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If the bough breaks

Poverty in light of Advent

By Carolyn Pogue

Back and forth, in a tall cedar tree, a cradle swings through my mind. When the cradle swings left, I see Advent angels singing a lullaby. When it swings right, I see silent political leaders — eyes averted.

Back and forth, the sweet babe swings between one reality and another. Dear baby, did you win the parent lottery? If not, did you win a provincial or national lottery for your welfare? Are you one of the 10 homeless Calgary children who slept in our church gym last week?

In October, I attended the annual regional meeting of United Church Women with children on my mind. We spent an hour with Danielle Smith, Leader of the Official Opposition, the Wild Rose Party of Alberta. It was good of her to take time to be with fifteen of us. As requested, she did speak about poverty. She focused on the crucial role volunteers play. She spoke about the flood in her her riding (including High River) and how volunteers are critical to the work of rebuilding. “We must support volunteers,” she emphasized. (I wondered if she realized that her audience was 100 percent church volunteers.)

We want a provincial poverty reduction strategy, province-wide breakfast and lunch programs for any hungry child and a higher minimum wage. Common sense, we think.

Foster by Bill Phipps
Foster by Bill Phipps

Smith then listened to our questions. Why can’t we raise taxes to help tackle poverty? Why can’t we (like other jurisdictions in Canada and the world) ensure that hungry school children are fed? Where are the 91,000 impoverished Alberta children on your list of priorities?

Her answers were less than satisfying; she seems to believe that volunteers, not government leadership or policy, will solve the problem of poverty. We’d heard the same kind of responses from the governing Conservatives when we visited the Legislature in 2012.  These answers are fairly useless to a hungry child. In the end, though, Smith did say something quite useful, suggesting that we’d be better off finding a Liberal or NDP person for whom to vote. We thanked her for coming and for being frank. Later, some of us laughed, but that was to stop the tears, I think.

Back and forth swings the cradle. As I watch, I send prayers that little ones will be able to navigate the world of childhood, which is so fraught with weird, strange things, such as poverty and overabundance.

My prayers are for mothers and fathers, who, like Mary and Joseph, say "yes" to hope and possibility. My prayers are for our public leaders, who have only to look up to see the babes and the sacred light surrounding each cradle.

If the bough breaks, may the rest of us be there to surround that babe with everything we have. If the bough breaks, may we remember that the angels still come singing, yelling, shouting and whispering, “Be not afraid.”

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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