Thought for the Day - Catherine Pepinster - 24/08/2012

If a butterfly flutters its wings, so chaos theory goes, it can cause the path of a tornado to change, and so the reverberations can be felt across the world. In retrospect, it looks as if what was happening to the cost of food in the Middle East a few years ago had just that impact. The frustrations of Tunisian fruitsellers and the seething
anger of Egyptians over the price of basic foodstuffs were ignored by the rest of the world then but analysts have since traced them as the roots of the Arab Spring upheavals.

Food shortages and high prices have had consequences throughout the ages as the history of revolutions reminds us. No wonder that politicians and the United Nations are becoming increasingly concerned about rising prices leading to a global food crisis. Drought, the diversion of corn crops into the production of biofuels, the growing
taste of the Chinese for meat, the corruption and chaotic distribution of food in some developing nations: all these are shaping a complex global food economy. Add in certain speculators and food conglomerates aiming for higher profits, and many aid charities warn that this is a
recipe for disaster for the poorest in the developing world.

But what’s it got to do with the ordinary individual? Isn’t something as complex as a food crisis just for the politicians and the UN to sort out? Morality is surely personal, as is a relationship with God, and one’s religious beliefs stretch as far as dealing with those
immediately around us. Once in a while the face of a starving child on the news might persuade us to make a donation to a charity but the individual’s involvement goes no further. The usual reading of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, is that it is a call to respond to an individual in need, albeit that Christianity is a call to help the stranger as well as family and friends. But growing Christian thinking is that if we hunger and thirst for what is right then we cannot turn away when something has gone deeply wrong with how
the world functions, causing the most vulnerable to suffer. Putting a few coins in a collecting tin is not enough; instead the Christian has to combat what is called structural or social sin – the injustices of the world caused by its systems and institutions which lead people to
live without dignity and the resources that they need. But structures of course don’t have wills, and we do, and the challenge today is to ask do we have the will to speak up, get involved and change what is unjust. Or will we pass by on the other side of the road?

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