June 26, 2010
On the eve of the G20, what’s news we all remember – a million dollar fake lake decorated with canoes, to show off the beauty of Canada. Or maybe it’s the sight of the sunken fire hydrant, its tip poking out from the newly refreshed sidewalk that was built to be admired by world leaders – pretty and completely impractical. An odd way to throw away money given that Canada is far prettier than most places anyway, and certainly has its share of real lakes, and when you imagine that prime ministers and president aren’t likely to be fascinated by sidewalks. But it actually pretty sad – all jokes aside – since the ultimate intention (if not always the outcome) of these G20 meetings is to be practical – to get the job, any job, finished, or at least started. And here we are prettying up the place with fake lakes. Trying explaining that to a classroom of school kids in Africa.
Jesus said some pretty hard things to and about the rich – and you could probably condense them all into a modern day sermon fake lakes and other narrow-minded visions of the world. He wasn’t kind and he wasn’t gentle. In his story about Lazarus in Luke, the rich man ended up being eternally threatened by unquenchable flames. To the disciples, he said camels would have an easier time getting through the eye of a needle than someone rich entering the kingdom of heaven.
But Jesus had a lot of good things to say to or about the poor. You are blessed. Abraham will take you into his bosom. If you pay attention, you’ll see that even the wild flowers in the fields are better dressed than Solomon.
Basically, Jesus understood that when you’re wealthy – at least relatively closer to the top of the heap than the bottom – it’s easy to get blinded by fake lakes and fancy sidewalks. It’s easy to dress up the world around you, so you don’t have to see the shadows. Imaging ourselves in a crowd listening to Jesus, we stand with the poor, we get dusty too. But that’s a lie of convenience, and when the speech was over, we’d be up and off to our fancy homes to wash that dust off. As a certain Jesuit theologian put it, “We (North Americans) read the gospel as if we have no money, and spend our money as if we have no gospel.”
It’s been 10 years since the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals calling for action on issues such as maternal health, child mortality, education and gender equality. It’s not been a particularly productive 10 years. Mothers and children are still dying when they shouldn’t, and we certainly haven’t achieved universal education for primary students. And we’ve been around this road before – some thirty-five years ago, the UN set a target for wealthy countries to dedicate 0.7% of Gross National Income to developing countries through foreign aid. The person leading the commission that recommended this target was a former Canadian Prime Minister (Lester Pearson). Yet today, Canada is doing very poorly on this goal. Out of 22 donor countries we rank number 16 and we are giving less than 0.28% of our gross national income to foreign aid-despite how well we as a country have managed a global recession.
We are a people of fake lakes in a land full of real ones. This week, a new Stats Canada study told us that Canadian families are more time crunched than ever – between work and family commitments. (The good news for moms, on this Father’s day, is that father are spending more time with their kids than ever before.) We all feel it – and yet it’s not real. Our complaint just sound feeble by comparison to most of the world, who are helpless to change their lot. We, who have choices, have done this to ourselves.
That’s what Jesus meant about the camel and needle, and why he was always so hard on our wealthy stand-ins in the Bible. The rich are more more easily blinded by gadgets and baubles to what needs doing. When you are poor and your rneighbor’s roof collapse, you help him build it back up because you know you might need his help someday – community is what sustains you. When you’re rich, you figure you can just pay someone else to fix your own roof when the time comes. The wealthy – nations, people – must be giving for the sake of generosity alone.
Today, we are called as people of faith to do our part, just as world leaders meet in Toronto this week to do theirs. The vision that the Millenium Development Goald represent is not just about the poor being better off. It’s one in which giver and receiver alike are changed. It’s a vision of hope, like the sun rising, in which those who don’t have will be housed, and fed, and invited in, and those who have will be transformed into “repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in” – just as we hope by our witness to repair the breach among nations and people and cities and the environment into places for living.
What can one person do? In truth, not a lot, but it’s a place to start. Look at your calendars, computers, and cheque books: they reveal what we value – what we think, how we spend our time and money. We need to ask ourselves how these values can change so we can help the world meet these eight goals – and how we can hold out politicians to account to make these goals a priority.
So, chuckle at the inanity of that fake lake and the million-plus that’s being spent on it. But my advice is to go home and find the fake lake in your own life – the prettying up that’s been done at great expense and to little gain – and reset the agenda. One clear way that we can all help reach the millennium goals is to set our own standards higher – as Jesus sets them for us.