The injustice of consumption: how Tauranga is consuming the planet and the poor

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Matthew 25.31-46

In Merivale, Tauranga, our neighbourhood is holding a community meeting tonight about homelessness. Over the past fortnight, our media has been full of reports of New Zealanders living in garages, in cars, in tents. Many of these people have employment but cannot afford rentals and have unmanageable debt. Many of them have children. The government has told them to go to Work and Income; their inadequate solutions have increased the debt for many families. So our neighbourhood leaders thought we should talk about what we can do for ourselves (thanks to the Merivale Community Centre and Merivale School for their leadership here).

At the heart of why our community is organising this meeting are these questions: what do we want to be known for?  What do we want our community to be known for? How do we want our values, beliefs and ways of being to be different from the world around us?

Matthew 25 is a benchmark for justice. Whilst Jesus of Nazareth is the central prophet of christianity, justice is not about your faith or your religious practice. Justice is about your humanity, your connectedness to others. It is a consistent theme for him throughout his ministry, and it has resonated through 2,000 years.

If Matthew 25 is a benchmark for justice in communities, then frankly God must despise our way of life. People are not homeless in Aotearoa New Zealand because of government policy on the right or the left; people are homeless in Aotearoa New Zealand because of our lifestyles. You see in blunt terms, we are eating the planet and the poor. I am eating the planet and the poor. Each of you are eating the planet and the poor. Tauranga is eating the planet and the poor. In our collective lust to consume:

  • our environment is dying – every bio-system is in decline;
  • the poor in the majority world are dying – over 25,000 children die each day;
  • the poor in our nation are dying – of heart disease, of diabetes, of obesity, of cancers, of violence, of poverty-related illnesses.

In our addiction to consumption, we see our brothers and sisters in humanity not as people but as objects, as widgets in the production of more stuff.  In Tauranga, retail, that is the selling of stuff, is our largest employment sector (13.4%). Each quarter in Tauranga, there about $1 billion retail sales in perhaps over 2500 shops. Not wholesale, not houses, just goods – clothing, footwear, blackware, whiteware, kitchen ware, bathroom goods, vehicles. Most of the goods are made in Economic Processing Zones in predominantly sweatshop conditions by workers paid below a living wage, exploited in unhealthy and dangerous conditions, with no protection from their governments, and the natural resources being stripped from the environment.

We must respond. How many of us are wearing clothes that were made by a child’s hand, use a computer from a factory whose toxic outflow has killed a river, eat fast food from farmers who are paid so little their own families starve?

We are so very rich. It’s important that we understand we are rich in resources and skills. In money alone, the median annual wage in Tauranga is a mere $24,000; but this still puts our community in the richest 10% of the world. It behooves us to share of what we have. if you have money, give it. Give it to people who are in need. Give it to people you really like. Give it to charities. And when you get your tax rebate, give that.

  • if you have clothes, wear them till the fall apart. Then sew them up again. If you’re not wearing them, give them to people who will. Learn sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery. Teach others to do the same. Give away what you make;
  • if you have food, cook it for others. Eat with others. Maybe even get a little tiddly with others;
  • if you have time, do nothing. be completely economically unproductive. Just talk, laugh and cry with your family, with your church, with your friends, with your neighbours, with your community;
  • if you have land, garden it. Rip up your grass, come together with others and grow vegetables and fruit to feed you and your neighbours;
  • if you have room in your house, invite people to live there;
  • if you have more than one house, give it to families who are struggling financially. Become a benevolent landlord, subsidising the rent for people who could not afford otherwise. Don’t subdivide it, let children play on it.

I do some of this; in other areas I have completely failed. But if all of us did a bit of this and failed some of it, we would change our society. Justice is an action. If we want justice for those without shelter in the Bay of Plenty, in Aotearoa New Zealand, certainly the government needs to respond, but so do we. We need to give of ourselves, which will mean giving less to ourselves. There’s room and there’s resource to care for others. If we are to seek justice we must buy less and share more. Yet perhaps it is easier to go through the eye of the needle than it is for us to crucify our consumption for justice.