January 14, 2013

A Prayer for Discomfort and Courage

I heard a great prayer last week. I won't write out the whole thing for you here, but the first stanza went something like this:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, 
half truths and superficial relationships
so that we may life deep within our hearts.

The prayer (found here in its entirety) caused me to think a lot about why it is I do the work that I do - why I chose to participate in the political process and advocate for good public policy that supports social and economic justice.

Why do I care about social and economic justice? The obvious answer for me is simply to end poverty and the struggle for social inclusion in our prosperous province - and we should be very clear, that despite current economic slowdown, we are incredibly lucky to live in such a wealthy place.

One thing that the above prayer did for me was bring to light some of the reason why I believe that ending poverty is so important.

In truth, I work to end social injustice simply because I have discomfort - a lot of it - when I hear that my neighbours don't have enough money to eat and when I see people sleeping on a park bench instead of in a warm bed.

I have discomfort when I hear that a large, profitable corporation is paying their employees so little that they cannot afford to pay their rent.

I have discomfort when I hear people blame the poor for their state of being and treat them as second class citizens simply because they are not perceived to be 'contributing'.

The next question I ask myself is: what should I do with this discomfort?  Should I look the other way when a person experiencing homelessness is asking for money on the street corner?  Should I pretend that their poverty has nothing to do with me?  Should I shove my feelings of discomfort away and carry on with my day as if I never felt discomfort to begin with?

I've realized over the years, that none of these responses do anything to change the situation.  Instead of shying away from solutions, I chose to confront my discomfort, to find out why poverty exists in the first place and to work towards realistic solutions that really are possible.

What if, for example, we decided to change some of the rules for our society.  Instead of the rich getting richer and the poor working their butts off to pay the rent and buy a bus ticket.........what if we said "You know what, Ontario is a prosperous place and many of us live an abundant life.  As such, we should ensure that all people, no matter their education, employment status or ethnicity, are living a life of dignity and respect.  We need a society  that allows everyone to pay their bills, purchase food and go to a movie or a museum every once in a while.

The end of the prayer I heard last week asks that God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can do what others believe cannot be done.

The road to the end goal - an inclusive society where all can participate with dignity and respect - is long and full of nay sayers.  But that does not mean that reaching the goal is not possible - it just means we have to work at it.

In closing, I want to add one more stanza to this prayer:

May God bless us with courage to face our discomfort 
and to stand up for justice, 
so that we may one day live in a society where
everyone lives a life of dignity and respect.

May we all have the courage to do something out of the ordinary to help create a healthy society where we all have access to a bright and prosperous future.

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