1. Poverty is unsustainable
I don’t believe that the levels of inequality that we see in our world today are sustainable. Billions of people are denied opportunities that are commonplace to us in the west. Think of all the Einsteins and Newtons who starve to death at the age of 4. What a waste.
Poverty doesn’t just hurt the poor. No man, or country, is an island. What is good for our global neighbours is also good for us. I do not believe that it is a viable option for humanity to continue with such a large burden as poverty and inequality holding us back.
Injustice is never sustainable. Slavery has ended. The oppression of woman is coming to an end in the western world. Racism has been fought off. The Soviet Union fell. Apartied ended. England was ejected from India. Democracy has replaced Monarchy. Human rights are taking hold around the world.
History proves that injustice is not sustainable, and any system that relies on injustice for its survival is a system that is sure to fail. So I think we are better to begin rooting the injustice out of the system now, before the poor root it out for us.
2. God cares about poverty
It is interesting to see how Australian’s react to various social issues. It is mostly revealed in politics. Take the Australian federal Greens party. The Greens are very much the idealistic party in Australia. They support a number of good causes such as protecting the environment, increasing Australia’s overseas aid, being kind to refugees, and ending homelessness. But they are also support gay marriage, euthanasia, and abortion. This stops Christians from voting for them. We consider issues of “morality” more important than issues of justice.
Christians have really got their priorities wrong. Depending on how you read things there are maybe 3 passages in the bible about abortion, and 6 about homosexuality. There are over 2,000 about caring for the poor.
The fact that you can’t even see the bars on this graph for abortion and homosexuality when compared to poverty is an illustration of just how wrong our priorities have been. If I am to be faithful to God and politically active, it is obvious to me where I should be investing the majority of my energy.
(That doesn’t mean voting for the Greens, but it does mean advocating for the poor regardless of who is in power.)
3. Jesus is in the poor
In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46) Jesus shockingly identifies himself with the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world. For a long time I thought that this was because God loves them, and thus He feels pain whenever we hurt someone He loves. But now. after working with the poor, I believe it is much more than that.
God has a soft spot for the world’s rejects. He may be unbiased, but He does take sides – He sides with the victims of injustice. The lowest people in our society are the Kings and Queens in God’s Kingdom and He reveals Himself to them, and makes Himself real in them in a way that He does not with those of us privileged to live a happy life inside the system.
The poor are God’s image in this world. That’s not to say that the poor are somehow innocent and don’t often participate in their own oppression. Its just a reflection of God’s grace. If He lives in the poor, than no one can claim to have done something to deserve Him.
It follows that if I love God I won’t just leave my worship inside the Church. I’ll take it out with me into the streets. If I love God how can I allow Him to suffer? I must take a stand on behalf of the one I love.
4. Poverty is unfair
The largest factor dictating the life expectancy of a person at birth is the country they were born in. Out of all the thoughts that this brings one feeling stands out above all the rest: this is unfair.
One of the “Australian values” repeatedly espoused by the media is that of a “fair go”. If we really care about giving people a fair go, we need to look beyond our boarders and see the millions of people who never chose poverty: they were born into it.
A fair go is an easy idea to ascribe to when you’re the one being treated unfairly. But a principal is not a principal unless you are also willing to practise it when it doesn’t suit you. In the case of global poverty it is the poor that have been denied a fair go, and it is up to us to provide them with the same opportunities that we thankfully received but did little to deserve.
5. Justice is inevitable
I’ve already stated that I don’t consider poverty to be sustainable, the flip side of that is that I consider justice to be inevitable. The only question is whether this will be an easy of difficult thing for us.
A lot has been done in the last decade to really study and understand poverty so that the money we give can be used more effectively than it ever has been. It is a very real possibility that by the end of my life extreme poverty will be just a bad memory. That this evil that has scourged humanity for so long will be gone. I would like to be part of that.
When poverty is over I would like to be one of the people who has some responsibility for that. I would like to be one of the people getting thanked.
Yep. I’ve packed up and found a new home corner of the net. It is cosier.
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It’s been two months since I started going out with Access Street Vans on Friday nights in order to feed and minister to homeless people. It’s been a confronting, encouraging, and life changing experience for me.
I was not ready for it.
Love is a need
If I am truly honest with myself, I would have been happy for homeless people to just take our food and walk away so that I could tick off my social action for the week, allowing me to proudly avoid the label of “Christian Hypocrite.” But the people I met would not let me get away with this. I have made friends who are so broken, so humble, and so gracious they expose my own insecurities and facades. These people are willing to accept love. They’ve shown me how to be loved.
We feed them food but their greatest need is not food. They so quickly and easily expose their other frailties and needs to us – their loneliness and hopelessness. I wish I could so easily expose my frailties to my friends so I could be loved. When they do this, it is impossible to only give them food. They have forced me to give them myself. How can I meet their physical need of food and then ignore their emotional and spiritual needs? Evangelism has become just another form of compassion. You cannot preach the gospel without doing social justice, or vice versa.
A story of Brokenness
Ten days ago I had an experience that I cannot shake. We were at a hostel where a lot of older men, particularly ex-convicts newly out of jail, tend to stay. One of these men, in his 40s, was quite cautious when he took food from us, but we assured him he could take as much as he wanted. He was pretty hungry.
Ten minutes later he came back to thank me. He was almost in tears as he thanked me, again and again. He took my hand and kissed the back of it. When he did that he broke my heart. I talked to him for some time as he exposed his brokenness, his violent anger at the world, and his feelings of worthlessness. He became so animated as he grinded his teeth, smashed things, and swore his head off. But he exposed his heart to me, and I got to tell him just one thing: that God loves him. How can I not minister to his true needs?
When you love people…
When you love people you change them. You can’t understand the gospel unless you understand this, because the gospel is God’s overwhelming love for us changing us.
People do a lot of ugly things in this world, and I think much of that comes down to people’s insecurity causing them to try and exert themselves over others. But when you are secure in God’s love, you can just love others freely without worrying about jostling for position.
I saw Jesus Christ Superstar the other night, and it made me think about how Jesus built a revolution just by loving people. The people who joined his revolution were people just like that ex-convict I talked to. They are so broken they can accept the gift of God’s love, and they can reciprocate that love so freely.
In particular, I have been thinking about the anointing of Jesus (Luke 7:36-38). I never really understood what would cause someone to make such a huge public display of love and affection. I understand it now, since I met this man. I had only given the guy a few meat pies and doughnuts and he was already anointing my hand with his tears and kisses. He was so broken that accepting love was an easy thing to do. In a similar way the prostitute who anointed Jesus was also broken. As such she could so easily accept and reciprocate the love of Jesus.
In my mind I try to change the characters in my story. I try and put myself into the shoes of the man I fed, and I try and put Jesus into my shoes. I want to show affection for Jesus in the same way that that man showed affection for me. Yet the reality is that I am not broken enough.
This world is, to put it bluntly, really fucked up. We have made a true mess of things. We should be mourning for what we have lost. When will we see the millions of starving people and mourn over them? When will we meet the guy doing drugs in the toilets because it is the only thing he can feel anymore and mourn for him? When will we encounter the lonely, discarded, and rejected and mourn for her?
We should be distraught over our condition. I cannot understand why the sole pursuit of my life, and everyone else’, isn’t fixing the horrible situation in which we find ourselves. We are not well. The mentally disabled and abandoned people I meet get that, I don’t yet. Because of that they can accept the gift of love in a way that I cannot.
It is a danger in both evangelical and social justice circles to think that we can save the world. At times I have almost wanted Jesus to delay his return so that I can do more. It’s not all bad, as it is a product of optimism, but it is idolatry. We will never fix this world. Jesus return is not a bad event because we will have run of time, it is a wonderful event because whatever He does, it will be truly good.
I just hope I am broken enough to accept His love when He comes.
I just emailed my electorates candidates about the issues that matter to me in the upcoming Australian federal election. I am in the seat of Dickson (turns out I am on the other side of the road to Longman). I emailed the lower house candidates for the LNP, Greens, LDP, Labour, and an Independent. There is also a Family First candidate but they have not listed an email address.
This message is very much based of another one send by a friend of mine (except I changed my questions).
Here is the email I sent to Peter Dutton (the existing LNP member for Dickson):
Dear Mr Peter Dutton,
I am an undecided voter from your electorate and are searching for a candidate who will best represent me in parliament after the upcoming election. In order to help me make my decision, I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions about your party’s, or your own, position on the following issues:
1) What is your position on whether Australia should raise its allocated giving to international aid to 0.7% of GNI by 2015? Are you familiar with the millennium development goals? If so how would you work to ensure that our Aid best supports reaching these goals?
2) What is your plan for supporting people who are homeless? How will you, if elected, help homeless people act as dignified members of society?
3) What is your suggested method of dealing with “boat people”? What measures would you support in order to assist genuine refugees integrate into Australian life whilst stopping exploitation by people smugglers?
Thank you very much for your time. Your answers will be very helpful as I decide who to vote for at this election.
I encourage you to do something similar about the issues you care for. I will let you know what responses I get.
I was handed something very similar to this yesterday as an election flyer supporting the Family First party at the upcoming Australian Elections:
(click to enlarge)
I think it is a pretty sorry reflection of Christian priorities in Australia. In my view, of these issues only 2 are issues raised by Jesus himself; eight, I don’t agree with (why oppose a charter of rights or legalise discrimination?); seven are trivial. Many (11?) give a misleading indication of at least one party’s position.
Worst of all however, are the issues they missed:
- Raising Aid to 0.7% of GNI
- Improving our Aid effectiveness in line with the MGDs
- Helping poor countries adapt to climate change
- Increasing the availability of Fair Trade produce
- Improving the life expectancy of Indigenous People
- Increasing support for people struggling with Mental Illness
- Increasing availability of homes/hostels for homeless people
- Implementing policies that treat refugees with dignity
- Seeking equality for women (esp. in matters of pay)
- Spreading human rights
- Rehabilitating criminal offenders
- Tackling racism and violence fuelled by prejudice
- Rebuilding countries we have destroyed through war
These are not small issues. They are the issues that will eventually decide who I vote for. Maybe I am just not a very good Christian.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27
Last Friday I had the awesome opportunity to volunteer with Access Street Vans as they fed and ministered to homeless people at a number of Brisbane’s hostels. Whilst I had had a few encounters with homeless people before, this was the first time I had intentionally immersed myself into their environment in such a deep way. It was an interesting experience, with equal parts violence and despondency; hope and appreciation.
The woman who saw God
At one of our stops a member of the team had a chance to speak to a withdrawn, mentally disabled, aboriginal woman. Every time he would try to engage the woman in conversation she would squeak out the shortest possible answer and sheepishly shy away.
But he patiently continued. Eventually he asked her if she read any books. She said she read the bible. Then she piped up and told about how she had seen Jesus. Instantly this sheepish woman became animated as she told of seeing him just sitting on a chair one day. But as just as quickly as this vibrant woman had come out of her shell, she went back in.
My friend tried to engage her again, but she has revered to her prior, shy self. Eventually he turned the conversation back to her seeing Jesus and a smile exploded across her face. The beautiful, young woman was back.
I saw this woman. Whilst I have no idea whether seeing things is a regular occurrence for her I completely believe that she did indeed see Jesus. She was so withdrawn that for her to change so radically would take a miracle.
The first shall be last…
This is exactly the God I believe in. He hides himself from the mighty who claim to have all the answers and then shows himself to the absolutely most ashamed and broken people. She is a woman. She is homeless. She is mentally disabled. She is aboriginal. In Australia, it is hard to get any lower than that. But God sought her out and let her know He was there in a truly beautiful way.
Many of the people we served on Friday lavished us with their appreciation. I felt like a saint. But in truth, the honour is all mine. The lowest people in this empire are the nobility in God’s kingdom. It is my privilege to serve them.
In all my years of praying and worshiping I have never had such a real experience of God as that woman. The people who society crushes under its heel are the same people who God honours and raises up. Her story turned God’s love from an abstract idea into something truly tangible for me. She is my teacher.
One time when Ghandi was asked whether he was a Christian, he replied: “Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.” This is because real Christians will serve the poor, but also, I think, because the poor know God better than we privileged people ever will. So I ask God to help me to serve never for the purpose of self-righteousness but always in humility knowing that these are the people who God holds so highly. They are kings and queens in His eyes.
Today, Julia Gillard, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Australia, reconfirmed her atheism. On the back of two proudly religious national leaders, and with a keen concern for our country’s future, we Christians must be naturally concerned about Ms Gillard’s commission to rule. Will a non-Christian uphold the values that we care for?
In this post I will present three reasons why Julia Gillard’s religious beliefs should be of no concern for Christians – rather we should be grateful.
But before you worry that my recent escapades in Canberra have inspired me to start electioneering on behalf of the Australian Labour Party you should know that I am not interested in how Christians vote at the upcoming federal elections. However, I do think the reasons why we vote are supremely important.
1. Christianity is not about winning power
Despite our appalling history suggesting the opposite, Christianity is not birthed out of a quest for power. Quite the opposite: Christianity is a race to the bottom.
The early Christians new well what it was like to live in a society defined by an imbalance of power. In such a society it must have been tempting to seek the reigns of control. The Roman Empire could have used a good, Christian leader after all. But instead the apostles’ writings continuously refocus our attention away from this temptation. From the gospel’s teaching that “the last shall be first” (Mark 10:31, Matt 19:30, Luke 13:30) and its parables, to Peter’s suggestion that we rejoice in persecution (1 Peter 4), to Revelation’s terrifying metaphors the New Testament consistently abhors power. Instead, Christians are to garner authority through the way that they serve.
We are encouraged to follow Jesus’ example in this (Phil 2:5-8). He is the personification of God and the only one with true power. Yet rather than flaunt this power He instead took on the lowliest form and made a mockery of our empires. Think about it – if the true King is so secure in His supremacy that He washed the feet of the disciples what does that say for all our “Kings” and their prestigious courts, fancy thrown, and prideful disposition? Jesus makes them look like they are compensating. They are pathetic by comparison! Jesus is the ultimate ‘unKing’.
We would do well to remember that Christianity will never positively change culture through wielding political power (quite the opposite actually, when you consider our crusades and inquisitions). Instead, we will gain a more powerful authority and make a lasting impact by positioning ourselves at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. We should be so lowly that even the rejects of society: the homeless, mentally disabled, and the poor; can consider us to be their servants.
2. We can can do more engaging politics in-between elections
It is tempting to believe that election day is our greatest chance to shape the policy of our nation’s government. Yet in reality the promises that politicians make each election is really just that party’s best attempt at reflecting their electorate’s wishes. How do they know what we, the people, want? We tell them.
We can engage with politicians, and influence policy, regardless of whoever happens to win the next election. We do not need a Christian prime minister in order to educate and hold our politicians to account on issues of poverty, climate change, and social decay. One thing I learned whilst visiting our MPs was that politicians are not inherently evil, but they are held captive to popular opinion. In fact, I got the distinct impression that whilst they would like to increase Australia’s overseas aid allocation they feel this would be too unpopular with the electorate.
Letting our vote be our sole input into the political process is a disservice to society. Instead, I would wager that voting should be the least significant act of advocacy that we make. Real engagement with government involves two arms: being a constant, nagging, prophetic voice in our leader’s ears (whatever side of the ideological spectrum they sit on) and educating the population to care about the same issues we do.
3. Christians should celebrate religious diversity
Whilst historians may debate it, I would like to think that human rights is a Christian idea. As followers of Jesus we should seek to exemplify the best of humanity. We should be the hopeless idealists. Democracy itself is a fanciful idea. In a society in which everyone only wants what is best for them, and no one has room for another person’s opinion, “commonwealth” can seem ever so difficult to obtain.
Christians should embrace democracy (it is, after all, better than the other types of government we have tried – Winston Churchill). This means that we need to show society how to dialog with people that don’t share our beliefs. It is not loving nor prudent to force people of non-faith or different faiths out of the political sphere. Julia Gillard is also a child of God, though she may not know it, and she can contribute in that capacity.
I do not think Jesus is threatened by an atheist Prime Minister. Rather, I think Australian Christians have a lot to gain by showing the nation that we are not scared; nor are we a cult. We can productively work with people outside our faith. Our willingness to not blindly discriminate should be our witness. I think our country would be all the better for it.