We're looking at paragraphs 152-155 of the Pope's encyclical, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. This week's reading is the continuation and conclusion of the section we began last week, Ecology of Daily Life.
Paragraph 152 attempts to address the lack of housing we know exists in many parts of the world. Immediately I found myself thinking of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro... But why did my mind go so far afield? Especially when I walk past homeless camps in our Edmonton river valley more often than I'd like to admit...
The Pope and friends are trying to address the difficulties many people have in affording or even finding a reasonable place to live, and encouraging humanity to find answers because "Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families. This is a major issue for human ecology." The encyclical underlines the point that no matter our good intentions, we can't just demolish slums without making those who live in them part of the rebuilding process, offering them information about how they can participate in changing their living situations and decent housing choices.
While we don't exactly have slums in Edmonton, our inner city is a place with poor housing choices and many homeless people. Housing First is one organization that is working toward putting roofs over people's heads before tackling addictions and mental health issues. EndPovertyEdmonton is a local task force that names the problems faced by the poor in our city, and is working together to eliminate poverty in Edmonton within a generation. Does that sound like pie in the sky to you? With the economic downturn in Alberta's economy, it's definitely a challenge, but we have to move forward in hope. What do you know about poverty reduction strategies where you live? Do you offer support in this task?
I smiled when I read where the Pope gently shakes his finger at how we human beings get around:
The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering to those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape.... (paragraph 153).He's right... and his further comments regarding "the need to give priority to public transportation" make me wonder how long it will take for human beings to understand that if we want to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to decrease our dependence on SOVs (single occupant vehicles) and opt for public transportation which creates fewer fossil fuel emissions.
Here in Edmonton, people love to complain about the inefficiencies of our transit system, but if we all suddenly started taking transit daily, increasing the need for it and insisting our municipal leaders improve the way it works, I suspect it might become more efficient in a hurry. Of course, we are too infatuated with convenience and our own vehicles for that to happen. Or are we? How do you get around? Do you ride-share? Carpool? Find ways to avoid driving an SOV?
It's not just urban populations that struggle to maintain an ecology of daily life -- paragraph 154 notes that our concern with highly populated cities "should not make us overlook the abandonment and neglect also experienced by some rural populations which lack access to essential services and where some workers are reduced to conditions of servitude, without rights or the hope of a more dignified life." I think of many First Nations communities in Canada that lack potable water, well-made homes, and health services, especially to deal with the sense of abandonment, isolation and addiction that springs from the fact that their communities lack these basic things. How can we help them? Can we write our elected officials on their behalf?
The last paragraph of this section discusses "another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law..." and continues to explain that "our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings." According to Pope Francis, "The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world... Learning to accept our body, to care for it, and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element in any genuine human ecology" (paragraph 155).
I suggest you read paragraph 155 for yourself. It's one that leaves me wondering if the Church's understanding of human life and human sexuality isn't too narrow sometimes. I know that The Bible tells us that "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27) ... but I can't help feeling that the Church pounds too hard on sexual morality, the differences between the sexes and total insistence on heterosexual love and family life. I know too many beautiful people with beautiful relationships that don't fit that model, and who is the Church to say that those people are wrong to love a partner of the same sex? Or when they don't feel at home in their body because they have never felt like they belonged to the gender with which they are born? It seems to me that God created our spirits with a wider spectrum than male and female.
The thing is, God made us, and we grow in our love for ourselves and each other, and in the understanding that God loves us. Love that gives life, literally and figuratively, is never wrong. So if the fullest meaning of our bodies doesn't fit exactly with the Church's prescribed rules about human sexuality, but we can love ourselves and see God's love present in the relationships that bless us, isn't that enough?
The ecology of daily life is about belonging, caring, sharing, respecting one another, and loving God and creation. At least that's how I'm reading it. How can we create a sense of belonging and care for city dwellers and those living in isolated communities all over the world? How can we offer acceptance and love to the poor? To those in the LGBTQ community?
Feel free to share ideas by clicking on the link for "comments" below.
Up next: #31... It's all about the common good