Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Prophetic Voice ...

"Get a job!!"

"Stop abusing the system."

"Get off welfare."

And on and on the rhetoric goes ...

Yesterday I was privileged to share some time with the folks who are trying to run the Food Banks across Canada that provide food, opportunity and most importantly HOPE to the marginalized in our urban communities from coast to coast.

What struck me was the commonality of the frustrations they face in trying to do the work they are doing. Work that no one else really wants to do, and work that too many seem to criticize and condemn without an inkling of what they are really doing.

The notion of arms length charity comes to mind ...

But what struck me was hearing the executive director of a Food Bank (and remember that Food Bank here is about more than just the daily distribution of hampers out of a facility - NO Food Bank is limited ONLY to hamper distribution. They do SO MUCH MORE!!), here in Ontario who said that along with incredibly giving and generous people in her community are ALSO the standard conservative folks who refuse to donate a thin dime because they've worked hard for their money and see no reason why others can't just do the same, and their circle of friends in various service clubs and country clubs feel EXACTLY the same way and support the political candidates who see the world through the same narrow point of view.

Not surprisingly, this experience is echoed EVERY COMMUNITY from coast to coast. Anywhere there is a food bank, a soup kitchen, an emergency shelter or people on welfare or any form of assistance, there is the same hollow, hurtful and selfishly defensive rhetoric.

Then one of my personal heroes, David Northcott from Winnipeg Harvest shared his experience of trying to involve the Churches of Manitoba in addressing the issues of hunger, poverty, homelessness and the other urgent needs that accompany these challenges. He used the example of speaking to a UCC in Manitoba where he shared the work that Winnipeg Harvest does, offered examples of how the work they do makes a difference, then David cited the Biblical call to care for the widows and orphans among us only to hear THE MINISTER scoff at the suggestion that the Church COULD and SHOULD be doing more in addressing poverty issues in our midst.

David then said - "I don't get it. Why is this so hard. People are hungry. Feed them. Why is it so complicated ?"

Why indeed David.

Why do we make it so complicated in the Church?
Why do we make it so political?
Why do we deny the prophetic calling from within and without the Church that tells us that what we're doing is nice, but it's NOT ENOUGH.

Today I posted a comment on Facebook based on David's comment, and have been thinking about it since ... and I've realized that this dillemma is EXACTLY why the esteemed J.S. Woodsworth left the Methodist Church.

Woodsworth was deeply involved in addressing issues of poverty amongst the immigrant and inner city people of Winnipeg. His thinking came down to one simple idea: HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED. To Woodsworth, the politics and the posturing had no place. People were in need, and they NEEDED help. The role of the Church Woodsworth was simple: address that need and stop defending our complacency and our self serving justification of wealth.

Were Woodsworth's words and proclamations comfortable to the fine old Methodists like the Eaton family of Toronto who had amassed considerable wealth? Probably not ... and if the Church then is ANYTHING like the Church now I have no doubt whatsoever that the Eaton clan and others of similar ilk who had considerable wealth, power and influence sought to silence the prickly voices like Woodsworth in the name of a welcoming Methodism.

Today we have few prophetic voices like Woodsworth.

Today those of us who dare to question the status quo and ask if there is MORE that could be done face the harsh judgement of our colleagues and our denomination.

The criticism is frequently couched in softened language that points out our successes and tried to temper the judgment being offered out of a fear of offending those who are involved in the first place ... it's an interesting conundrum really. Why should the people who are deeply involved in supporting food banks and soup kitchens and outreach ministries be offended when a prophetic voice - be it mine, or ANYONE else's dares to suggest that there could and should be more that we can do???

Why is the response from THESE involved people defensive rather than a relieve "whew!!"

To my mind, the folks who are deeply involved in the needed outreach should appreciate the willingness of someone to step up and speak out about the needs around us.

The prophetic voice is not about popularity, it is about truth.

The truth is - we have many people doing amazing things, but we have TOO MANY people NOT doing anything, and too many people NOT doing enough, and the pulpits in our land have fallen into a place where the messages being delivered are warm pink fuzzy proclamations that offer few challenges and fewer uncomfortable moments to those sitting in the pews.

If we look back on the writings and research done since Pierre Burton penned his tome "The Comfortable Pew" almost three generations ago, and followed the thread through the work of Gordon Turner, Reg Bibby and countless others, why is it so damned hard to accept the fact that the United Church today has become a pale shadow of what it once was.

Our spiritual forebearers were folks like Ryerson, Woodsworth, Crosby and others who lived the idea of the Social Gospel, which was embodying and sharing the Kingdom of God in TODAY'S world. Today, we nod to the Social Gospel heritage, but we're more concerned about NOT offending people then we are comforting the marginalized.

There are fabulous people out in our communities who are embracing and living the values of the Social Gospel movement in the name of the Church, but I will continue to maintain that many of those who could and should be doing the same AREN'T, and many more are actively discouraging any hint of the Social Gospel movement in the Church and Society, and that must change if we are to remain relevant AND FAITHFUL to the Gospel that calls us.

AND, like the broken record that I have apparently become, I will say again - the first step in this needed and looming renewal demands the presence of Prophetic Voices that come out of the wilderness and call us back to faithfulness.

People like Amos, Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah were not well liked, and modern Church history shows us that heroic figures like Ryerson, Woodsworth, King and others who called for FAITHFUL change were seldom liked or respected in their own time, but when you are letting the Spirit speak through you the TRUTH WILL PREVAIL.

Faith is not a popularity contest. It never was ...

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