I’d had the best kind of evening; low-key, but the sort that makes me sigh with contentment. Good friends, relaxed cooking, wine flowing, music playing, laughing and planning and dreaming. Reluctant to leave, but knowing I’d regret a late night midweek, I made my way to the train station still grinning.
Train cancelled. A half hour wait for the next one, it would be over an hour before I could be home, and I didn’t fancy sitting in the empty station, cold and bored.
Four taps was all it took – open app > destination > ‘home’ > request. Little more than four seconds to order, and a predicted four minute wait. He didn’t take that long. Driver pulled up, wound down his window and said my name, and I was en route. Sat in the comfort of my air-conditioned private ride, I considered what had just happened.
When I watch Downton Abbey, I marvel at the privileged lifestyle of the Earl’s family, treated almost as royalty with people employed to serve their every whim. I gawp at the inequality of that world – how those who work the hardest are always the least rewarded, while to those who have, much more is given. What must it be like, I wonder, to live the kind of life where you can ring a bell for afternoon tea to appear, where someone else attends to your clothes and hair, where a private car appears to save you a walk or a wait…
I tend to think I don’t spend much money on myself; I like to imagine I live fairly frugally and my empty bank account at the end of each month is just because London is so damn expensive. But really, all I mean is that I don’t spend much on things that I don’t want that some other people do spend their money on. I don’t wear much makeup and I hate trying on clothes, so if you looked at that snapshot of my budget perhaps you’d think I lived a modest lifestyle.
But in my world, far removed as I think it is from the luxury of Downton Abbey, I didn’t think twice about tapping through my order for a driver and a car to take me home – just to save me the inconvenience of a half hour wait for a much cheaper trip on public transport. In my world, I didn’t think twice about buying a bottle of wine to take to my friends’ house that night. In my world, I don’t think twice about buying lunch on the go, or buying a drink or two so I can write my blogs in a pub instead of at home (both of which I’ve done today).
In my world, I pay people to make my life more comfortable and enjoyable on a daily basis: to cook me food, to pour me drinks, to cut my hair, to make me coffee, to deliver my shopping, to mend my shoes, to transport me across the country or just down the road. In my world, I can afford to take time out from work, as I am doing this week, to retreat and relax and reflect.
And in my world, there are people who have never had a day off the struggle to survive.
There are people, people who Jesus calls my neighbour, who live in the grip of poverty, the fear of flooding and storms, the despair that comes from never being able to earn more than it takes to eat that day. When Jesus said to love my neighbour, he meant every neighbour – not just the ones who come from my country, my tribe, my faith or my background. He meant neighbours like Morsheda, whose story is the focus of this year’s Christian Aid Week.
It’s a tired Sunday school cliché, and a bit of a wet one at that, to encourage us to ‘think of those less fortunate than ourselves’. It’s wet and it’s useless really, if all we ever do is think about how lucky we are and feel a little bit guilty about it… before continuing as we were. No wonder it sounds cringey and dated.
But I don’t think Jesus asks us to think of those less fortunate. I think he calls us to feel deeply angry at the injustice, the inequality of the world we inhabit and in which many of us are at the very top of the structures of social privilege at the expense of those below. I don’t think he asks us to feel guilty about the circumstances of our birth, but to allow ourselves to feel deeply uncomfortable about the way our choices and lifestyles uphold that inequality.
And most of all, I think he calls us to turn that discomfort and anger to action.
Sometimes that means radical action – some choose to combat the injustice of climate change by giving up meat, or trying to live without plastic. Sometime that means major action – some choose to give up lucrative careers to serve the marginalised and the poor. But often, it means simple, ordinary action – all of us can cultivate habits that address inequality, little by little, whenever we can. That might mean writing to our MPs about issues of global justice, and it might mean taking the chances offered by charities to give money, making a habit of emptying whatever’s in our pockets to the buckets we pass on high streets and in train stations.
It’s Christian Aid Week this week, the week when hundreds of thousands of people in the UK take simple, ordinary actions that together raise millions of pounds for people overcoming poverty. I see that money not as patronising pity or guilt offering. I see it a bold statement of solidarity that says, ‘We’re cheering you on.’
None of us can end poverty with a few quid in a bucket. But millions of people are working their arses off to create a secure income for themselves and an education for their kids, battling the impacts of a changing climate and fighting for their communities’ rights to life’s essentials. As we make our contributions, however much or little they might be, we’re standing in the crowd shouting, ‘Go for it!’
I hope you’ll take the chance to join in – putting money in the Christian Aid Week envelope that may well come through your door, joining in a Big Brekkie event, sponsoring a friend, buying something from a cake sale, book sale, plant sale… there’ll be a church near you contributing. Or, if you want to join in without leaving your bed, you can donate in a few clicks at caweek.org.
If you’ve got no idea how much you can give, try what I did – check the price of your last Uber.