Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Christianity, poverty & contradictions

Last night I went to see Religulous and one of the things Bill Maher kept bringing up with many of the Christians he talked to is why the opulent cathedrals, the personal prosperity and the bling - was that the message of Jesus?

Today in my inbox there was a reminder that it's blog action day plus the following daily reflection:

"Contradictions have always existed in the soul of humanity. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison." by Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I'm afraid I am having a hard time with Merton's idea of silence in the face of contradiction (certainly Bill Maher is fed up with the silence). For me, this is especially true when thinking about the Christian response to poverty or more specifically the white, middle-class, mainline Christian church response to poverty. This response often seems full of contradictions. In so many places and so many ways, Jesus directs his disciples to give up everything to follow him. And yet our church institutions don't seem to model this kind of sacrificial giving. Priority is given to the building, infrastructure, salaries and internal programs with resources for the work of mercy and justice given a much lower priority.

One of the fallback positions in this community that drives me crazy is Jesus' statement about the poor in Mark 14:7.

You will always have the poor with you. And whenever you want to, you can give to them. But you won't always have me here with you. (CEV)

It feels like this statement is used as a 'get out of jail free' card. Don't really know what issues are facing the poor in your community - that's okay, they will always be there. Not really sure you have the time or resources to help right now - that's okay, you can give to them whenever you want.

I see Jesus' statement as more of a direct correlation to how I choose to live. Instead of stepping on my holier-than-thou soapbox, pointing out where everyone else is failing the system, I feel convicted to look at my own behavior. If I am honest with myself, there is poverty because of me. I need to stop thinking of poverty as a problem out there, it is a by-product that I cause by my consumption and waste patterns. Until I change, I will always have the poor with me.

Maybe that is why Merton prefers silence to analysis in the face of contradiction. In the analysis, we can get caught up in fear, inertia, weariness, depression, pride and priorities. In the silence we can see where we live in the contradiction and we can choose to change.

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