Thursday, November 20, 2008

BLOG ACTION DAY – POVERTY - October 15, 2008

This is a day where all blog writers around the world write on the same topic in an effort to incite
and encourage a conversation about the particular topic chosen that year. This year it is poverty.
My friend, Nathanael, sitting next to me is saying write now "I have a dream. I have a dream
that one day all blog writers around the world. . ." He's making fun of me and what I'm writing.
Back to the subject.
There is so much you can say about poverty. But what's on my mind right now is this concept of liberation theology.
The older I get the more I hear about liberation theology in different places around the world. It always
amazes me how it has caught on as I always thought of it originating in the Latin American struggle
for independence and meaning under European oppression. To be honest, the original liberation theologists
were the Jewish people during their 400 years of servitude under Egyptian rule.
One of the concepts of liberation theology is God's "preferential option for the poor." Albert Nolan,
a South African theologian and writer, finds the phrase funny because he says it's not really
a preference. It just means God sides with the poor, the down-and-out, the homeless,
the sick (any of this sound like anyone you know?),
the imprisoned, the ex-con, the prostitute, the pimp (anything familiar yet), the marginalized, the forgotten,
the untouchables, los desaparecidos, the invisible (have you seen people like this?), the lower class,
the despicable, the disease-stricken, the ostracized, the quarantined (anything yet), the foreigner, the
stranger, the widow, the orphan, the homosexual, the least of these. This is plain to see.
But what do we do with poverty around us especially in this great competition between capitalism
and communism? You see it's hard to have an actual even-sided debate on capitalism and socialism
and communism in the U.S. because there is a strong revulsion against communism in the United
States. But the amazing thing is that they both fought and fight for the same thing--freedom! Both
have the same end--to free people. Listen to me carefully here. The greatest failure, downfall, and mistake
of communism is not in its ideal and hope; its greatest mistake was that it forced people to share.
Did you catch that? Let me repeat: the failure of communism is that it forced people to share.
And people don't want to share.
This is especially true in rich countries. If you stand up and talk about some type of wealth
distribution or way to help the poor with money, in the US people label you as a communist
or a socialist. This greatly bothers me because such name-callers are trying to label people
with a term that sounds bad; it has a negative connotation. But what is the heart of the
person being called a communist: she wants to help the poor. Why is she being called
a communist or a socialist? People don't want to share. Communism forced this.
But we live in a time where the highest value in the Western societies is individualism.
I did it my way. I did it on my own. I did it myself with good, hard work. And good hard
work is wonderful, but we have lost the communal aspect and the communal identity (key
word) of age-old societies and of a simpler life. We're in a time of hyper-capitalism if you will.
Why should I share what I worked hard for on my own? I earned it. Besides that poor person
is a drunk.
Did you know that a preferential option for the poor actually means God sides with the poor
and the marginalized, the widow and the orphan, the ostracized and the unloved automatically?
Watch this. A preferential option for the poor means the side of the poor is just (always right)
no matter the morals, education, or state of a particular poor person. A preferential option
for the poor also means the side of the rich is unjust (always the wrong side) no matter how unaware
or sincere rich people are.
That's a lot to take in. We often discriminate between people and decide not to help poor people
because of their state, their lack of education, their motivation, their alcohol or drug content, etc.
Preferential option for the poor is not dependent on that. Moreover, how many rich people (or
just well off people) do we know that are not AWARE that the policies and actions benefit
themselves but not the "least of these," the marginalized. Even if the rich people are sincere,
it doesn't mean favoring them over the poor is just. Even if the rich people don't even know they
are rich (like some of us). For me, one of the unknown shortcomings about Clinton's presidency
was the favoring of the middle class but no plan or greater emphasis for the lower class. That's
why it's hard for a Jon Edwards to get elected though he focused on the lower classes: the poor
do not have a voice. They have the lowest percentage of registration and voter turn-out.
They need a voice and an advocate.
So communism forces people to share. Capitalism ignores them all together. In neither
case do people want to share, whether forced (communism) or not (capitalism).
One of the things I have been re-excited about is Jesus. I have been studying him but not
the usual, banal, overdone, hackneyed studies. I'm really delving into the Politics of Jesus,
the Economics of Jesus, the Spirituality of Jesus, the Holistic Healing of Jesus, etc. In Christianity
if you begin to question that God is for all the people listed above, the people on the fringes of
society without a voice, without hope, and without help, one is supposed to look at Jesus because
he is considered God incarnate. We believe he was and is God. So when we see his heart we see God's heart.
I didn't realize how truly amazing he was. Am I allowed to say that? I mean people tell you,
but you don't get the full import or impact until you travel back in time and enter his context.
He truly brought a revolution, an "upside-down" revolution as many people term it. And do you
know what? I think it was genuine. Take a look at what a 1st century doctor
recorded about his followers after his death.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
So that's what I've come to realize is so amazing. He did was capitalism ignored and communism forced--people shared, and they shared of
their own free will.
So when discussing the troubles of Uganda with my students in 2007, I asked if all this war, hate, rape, etc. attributable to governments, institutions, conditions (meaning you can change and end it all by putting in place systems and good governance) or will it always be here because it's not a problem of countries and governments it's a problem of the human condition (meaning it's an individual problem with being human). Some said it was not an individual problem; these were just bad countries and institutions that needed better laws and better institutions. Others said it's a problem with humans.
May I say what it is though you may disagree? It's a problem of the human condition. All of us who work in development and aid and relief know that we can never wipe out war and gang rape and crime and abuse and child soldiers with laws and good judges and our work alone. Even if we change the hearts of a few people, new people will rise up and take their place. New people come into office. People replace people. It's an individual human problem. And the only way to solve it is a revolution
on an individual basis. That's what Jesus did. He didn't use government. He just loved people, and it spread. You have to change individual people. And as long as you don't reach all the people in the world, new people unreached will come into their place and we will still have the same problems.

This is an upside-down revolution, one person at a time, but if it catches, it's like no other. Shane Claiborne said it best--Jess's revolution makes capitalism obsolete and communism unnecessary.
But it's not enough to talk about the need to work for those on the fringes. What do we do now?

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