Somewhere in Minneapolis or Jackson or Baltimore, somewhere in America today, there is a young couple that is feeling vulnerable. Maybe one has been laid off due to outsourcing, and maybe, the other is working for something close to a minimum wage. They probably have no medical benefits. Today real income is lower for the typical family than in 2000, while the incomes of the wealthiest families have grown significantly. Things are tough for working people, but in America, we often turn to our faith in tough times.
When our couple shows up for worship service, probably on a Sunday, there is no doubt that the preacher will tell them of God’s unyielding love. “God loves you.” But the next thing the preacher tells them is crucial – not only to the young couple, but to us all. The next message from the preacher may help to shape, not only the next election results, but the political landscape of the nation.
Will the preacher tell our young couple, “God loves you – but only you and people like you?” Or will the preacher say “God loves you and you must love your neighbors of all colors, cultures, or faiths as yourselves”? One message will lead to be a stinginess of spirit, an exclusion of the “undeserving”, and the other will lead to a generosity of spirit and inclusion of all.
In America today, we are encouraged to believe in the myth of scarcity – that there just isn’t enough – of anything. But in the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, who the Muslims call Isa, found himself preaching to 5000 (not including the women by the way) at dinner time, and there didn’t appear to be enough food. The disciples said that there were only five barley loaves and two fish. We just have to send them away hungry. We simply don’t have enough. But Jesus took the loaves and the fish and started sharing food. There was enough for everyone. There was more than enough. What was perceived as scarcity was illusory as long as there was sharing, and not hoarding.
The idea here is not that there is a boundless supply of everything. Such an idea leads to waste and dispensability of everything. But the idea is that there is enough.
If scarcity is a myth, then poverty is not necessary. America need not have 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. It is a choice. Hunger is a choice. Exclusion of the stranger, the immigrant, or the darker other is a choice.
We can choose generosity. In America today, we spend more on health care than any other industrialized nation, yet 46 Million people have none. Canada spends half of what we spend and covers everyone. Perfectly? Of course not. But adequately. That’s more than what a lot of people have right now.
We live in a society which says that there is enough for a tax break for the wealthy but not enough for an increase in the minimum wage or for national health care. There is enough for subsidies to oil and coal companies but not for families who are struggling to afford child care or a college education. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We need a politics of generosity based on the reality of abundance as opposed to a politics of not-enough. The richest 1 percent of the nation, on average, owns 190 times as much as a typical household. The child poverty rate in the United States is the highest of 16 other industrialized nations. Employers are shifting health insurance costs onto workers. Not only are fewer employees receiving health insurance through their employers, but those who still do are paying more for it.
Recently, I have become the focus of some criticism for my use of the Qu’ran for my ceremonial swearing in. Let me be clear, I am going to be sworn into office like all members of Congress. I am going to swear to uphold the United States Constitution. We seem to have lost the political vision of our founding document — a vision of inclusion, tolerance and generosity.
I do not blame my critics for subscribing to a politics of scarcity and intolerance. However, I believe we all must project a new politics of generosity and inclusion This is the vision of the diverse coalition in my Congressional district. My constituents in Minnesota elected me to fight for a new politics in which a loving nation guarantees health care for all of its people; a new politics in which executive pay may not skyrocket while workers do not have enough to care for their families. I was elected to articulate a new politics in which no one is cut out of the American dream, not immigrants, not gays, not poor people, not even a Muslim committed to serve his nation.
The author was elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota’s 5th District in November. He is the first Muslim elected to serve in the U.S. Congress.