Monday, December 08, 2014

Foodbanks and iPhones

Two things caught my eye this morning via social media that have caused me to stop and reflect a little. One is the staggering rise in the number of people accessing foodbanks. Up from fewer than 50,000 in 2009/10 to almost 350,000 in 2012/13. The other was a quote that read: I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change... I'm changing the things I cannot accept.

It's easy to respond to the first statistic with cynicism and disbelief that a society such as our can actually have people in a position where food is almost a luxury. Something is wrong, fundamentally wrong if our affluent first world economy can allow that to happen. I'm not sure I have a realistic solution that will fix it. I'm not sure anyone does, but there has to be something that can be done if only government had the will and society the selflessness to do it.

Another simplistic response is to point to consumerism and wealth as the problem. Apple have just sold their four millionth iPhone, footballers get paid vast amounts of money and companies avoid tax while policy-makers chase down benefit fraud.

Whether we're cynical, disbelieving or playing the blame game, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to make change happen. I can't solve the Ebola epidemic, but I'm not sure I want to accept it either. I can't solve the poverty crisis in the UK either, but I'm not quite ready to throw up my hands in horror and say there's nothing I can do.

I actually find the statistic about foodbank usage challenging both politically and personally. Yes, it might be a depressing statistic, but we can't allow it to paralyse us in a way that makes us inactive, passive bystanders. I can buy extra food and donate it. I can help stock the bank and make a difference to someone's life right now. But I can also ask myself what it means on a bigger scale.

Next year here in the UK we have a General Election, a chance to reflect on what this government has done and what could be done in the next parliament. We can either allow ourselves to be sidetracked by arguments over Europe, immigration, the free movement of citizens, or we can force politicians to engage on topics like poverty and taxation. We can ask the tough questions about who is willing to ask the wealthy to bear more of the weight of the financial challenge of the economy than the poor. If the deficit is still high, should we really be looking to reduce the tax burden of the richest while forcing down the wages of the lowest paid? We can vote selfishly, considering only our best interests, or we can vote altruistically, putting the needs of others higher up the agenda. You may not see things is the same way I see them, you might disagree on every detail. That's fine. Just don't be passive. Give it some thought.

In church circles there a prayer that's been quoted a lot over years that goes like this: Lord, give me the patience to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

That may be a good way to approach spiritual change and growth, but it might not be the best way to look at the issues that face us in our society. Too often we've taken the "I can't change it" attitude beyond those areas to which it truly applies. In the end, if we don't change it, who will?

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