Donors' Dinner Talk June 2012
I want to express gratitude towards all of your for your generosity in supporting St John the Compassionate Mission.
Since its humble beginnings, the Mission has remained humble, focusing on people rather than expansion. Now, at a time when most social services are cutting programs, St. John the Compassionate Mission has been responding with new, creative initiatives, like Kettle / You Are Not Alone / Growing our own food – seedlings.
Your support goes into helping people in a direct, personal and simple way.
Last year, a new phase began for us. We realized that we needed to grow from a community with a founder to a community of a new generation of leadership. We are exploring a collegial form of leadership that includes representation from all the different groups of people that make us this one community. We understand that the future is not just in fund raising, but more importantly, in getting the new generation on fire with this vision.
When the Mission began, society was very different. Yes, the poor were hurting, but the poor for the most part remained back then a marginalized group. You either ignored them or gave them a handout. For most people, poverty and the poor in Toronto were a distant reality. Today, we have discovered the 1% and most have wakened up to realize that they are part of the 99%. In the context of Toronto, one of the richest cities in the world, what does it really mean to be part of the 99%? For many, it has meant that now being generous is no longer an option. As I mentioned, many social services and church organizations have to cut their services because people are not giving as they did before the awakening of the 99%. But today, based on 2008 statistics, there are on earth 1 billion and 290 million people living with less than $1.25 per day. And in Toronto there are children going to be hungry, and men and women suffering because of lack of community, family, support, mental illness, homelessness (6 children evicted from co-op) and most of the 99% don't have to worry about this. Nonetheless, we are all affected by what is going on in the world. We all, even us who have been blessed with many gifts, feel insecure. But our crisis, before being economical, it is anthropological. That is why this crisis affects the weakest among us. We have reduced each of us to an individual, isolated; one has to carve out an existence alone.
As a recent church study put it: “Today, alienation, exploitation and marginalization have different symptoms: economic dependency, chronic unemployment, human trafficking, addictions, shattered families, and ongoing interpersonal abuse.”
But the human being, the poor show us, is made to exist in relationship. We need one another and not only the hungry need us. Reducing all of us to simple consumers, taxpayers, crushes us all and we all have built sand castles (e.g. financial markets).
To only talk about people including the poor in terms of needs puts out the flame of creativity in all of us.
Yes, we have many needs in common with animals, but the way we face this needs is different. We need food but also we develop the art of cooking and the fellowship of breaking bread together. We need shelter but we have developed architecture and the art of living in harmony. The basic needs of all human beings call for more than just a mechanical satisfaction. Need is connected to desire, freedom and creativity. It is not just the poor, who have had this creativity squashed. We all have been made to believe that economics is simply brute money, follows this crisis of generosity that many charitable groups experience. But the logic of economics must be enlarged to include the logic of generosity, of largeness, of gift. Not as a simple cosmetic thing I do – I gave at the office, to “give” as a way to appease this brutal logic of profit. 26 years ago we would say that you first need to pursue justice and that generosity would follow; today in 2012 we have to rather say that without generosity we will not be able to bring about even justice. Generosity is not about handouts or “noblesse oblige”. It is rather any action that is not immediately at the service of what is useful, or plays into the game of profit or what I can get out of it, but rather generosity is any deed that breathes towards a horizon of truth, of the beautiful, of what is good. Charles Péguy – the Money speaks about how work in itself has value. The chair needs to be made well not because it's what I am paid to do or make money from, but because the chair must be done well, it is this that makes us workers rather than servants in society. We need all to learn to work for one another, to be generous, to be of largeness of spirit. Perhaps this is the great challenge humanity has ever faced in its modern history. We just can't continue the same old same old course.
It is up to communities like St John's and many other humble communities of faith to show that it is possible to be generous, to love without counting the cost, to live the economics of the gospel. It is no longer just about them, it's all of us who need to discover this, before it's too late.