I cannot begin to imagine how you’ve suffered. Born into a people that have been marginalized and shit upon, some of whom still do not have access to clean drinking water or nutritious food (in a developed country in the 21st century?! But this is no time for a rant against the capitalist Empire). I cannot imagine the toll that your addictions have taken on you, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I cannot begin to imagine the sort of dehumanizing things people have made you do, how you’ve been taken advantage of and used for others gain.

I’ll be damned if your Creator does not look upon you with the greatest amount of dignity. I’ll be damned if to Him you are not infinitely valuable and beautiful. I’ll be damned if He is not with you in your suffering and, hell, if He’s not on your side then He’s not much at all.

I guess I don’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything after all. But if there’s one thing I know it’s that this suffering which you now endure (this suffering which could very well end in death) is a suffering that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and one day you will know that glory.

Anyways, the elevator arrived eventually. I got on, hit the button to my floor and the doors closed. I went home and you went, well, I don’t know where you went.

*The featured image above is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation (1898).

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Lord, be with Bijan, Reza and Dariash. Give them ears to hear what you are saying and eyes to see where you are. Transform their lives and the lives of their friends by your Spirit. Amen.

I sat down at a table one night in northern Paris for a community dinner; a free meal for those who are homeless. There was one thing that I noticed about the group, they were not white. They weren’t “french-French”. Through conversation I found out that there were almost entirely refugee’s from Afghanistan and Iran. This was where I met Reza. Reza was my age and had only been in France for 5 days. He came into France from Italy, clinging to the bottom of a train. Some of his friends had died trying this. He was a normal guy like myself, fleeing the oppressive dictatorship in Iran. He introduced me to two of his friends Bijan, who had been in France for 7 days and Dariash who had only been there 2 days. They met the day before I met them in a park.

Myself, Reza and Bijan.

Myself, Reza and Bijan in the park where they slept in Paris.

During the conversation I asked where they slept at night. “In the park.” Oh. As it turned out, there was a park called Jardin Villemin that was located beside the Gare de l’Est (train station) in Paris. Over 100 illegal Afghani and Iranian refugees slept in that park each night. That struck me as a place where Jesus would spend time. So we got the location of the park and said we would visit them the next day. We did and were overwhelmed with the number of refugees there. We were told that there were close to 2,000 refugees in the area. After staying for a while and talking we said we’d be back with clothes. The next day we came and handed out clothes. Many men gathered around and asked why we were doing this. We told them it was because God loves them and then we got the chance to pray with them. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Pray for these men. Pray that God would grant them favour wherever they may end up and that the government would grant them refugee papers to stay. Pray for believers to inhabit the parks where these refugees stay and demonstrate God’s love while proclaiming the Gospel.

A side note: I asked Reza during our initial conversation if he was a Muslim. “No, Christian…Jehovah,” he replied. I got excited. He said he had been a Christian for 8 years. Then I asked Bijan and Dariash the same question and they also told me they were Christians. I asked for how long: “one day.” When I asked how they had become Christians Reza replied, “I told them.” Ok. Simple enough. He then reached into his bag and pulled out a magazine for me: The Watchtower. Initially it was kind of a downer. But then I realized something. All of the refugees that we met were nominal Muslims and were open to other possibilities. In fact, two of them became JW’s in a day simple because someone they had just met told them. I asked them why they left Islam and they told me that Islam was not good.

Paul and myself with some Afghani refugees in Jardin Villemin in Paris.

Paul and myself with some Afghani refugees in Jardin Villemin in Paris.

Lord, be with Bijan, Reza and Dariash. Give them ears to hear what you are saying and eyes to see where you are. Transform their lives and the lives of their friends by your Spirit. Send people to sow the seed of the Gospel in this fertile soil. May the Parisian Church hear Your words in: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Eqypt,” (Ex. 22.21), and again: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them wihout expecting to get anything back…be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” (Lk. 6.35-36). Amen.

JT.

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and  you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” – Jesus (Matthew 25:35-40).

“Our temptation is to spiritualize all this talk of union, to make our connection to the hungry a mystical act of imaginative sympathy. We can thus imagine that we are already in communion with those who lack food, whether or not we meet their needs. Matthew is having none of this: he places the obligation to feed the hungry in the context of eschatalogical judgment. Paul, too, places neglect of the hungry in the context of judgment. At the eucharisstic celebration in Corinth, which included a common meal, those who eat while other go hungry ‘show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing’ (1 Cor. 11:22). Those who thus – in an ‘unworthy manner’ – partake of the body and blood of Christ ‘eat and drink judgment against themselves’ (11:27, 29). Those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking our own damnation.” – William Cavanaugh (Being Consumed, 97-98).

“What is truly radical about this passage is not that God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor. The pain of the hungry person is the pain of Christ, and it is thus also the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ. If we are identified with Christ, who identifies himself with the suffering of all, then what is called for is more than just charity. The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ. We are not to consider ourselves as absolute owners of our stuff, who then occasionally graciously bestow charity on the less fortunate. In the body of Christ, your pain is my pain, and my stuff is available to be communicated to you in your need, as Aquinas says. In the consumption of the Eucharist, we cease to be merely “the other” to each other. In the Eucharist, Christi is gift, giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others,” – William T. Cavanaugh (Being Consumed, p. 56), on Matthew 25:31-46.

Last year I wrote a post about the need to enter into relationship with poverty/the marginalized. In light of Scripture, as Cavanaugh points out, we see that Jesus identifies himself with the poor: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” This is all the more reason why charity can do nothing for the marginalized. You cannot love the marginalized unless you enter in to relationship with the marginalized, and in so doing, you will enter into relationship with Jesus.

In fact, let’s do away with charity all together. In the kingdom, there ought to be no need for charity. As Aquinas puts it, “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need,” (Summa, II-II.66.2.).

grace and peace.

jt.

I’ve just begun reading William T. Cavanaugh’s latest book, Being Consumed. Cavanaugh begins by stating that those Christians who understand that what we do with our money and our stuff  “should be directly informed by how we relate to God,” often remain in a reactive posture towards economics. In other words, we tend to take current economic realities as givens and then figure out what our stance ought to be on these givens. However, Cavanaugh argues that, “Christians themselves are called to create concrete alternative practices that open up a different kind of economic space—the space marked by the body of Christ,” (Cavanaugh, viii).

In the first chapter, ‘Freedom and Unfreedom’, Cavanaugh argues against Milton Friedmans idea that transactions are free insofar as they are “bi-laterally voluntary and informed,” and free from external coercion (Cavanaugh, 2). In other words, the typical idea of freedom is pursuing whatever you want without interference from others. However, as Cavanaugh points out, Augustine (where Cavanaugh gets most of his argument from in the opening chapter) has a much more complex view of freedom. Freedom, “is not simply a negative freedom from, but a freedom for, a capacity to achieve certain worthwhile goals. All of those goals are taken up into the one overriding telos of human life, the return to God,” (Cavanaugh, 7-8). Therefore, freedom is about being wrapped up in the will of God, the condition of human freedom. Autonomy has no place here.

So, freedom isn’t simple freedom from something, but it is freedom for something. This for, this telos of all human life, is our return to God where all of humanity will flourish. Coming back to desire, there is such thing as true desires and false desires. We all know this. We all know what it’s like to really desire something and then find out that it is an empty desire. We desire loads of things, however, our one true desire is for God. When surrounded by a sea of desire we need a telos (or an end) to tell the difference between true and false desires. This telos, as stated, is our return to God where all of humanity will flourish. This will inform our decisions and enable us to tell the difference between true and false desire. If a desire leads towards the flourishing of humanity then it is a good and right desire. However, if not, then the desire ought to be regarded as false. We need to know whether our will is moved toward a good end or not. “The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires,” (Cavanaugh, 11).

We must ask ourselves why we desire. Desiring with no good other than desire itself is to desire arbitrarily. “To desire with no telos, no connection to the objective end of desire, is to desire nothing and to become nothing,” (Cavanaugh, 14). In other words, sometimes we have urges to desire things at the bottom end of the scale of good, and in so doing we abandon the higher and supreme goods, that is God, his law and his truth, (Augustine, Confessions, p.30). Cavanaugh gives the following example: In America, an addiction to shopping claims more than 10% of the population, and 20% of women (more than drugs and alcohol combined). A person buys something trying to fill the hole “and once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing, and she has to head back to the mall to continue the search. With no objective ends to guide the search, her search is literally endless,” (Cavanaugh, 15).

Augustine argues for objective ends to guide our will, so who is to say what those ends are? We must know that some goods are objectively better than other goods or the movement of our will can only be arbitrary. For the majority of the population it is marketing/advertising or large corporations that guides their wills. This is unfair because there is an imbalance of power here between the marketer and the consumer (Thereby ruling the exchange unfree, even by Friedman’s standards). You can see the problems that arise here. However, what ought to guide our wills is a positive view of freedom that takes into account the good ends of human life.

Finally, there is a link between property and freedom. Aquinas argues that the ownership of property is natural to human beings and allows them to develop their own capacities. Hilaire Belloc argues that property is thus essential to human freedom, however, he does not argue that the ownership of property is about power, rather, that property has an end, which is to serve the common good (Cavanaugh, 29). As Aquinas argues, the universal destination of all material goods is in God. We should regard property as a gift from God, a gift that is only valid if we use it for the benefit of others. Thus, Aquinas sanctions private ownership only insofar as it is put to its proper end, which is the good of all: “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need,” (Aquinas, Summa, II-II.66.2).

So, as we make exchanges that we call free, let us call to account a truer understanding of freedom. Do our exchanges lead towards the flourishing of life on earth? I leave you with these two quotes:

“The key point is that the freedom of each economic exchange is subject to judgment based on a positive account of freedom, which must take into account the good ends of human life,” (Cavanaugh, 26).

“What is most important is the direct embodiment of free economic practices. From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor, and communities, so that real communal discernment of the good can take place. Those are the spaces in which true freedom can flourish,” (Cavanaugh, 32).

Grace and Peace.

jt.

the following may, or may not, be “hypothetical.”

what happens when as a pastor you’re asked to show favourtism to the rich?

for example, you’re asked by leadership (“hypothetically” of course) to pay special attention to a wealthy family (which you don’t do). then, a couple of weeks later, the needs of a poor family in the congregation are neglected by that same “hypothetical” leadership (whom you “hypothetically” made sure was informed of this need).

does this seem right to you? is this OK in God’s sight? giving special attention to the rich while neglecting the poor.

james may, or may not (but probably ‘may’), have had something to say to this…

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

wow. james was GOOD. how did he know, all of those years ago, that we, today, would be so silly?

“hypothetically” of course.

peace.