It seems the Powers and Principalities have us by the short fur... Even among Friends, the reasons why we "can't possibly" change a way of life that crushes the poor of other nations... and which doesn't seem all that good for us either-- seem beyond honest questioning.
What we might be called to in an ideal sense... and what we can be called to in an operative sense: What God might see us actually capable of doing, without a thorough and overwhelming change of priorities--
These are two entirely different questions.
When can we hope for the spiritual upheaval it would take to change our customary assumptions about life and our place in it? And how much would Friends be utterly terrified at that prospect?
If this burden is too heavy for us... Either it is not our burden, or we haven't yet heard the signal to lift.
Meanwhile, to practice seeking guidance in all things, and following what we're given, according to the capacity we have.
Thanks for your thoughts. I'm more full-frontal in my treatment of the issue. Living with fear and poverty will do that, though. I'm sure my experiences inform my strong feelings about economic justice and injustice.
Anyone who hasn't lived with fear and poverty just doesn't get it. One could hardly wish that on anyone, but it really is "harder for a camel to go through a needle's eye" than for someone who hasn't been poor to understand what that's like. (Or to realize how utterly dependent we are on God's grace, for everything we have and everything we imagine we are... which is part of what Jesus meant by that phrase, the other part being: "Nothing makes a person stupider than being paid not to get it." The rich of his day, like the rich of our day, didn't like to recognize that their "wealth" was produced by impoverishing other people.)
You have the right to be indignant, even to remain indignant. (If that's what you mean(?)) We're still working under this difficulty, that most people will still think of ten reasons they "can't possibly" abandon their position of privilege rather than one reason they should.
I hope that doesn't include me, but then I've grown accustomed to living indoors and really would like to continue, while my occasional urban camping experiences have convinced me that giving up (or overcrowding) my apartment would do more to make me wretched than it would help anyone else...
Patty, I'd like to hear more about how you think this could work. There is a Quaker organization called Right World Sharing of Resources. Is that the kind of thing you have in mind? There are also possibilities of intentional community, the members of which share everything in common, like the earliest Christians. I also know Friends who feel they're entitled to possess wealth as long as they dedicate many hundreds of hours to advocacy and service. What do you think?
I do know of Right Sharing of World Resources, and I admire their work. What I think should happen isn't going to happen in my lifetime, I don't think. And I've got radical ideas of what we should do, I admit. It will take evolutionary and revolutionary change on our part to ease poverty. I was thinking more at the individual, one-on-one level, more than the global level, where RSWR does so much good. I am indignant, Forrest--that and outraged, and not just because I'm going through hardship I don't deserve. I see others much worse off than I am, and they don't deserve it, either. I've got a very strong sense of justice, and I do get outraged when I see injustice.
As for the wealthy being entitled to their as long as they dedicate many hundreds of hours to advocacy and service--I have a hard time understanding how anyone, no matter how much advocacy and service they perform, is entitled to more wealth than they could possibly spend, even if they lived to be 200 years old. I know I'm going to alienate people by saying this, but I admit, I have radical ideas: What I see first-hand in the wealthy is that they expect the working class, and the working poor, to subsidize their comfort, diversions, luxuries, and possessions they want but don't need, by working for them at wages so suppressed that they, the working poor, can't afford basic needs. I don't care how many hundreds of hours a person devotes to advocacy and service, nothing entitles them to do this. I don't say that out of envy. I don't begrudge people having more than I do. But the practice I described here is hoarding, plain and simple. And the government shouldn't have to tax the wealthy to provide services like food and shelter to the poor. The help should come voluntarily and freely from the more well-off. If this were a just and humane society, that would happen.
I don't know that I've answered your question, Rosemary, but attitudes have to change. We define serving our self-interests in short-term, material, and immediate terms. We don't think long-term, we don't look very far outside our own immediate world to consider that our self-interests are "out there," too. Forget for a minute how immoral it is to enjoy wealth while people in nearby communities suffer in poverty. When we let this happen, we waste human potential and talent at a time when we need it desperately, and we destabilize entire communities. We end up paying for it in the end.
Those are my thoughts for now. I just wanted to get a good discussion going. I thought it was needed after I visited Quaker Yahoo Groups, scrolled down a few pages, and didn't see a single discussion about the just sharing of wealth. At a time when we have families with children living under bridges, it seems to me like the topic should carry a sense of urgency. I'm puzzled and indignant that it doesn't.
It's a humbling topic of discussion, for me at least. Yet I think we will have the rich always with us. I believe in corporate action (i.e. getting elected officials) to make our country and world more just. But when we hear that the administration is reneging on its promise of providing a billion a year for aids treatment in Africa, and that public health clinics in America are also stopping anti-retroviral treatments, whereas the military will get another 33 billion, I despair of the government, too. As for me, I'm not rich, but I spend more money on treatments for my own kids who have special needs than I do on feeding other children. I don't spend it on luxuries, but nevertheless...
In 1991, my wife Anne and I were caught up in a friend's effort to correct the City of San Diego's treatment of homeless people. [Suggesting groups he might approach, I remembered the Quakers, and my sense that if anyone was trying to practice Christianity for real, it would be them... and this thought inspired me to once more start attending Meetings, which this time became a regular practice...]
After our first demonstration, we were talking about how long we'd want to keep doing this sort of thing. We thought that after a month or so, the City would make a few obvious policy changes and we could go back to writing poetry...
In 2002 I'd been editing/publishing a monthly tabloid street paper on poverty issues for nearly 5 years, and I was utterly burned out, still wondering why nobody else saw homelessness as an urgent issue.
One woman I interviewed for that paper had been leading demonstrations of homeless women and children back in the mid-1980's. Since then she'd taken up running a charitable organization. Every few years they'd sue the police department for throwing out homeless people's personal property. They'd win the lawsuit; the City and their favored trash company would stop that practice; and a few homeless people would win some compensation. A local class-action lawyer was just starting a new suit of this kind a few months ago.
In my day we had impoverished alcoholics; they lived in downtown hotels, which were affordable and often fairly decent. The social and economic forces which made homelessness an accepted institution were already at work, though they took many years to produce today's conditions. So many people hope to profit by those forces-- or at least to be able to keep some modest level of security by them-- that I can't imagine American homelessness being ended by anything short of utter socioeconomic collapse.
This situation is intrinsically unacceptable, by everything we know about God and the ethics taught by all traditional religions. And yet it has gone unrectified for decades.
I think you were probably asking Patty, Forest, but I'm going to put in my 2 cents anyway. I think we really were all meant to live the way the early Christians did and the way monastic and other intentional communities live, when they do it right--radical simplicity, sharing everything, etc. I've only arrived at this realization recently. For most of my life I believed the kind of thing that most liberal Americans believe--that if only there were good government structures we could be like the social democracies of Europe and everyone (who is a citizen) could have a high standard of living, quality of life, social safety net. Then it would be ok for me to be middle class, too.
But the social democracies of Europe are no less based on the exploitation of cheap labor than the former empires were. They've outsourced not only the workers but also the management of those workers so that the connection is hidden. The second thing that they are based on is unsustainable consumption of natural resources. The US is, of course, taking all of this greed and exploitation to previously unknown heights, but as our empire declines, we float in less of a cushion of wealth, and the rich become less and less willing to share even with the less fortunate of their own communities, let alone anyone else.
The fact of global warming finally revealed that progressive American ideas of social justice are all wrong. Mother Theresa was right when she said, "I'm not trying to end poverty. I'm trying to become poor myself." I think of global warming as a kind of revelation of the wrongness of humanities' way of developing for at least the last two hundred years. Oil is, in a way, God's metaphor for our greed and disobedience, our lust for "power." This spill in the gulf brings it all home, too. And there's further evidence in the plague of new diseases and disorders such as Parkinson's, autism, and adhd (all of which my kids and other people in my family have), which are caused by chemical pollutants like pesticides.
At a recent FGC Gathering workshop, a member of my meeting was the only participant who was found to live a responsible life, economically and ecologically. She lives in a local intentional community, which raises its own food and shares all its resources.
You have the right to spend money on your kids' special needs. That's my point. If heaven forbid your family had a financial crisis, you'd have the right to have a person, group of people, or institution step in and make sure their needs are met until you're financially stable again. And I see your point about the government.
Thank you, and yes I agree with you. I do believe in activism and in trying to get government to do what's right, in spite of my belief that God really calls us to live in full fellowship and simplicity with each other. Right now I am trying to be an activist about Medicaid and stop it from being taken away from people. God bless you. I hope you are able to get the services you need.
My gut answer is, where the bleep is the sense of urgency and outrage? How can we call this a just, humane society while this is going on? As you do, I worry about how catastrophic things become before we see action. I'm appalled that they've reached this point.
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