The prevailing system is not begotten, it's created...

My short address to introduce the 2010 Connections UnitingCare Anti-Poverty Awards:

Ladies and Gentlemen, you may have noticed that Connections UnitingCare’s new vision statement imagines a world where wholeness and fullness of life are primary values. And because we are an agency of the Uniting Church our understanding of those terms is influenced by the life and teachings of a young Jewish man who lived about 2000 years ago. From what we think we know of that man, he cherished his Jewish faith, so much so that he wanted to significantly reform it. And the primary message of his reform was that idea of a Jewish God had to be a wholly non-violent idea. Non-violence here doesn’t just mean avoiding war or the use of weapons or physical force against each other. It is more fundamental than that! It is the difficult job of avoiding the “put-down” of the other – avoiding the situation where one group asserts its power over another group so as to extinguish that other group’s true nature, their authenticity, their soul.

What’s the link between this and the work to overcome poverty? It’s a provocative comment I know, but our status-quo systems have a high level of violence, by this definition, built into them. And the presence of this type of violence and the presence of poverty are inextricably linked. Here are a couple of examples that came to me coincidentally while I was penning these thoughts.

1) Ten years ago – and I’d guess the figures might have exacerbated in the meantime, notwithstanding global economic crises – the top four hundred income earning households in the United States of America earned $69 billion dollars per year in total (that’s not net worth, it’s year-by-year earnings). That’s an average of $173 million per year per household and even after tax we are talking about households with take-home earnings in the many, many millions of dollars. In the four years following this, these households were given $7 billion dollars of tax – note the interesting use of words here – tax relief (as if the movement from one multi-million dollar take-home-earning figure to another, higher figure was a blessed “relief.”

The violence here is the assumption that there is no limit to the share of resources with which one culture must be rewarded, even while other cultures are facing extinction for want of resources.

2) Earlier this year a very senior Australian politician, commenting on indigenous people in central and northern Australia said something to the effect of “you have to agree that we have just got to get them into work. I know it might be menial work but we have just got to get them working.”

The implication is that a fulfilled life can be achieved by force fitting people into a traditional economic model; that regardless of the authentic nature of a person, that they will be a better person and avoid poverty if we can get them turning over 1000 hamburger patties an hour. A considered look at over 200 years of history, I think, suggests the opposite.

(Just as an aside, I spoke a few weeks ago to a young woman involved in the talent program of a major corporation. The program sends many, primarily Caucasian, young men to participate in the life of indigenous communities, and my contact told me that many go with attitude of “what am I going to do to fix this problem?” They come back, having experienced something of a stumbling stone (to use a spiritual term) over the hopelessness of their mechanical fixes and so they have a more vulnerable disposition, which is helping to change the culture in that organisation).

Now to many, many people there’s nothing obviously wrong with the examples I have just cited. 99% of the population may well agree with the politician I just mentioned without any awareness that there is a violence – an undermining of the authentic human soul - inherent in those sentiments, and that history shows us that that violence leads to poverty; it doesn’t resolve it.

Helping to bring about wholeness and fullness of life is about raising awareness of the inherent violence in the system. It’s also about realising this challenging fact: the prevailing system, the dominant system and its violence IS INVENTED. It is not begotten: that is, ordained by some higher power – it is created. And if we have created it then with courage we can create a different reality. Over the last six years of these anti-poverty awards we have recognised some extraordinary young people who are courageously creating that different reality – and this year is no exception. These are young people who dream with us about that wholeness and fullness of life that is our vision.

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