Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poverty & Consumerism

“It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright ... You are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?”
... St. Chrysostom is not St. Francis. He does not ... give away all that he owns -- or urge his listeners to do so. That would be easier to dismiss ... He just insists, with ferocity, that Christians give away every single drop of excess. Chrysostom’s requirement is not absolute poverty, but a trickier, sometimes more elusive, ideal: enough.
Tomorrow, local TV news will be full of stories about charity Thanksgiving dinners for the poor and homeless. Only to be replaced the next day by stories of people being trampled at the Black Friday opening of some big box retail store. The real tragedy is that we will pat ourselves on the back for the first images and shake our heads at the latter ones, when we should be thoroughly ashamed by both.

In a nation as prosperous as ours, why the hell should anyone be poor or homeless at Thanksgiving? And given that so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering in this way, how the hell can we be so obsessed with getting a bargain on meaningless toys and gadgets? What is wrong with us that we feel so little shame about this?

Poverty is not some strange disease for which we haven't discovered a cure. It is the natural byproduct of an economic system driven by greed. That is what I see in both the Thanksgiving and Black Friday news stories: greed. We believe it is acceptable for some to live in unnecessary luxury, while others scrape by. Throwing a few dollars or volunteer hours at the poor may cover up the stench and assuage our meager guilt for a short time, but it does not erase the stain on our collective soul.

"Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent."

It is time to stop defending an economic system and start standing up for our brothers and sisters. All we have to do is say: I have enough; I've had my fill and I don't need any more; Let someone else have their fair share.

I know, easier said than done. As Taylor-Coolman says, "Chrysostom’s requirement" is tricky and elusive. I am certainly no expert at it. But truth is truth, even when it goes unacknowledged or is being proclaimed by a hypocrite. And the truth is this: "The gifts of God" belong to all of us, not some of us, and our Parent wants each of their children to have enough. Can we create a society that honors and lives by this truth? Not a snowball's chance in hell. But that's not really the point now, is it?

"It is time for us to embrace our family, even though we will fail, and probably fail miserably. This is another paradox of our Creator. We can never truly be one family in this life and yet they compel us to try, they demand that we make the attempt."

At the end of the day, it's not about ending either poverty or consumerism, it's about standing with our brothers and sisters.

"Yes, this path will be terrifying. It is uncertain and full of risk. But we owe it to our family to embark upon the journey. It is who we are and why we were created: to love our family, all of it."