The Gospel reading this morning struck a chord with me this week as I struggle to find a way to harness and constructively funnel an anger that continues to grow inside of me.
Many of you know that I work in the office at Trinity United downtown.
For the most part, I have to say that I feel very fortunate to be able to work in the environment I do … my days are busy, but they generally don’t come with many of the pressures and stresses that other folks deal with on a regular basis. And generally, the events of the day aren’t of a nature that keeps me up at night. But a couple of weeks ago, something came across my desk that disturbed me …it is still troubling to me … and I am still looking for ways to deal with it.
Until last month, I was oblivious to the rapidly growing Facebook group “Feeding My Family” – a public group started by an Inuit woman in Canada’s north to increase awareness of the outrageously high cost of food that makes healthy living challenging, if not impossible, for many northerners. The fact that I didn’t know about the Facebook group isn’t really all that troublesome …. the fact that I could stay protectively wrapped in my own little world, completely unaware of the daily struggles of fellow Canadians, was …and IS troubling to me.
I wonder what your reaction would be upon hearing that fellow Canadians in small communities all over Nunavut have to pay:
$15 for a bag of sugar
$24 for a (1.4 kg) box of Minute Rice
$82 for a 12 pack of Gingerale
$47 for a box of laundry soap
$26 for 3.5L of orange juice
$28 for a head of cabbage
So, here I am at my desk a couple of weeks ago and I’m asked to forward this agenda item for an upcoming meeting of Trinity’s outreach team – the issue of the food insecurity epidemic in the north. The ridiculous grocery prices certainly grabbed my attention, so I started doing a little digging. I almost fell off my chair:
$29 for a jar of Cheez Whiz
$38 for a container of Cranberry cocktail
$105 for a case of bottled water
$27 for a 1 kg pork shoulder roast … for those of us that remember, that’s a 2 pound roast! … would YOU pay $27 for a 2 pound pork shoulder roast?
Here’s what really irked me about that 1 kg roast …I discovered that that roast that sold for $27.19 in Arctic Bay, Nunavut could be purchased for under $9 from the southern supplier. Including the government’s Nutrition North subsidy, the freight cost to get the roast to Arctic Bay would be a little over $2. Even if you pad the prices and then take a 50% markup, you only come to about $18 …. “only” I say, as if $18 would be an ok price for a 1 kg shoulder roast … but $27??? Maybe I’m missing something here, but that’s classic “price gouging”.
And how many thanksgiving dinners would YOU offer to host if you had to pay $200 for a turkey?
Could YOU afford those prices? At your current income level – whatever it is right now – could YOU afford to spend $600 a week to feed yourself and ONE child at home? I know I couldn’t …. Neither can the people of Nunavit. Not when the median income for the Inuit falls under $20,000/year.
As I dug deeper for information, a part of me desperately wanted to discover that this was a hoax … that this couldn’t be true – not in Canada – … but the more I uncovered, the more horrified and shocked I became… …until the shock started to wear off, and the anger started to simmer.
And the anger grew as I found and watched interviews with families
– extended families of 10 to 15 people all living in a small, cramped,
2 bedroom house because they either can’t afford to live separately, or because there simply aren’t additional houses available in their community
And my anger continued to grow as I discovered that 7 out of 10 Inuit preschoolers in Nunavut live in homes without enough to eat.
I read of family after family with at least one adult who regularly skips meals …. Often only eating once a day – if that … because there simply isn’t enough food in the house to go around… parents who put their children first, just like you and I would… apparently it is not uncommon in communities of Nunavut to open the refrigerator and find a bottle of ketchup, some soy sauce, and little else.
If you’re like me, you may be asking yourself if the Food Bank is an option for any of these families. Well, not always – at least not to the extent it is here for any of us.
In Nunavut, if the community is fortunate enough to have a food bank it’s more apt to be the sad and scary fact that the food bank is empty. The shelves are bare.
And this is in Canada. The north, yes, indeed. And not every community is the same. And shipping costs and other factors mean higher-prices in the North. I get that. But this is CANADA!
For me – in my world – if we are going to be strong enough to strength and offer support to people in other nations who need us, we need to also be able to strengthen our own … and so the anger simmers …
So I look at the scripture readings for today and we have the very familiar story of the 10 Commandments and we have Jesus pretty much throwing a tantrum in the temple.
And a song starts running through my head that’s all over the radio ….you’ve no doubt heard it … “It’s all about that Bass” by Meghan Trainor… If you haven’t heard the actual song, you’ve no doubt heard one of the multitude of parodies … so the version that goes through my head this week starts with “It’s all about relationships” …
Relationships and our role in them …. our responsibility in them…
In the Book of Exodus, we find the beginnings of the formalized covenant relationship between the Israelites and their god…..and if you remember back to last week, we learned that a covenant is like a special promise from God. So, after crossing the Red Sea in their escape from Egypt, the Israelites find themselves lost in the wilderness for 40 years. Eventually the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where they live for nearly a year. Upon their arrival, Moses makes his first of several trips up the mountain. On one of those trips, God announces the elements of a covenant – that special “God promise” with the Israelites: the Ten Commandments that we read in Exodus 20. The Israelites are to be God’s “special people,” and “a holy nation”.
In the Ten Commandments, God outlines the aspects of this covenant relationship with the Israelites. The commandments are clear about which of the two parties in this relationship is superior to the other …”I am the Lord your God” …I brought you out of Egypt … out of slavery
The first four commandments focus on the relationship between God and the people, and they demand absolute loyalty:
– don’t worship any other gods; I’m the only one
– don’t make statues or idols of anything that might look like me and you absolutely must never worship or pray to them
– be very careful how you use my name; when you speak my name, you must mean what you are saying
– remember the Sabbath day – work on the other 6 days, but rest on the 7th day and make it special
The remaining 6 commandments concern the relationships between the people themselves – how they are to treat each other. Each person is to respect his neighbour’s life, person, marriage, reputation, and property, and is to care for members of the community as they grow older.
So, through the Ten Commandments, God lays out the ground rules of relationships, with the primary relationship being the one between God and the people …. God and the individual.
And we move to our gospel reading where Jesus comes to the temple – a place where anyone should be able to come and pray and worship God, regardless of their economic means – a place where people may come into contact with God, and experience God’s grace and love …. a place where people go to give thanks to God for all that God has done; a place to ask for forgiveness; a place to hear God’s word and seek guidance. ….
and instead of a place of worship, Jesus finds profiteering. Instead of caring for the “least of these”, he finds the greedy taking advantage of the poor … and Jesus throws a fit … he clears the place.
This is still the loving, caring, compassionate Jesus who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, turned water into wine, ate with lepers ….this is the passionate Jesus who saw a grave injustice and it made him angry … angry enough that he could not simply stand back and watch it continue.
Something had to change. Things needed to be shaken up.
Have you ever been there? Ever experienced or witnessed something that was clearly an injustice, and it made you SO angry that you wanted to jump up and scream?
Working in a church, I would have had a little trouble explaining that specific reaction to my discoveries about the current struggles of our Canadian neighbours in Nunavut. But I was angry.
Maybe I couldn’t stand up and scream, or kick the thieves to the curb, but I could do my part to make sure that this news didn’t stay buried. Surely, lf one Inuit woman could take that very brave step to speak out publicly about the food insecurity issue … a step that goes against the Inuit culture … a culture whose survival historically has depended on everyone having to get along …a culture who, until recently, would never protest …. Surely if she could rally her community to openly protest against the injustice, there must be something I could do to help. Because if the injustice is allowed to continue … if government subsidies aren’t being passed on to the people who need them, but are staying in the hands of the store owner … if exorbitant prices continue to prevent people from feeding their children … if nobody stands up and does something about it, it will become the norm. People will think it’s ok … just like the people in the temple did before Jesus threw a fit.
No, I couldn’t stand up and scream, but I don’t have to sit back and do nothing. I immediately set to work on a banner … 8 feet wide and 3 feet high … big and bold and impossible to miss when you come through the front doors of Trinity ….not fancy, but it puts the food insecurity issue of Nunavut right in your face when you enter the building. Yes, you can ignore it. But you can’t miss it. The banner extends the invitation to help through donations.
Maybe I can’t do a lot, but I can certainly help …. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve been picking up extra sale items when I shop – I can get 5 boxes of Pancake mix for less than our Northern Neighbours pay for one bag of sugar … several other individuals and churches in the city have joined a rapidly growing grass roots movement called Helping Our Northern Neighbours – items are being gathered locally (and across Canada) and shipped to food banks and wellness centres in Nunavut to offer some relief. It’s a temporary fix – not a permanent solution. In order for that to happen – in order for a permanent change to happen – Jesus needs to chase the moneychangers out of the temple. So the charity response will help, but it has to take the next step. It has to move to one of justice ….tables have to turn.
So I find myself digging further … who do I write to? What groups can I join my voice with to increase the impact ? Because I don’t believe we are meant to do this alone – fight the injustices – our relationships are to be based in love and respect … caring for one another. That goes back to the ten commandments.
We are in this together … together, with God.
Are there things that make you want to stand up and scream?
Are there things that make you want to cry out for God’s justice?
*If little children going hungry – even starving and dying – makes you want to stand up and scream, then stand up! (quite literally – stand up if you are able!)
*If money spent on machines of war in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Africa, North Korea – if that makes you want to stand up and scream, then stand up!
*If senseless violence, obscene greed, and cruelty to animals make you want to stand up and scream, then stand up!
*If more than 1.5 million people dying of AIDS worldwide makes you want to stand up and scream, then stand up!
*If people have to travel across borders to receive cancer treatments not yet available in Canada makes you want the stand up and scream, then stand up!
*If uncertainty about the future of health care in this country makes you want to stand up and scream, then stand up!
*If sexual abuse against Native people in residential schools, prisoners in our jails, and vulnerable people in our community makes you want to stand up and scream, then stand up!
We are standing here this morning with Jesus, who overturned the tables in the temple because of his passion to glorify the way of God’s justice and loving kindness.
Together, now that we are standing, let us proclaim what we believe. Let us read the United Church’s A New Creed together (VU 918) …. Gathering L/E 2015 Bill Steadman.