January 8, 2021

(Guest blog post): The poor who give versus the rich who sell

How come my friends in Glasgow were poor but they gave me their stuff, but my friends in Perth are rich and they sell me their stuff?

A few months into our new life in Perth in 2012 our 10 year old made that astute observation.

Now, almost 9 years into our life in Perth with its aesthetic contrast to our life in a Glasgow housing scheme, I still have not been able to give a complete answer to our now 19 year old.  I will however take the liberty of interpreting his thoughts as an expression that he had keenly felt the lack of ease of sharing in our new home compared to the community of his birthplace and formative years.

The Good News translation describes the lifestyle and habits of the early church in Acts 2:44 in this way: “All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another.”

There will be many of you who have visited what is defined as less developed nations and experienced outstanding hospitality, particularly regarding the effort that is made to share food with the visitor. Food shared, that could last a month in a place where it may not be obvious where the next meal will come from.

This act akin to Old Testament culture is seen as a way to welcome and bless the foreigner.  Although our son’s experience of poverty was not as extreme, the area we lived in in Glasgow was sadly notorious (and somewhat negatively stereotyped) as an area with the many devastating effects caused by mass material deprivation, addiction and unemployment.

The life expectancy is 59 years for males and the local high school was recently bestowed the title of the worst performing school in Glasgow. By contrast we currently live in the catchment for one of the best performing high schools in the state, where the male life expectancy is 80 years old.  21 extra years to have your stuff all to yourself or sell it.

Not to romanticize our 14 years in Glasgow. There are definitive positive characteristics that we experienced that we are lacking in our comfortable life here in Perth.  For instance: 

COMMUNITY & CONNECTION – Generally in Glasgow, the nearest school was the one that you sent your child to. This meant many would walk to school allowing for daily encounters and conversations with the same people making it much easier to start and deepen friendships. By contrast in Perth, the drive to school, sometimes miles away, means this opportunity to share Christ’s truth and love through the routine of each school day is not an option.  Equally in Perth, the focus on your own child and getting the best for them at a ‘good’ (whatever that means) school leads to a cost of not having regular personal contact with families around you. To me, I find this aspect of individualism makes it harder to fulfil the call to be salt and light.

GENEROSITY – As our son’s words exemplify, generosity was witnessed and experienced regularly in Glasgow. For instance, people turning up at our door, with their stuff, asking if our kids could use a bag of no longer-needed clothes or football boots (we were the family with a big car and a comfortable lifestyle). The annual sponsored walk we organized to help reduce the summer camp fees we took the local young people on, raised a hefty amount. And collections at school for food for the older folk at Christmas filled the stage in the assembly hall. Our youngest child recently came home from school stating that she had had discussions with her classmates about why they should donate to the Salvation Army appeal after many were showing a lack of sympathy to the poor and homeless in Perth.  More resources but less empathy.

ACCEPTANCE – We were affectionately known as the hippies since we grew some of our own food, used cloth nappies on the children, and ate nuts and mostly cooked our food from scratch. We were teased and mocked in that Glasgow way but when our car was damaged by a group of youngsters, we had to downplay the local’s need to protect us and strongly emphasise (in an urgent and panicky way) that we did not need anyone else to sort it out thank you, we will trust the police to fulfil their duty.

I am forever thankful that our 3 kids were exposed to the perceived rough, and definitely poorer parts of a city, so as to be soaked in kindness by those who it cost them to share. With his one-liner, it seems our son had succinctly summed up every warning that Jesus ever gives about what riches will do to you, as well as defining what it was we were all (and still do) deeply missing but couldn’t quite articulate. The echo of our wee Glasgow boy from a housing scheme with his prophetic reminder lives with me daily as a rebuke to be all about Acts 2:44, as we continue to attempt to serve Jesus and others in this rich place.

If you are interested in reading about the great work churches are doing in Scotland’s housing schemes you can find out more at: https://20schemes.com/ 

My guest blogger today is Diane Hall. Diane is a former youth and community worker, wife to Matt who is a part-time pastor at Scarborough Baptist Church, a probably-too-proud Scot, a mum of 3 teenagers, an all-year-round ocean swimmer (as long as the waves aren’t too scary), and is about to enter her final year of a law degree at Edith Cowan University.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

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