It's Not All About Us

I was getting on the shuttle bus into the city yesterday and the bus that pulled up was not the usual smaller, more sleek shuttle but instead the very long city bus. These long city buses are the ones you see every day in the city. The person in front of me as we boarded the bus said, “Oh those buses are so uncomfortable.” This patron and the persons who nodded their heads as she spoke were used to the shuttle bus and its more comfortable seats. But as someone who rides the city buses throughout the day I don’t think those seats are really all that uncomfortable. These seats are the usual means of transportation for people using public transportation in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. In those cities most everyone takes the bus and most everyone is satisfied and comfortable to sit in “those seats.”

What we are dealing with here are two things; 1) what many call First World problems, that is an issue that would only be a challenge in a place where almost all of our needs are being met, in other words in a place with deep social challenges the comfort of the seat for a 30 minute bus ride would be considered frivolous. And 2) we are used to having things our way, in a manner we design and we select. We can go online and select the product we want, in the colour we want, the size we want, we can customize everything and we have come to expect and demand this level of service. I see this all the time as non-profits where middle class people like the ones at my bus stop come and ask/demand a certain service and are appalled they cannot have what they want, when they want it.

Case in point is early December every year. I get calls from such families asking me about a place where their precious teenage children can volunteer and serve “the needy” a Christmas meal. Leaving aside the obvious, which would be why do you need to jam such service into a Christmas experience and not be a volunteer all year long, the coordinators of these centres get frustrated because they need volunteers 51 weeks of the year but are over-supplied with volunteers the week of Christmas. So the coordinator has to tell the parent, “I am afraid there are no openings to serve that week but there are many, many openings the rest of the year.” I usually get the call from the parents afterward with a “Can you believe they don’t have any openings!” We expect what we want, when we want it.

It’s amazing to me how we got here, only two generations ago our forbearers were living through a depression and a war and the break out of terrible contagious diseases and here we are complaining about the comfort of a seat on a bus and the fact our teenage children cannot serve “the needy” on Christmas day. Really?

This is a challenge our liberal churches rarely talk about. The sin of affluence and privilege is a deeply problematic issue for the church, it is a spiritual matter. I take a back to no one on social justice preaching, addressing issues like sexual orientation, income inequality, poverty, racism, climate change, etc… But there is also the matter of privilege and entitlement that is rampant in our culture and unless we take it on we will forever confuse our lifestyle choices with the real injustices of the planet. The unfortunate thing is that while sermons on injustice are meant to make us all look in the mirror and examine our complicity too often the exact opposite occurs and we assume our challenge of privilege is on par with someone facing matters of indignity and disrespect and inadequate resources.