Video: Who’s Sucking Dry the Teat of State? #GlobalPOV

“Narrator: And all this time I thought the world was round. The world is not round. It has edges we can fall from and faces staring in entirely different directions. And I thought the world was huge, but it is not. It’s in our hands. We can hold it, change it, turn it, shake it. We can solve it, but not by share, luck, or chance. We must be taught the way.

Ananya Roy: Each year, I teach a large class on global poverty at the University of California Berkeley. As is befitting a great public university the students represent a diversity of social class, advantage, and privilege. Some are first generation students. Some are the sons and daughters of working class of global California, others comes from the fortresses of wealth. Yet others belong to that newly precarious social group, the American middle class. …”

The #GlobalPOV Project combines critical social theory, improv art, and digital media to explore innovative ways of thinking about poverty, inequality, and undertaking poverty action.

Video: Gustavo & Paul on Liberation and Health

“Real service to the poor means understanding global poverty,” said Partners In Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer at a 2011 event with Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez, hosted by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame.

Farmer and Gutierrez, who have been friends and admirers over the last decade, focused their 90-minute discussion on “Re-imagining Accompaniment: Global Health and Liberation Theology.”

Gutierrez is known around the world as the articulator of a liberation theology that links the gospel with social empowerment and the struggles of the poor from unjust economic, political, or social conditions that shackle them. “Fr. Gustavo is one of my heroes and has inspired much of my own work in global health with a preferential option for the poor,” said Farmer.

“Poverty is not fate, it is a condition; it is not a misfortune, it is an injustice,” Gutierrez is known for saying. “It is the result of social structures and mental and cultural categories, it is linked to the way in which society has been built, in its various manifestations.”

“Poverty is not an act of nature … but a historically driven by social and economic factors,” added Farmer. “Real service to the poor … requires listening to those most affected by poverty.”

Abbot Philip: ‘No Monastery Dies From Poverty, but from Riches’

“Brother Christian recently gave me an article on the decline of Buddhism in Thailand as that country grows richer.  This is a favorite theme of mine concerning monasticism in the West.  It is clear from history that practically no monastery dies from poverty but quite a few have died from riches.  This is also a wonderful Christmas theme, because Christ became poor so that we could become rich—on the spiritual level.  Christ, who is God, becomes human and takes on our own nature.  This is true poverty. …

Why would anyone want to become a monk today?  The only reason is to seek God.  Seeking God can be done in various ways.   One does not need to be a monk to seek God.  On the other hand, the monastic life, at least ideally, is established to help the monk focus all of his energy on seeking God.We monks don’t always live that out, but it is what we seek in our ideal world.  It does not cut us off from the world in any bad way but it helps us resists being involved in the world in the ways that do not help the inner life.  We don’t have to be anxious about anything.  This frees our energy up so that we can use it to seek God.  Perhaps at times a monk’s energy goes elsewhere, but when the life is orderly, that very order brings back the focus of life to seeking God.

Christ came into the world to save us.  We are able to dedicate our lives to following Him, no matter what road we take.  We monks want to follow Him in a somewhat radical manner, focusing our daily life and energy on Him. May this also be your gift!  Wherever we are, we can seek the Lord and focus our energies on following Him.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert monastery

Short Documentary: ‘The Line’ from Sojourners

Mitt Romney bravely mentioned the “poor” once and “poverty” twice in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. Last night, Bill Clinton also raised the P-word (“poor” seven times and “poverty” three times) at the Democratic National Convention. Will President Obama address this critical issue tonight in his acceptance speech before the Dems? 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line want to know.

Sojourners believes Christians need to raise up the stories of the poor and powerless. Poverty needs to be back on the public agenda. Sojourners worked with an Emmy-award winning writer and producer to create a new film called The Line that reveals what poverty in America looks like today.

This 30-minute documentary features real people, their economic struggles, and their inspiring and creative responses to the challenges they face. This resource will help break through traditional political divides, foster honest dialogue, and re-focus our society on the common good.

The film will premiere at 8 p.m. EDT October 2, and we’re organizing viewing parties of The Line across the nation. It’ll be a powerful tool for your churches, communities, families, and organizations to use in raising awareness and fostering conversation about poverty’s effects and potential solutions.

I’m sharing the film’s trailer here in hopes that you’ll ask your friends, family, and community to host screenings. Additional details about the film and information on arranging a viewing can be found at www.thelinemovie.com.

This film is really good! I’m proud to be part of this Sojourners project. (And you get to see some footage of my Columbia Heights neighborhood.)

Africa Elects First Female Anglican Bishop

Bishop Ellinah N. Wamukoya of Swaziland

“Africa has elected its first female Anglican bishop. On 18 July 2012 an Elective Assembly meeting in Mbabane elected the Rev. Ellinah Wamukoya as fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland.

Bishop-elect Wamukoya (61) will be the first female Anglican bishop in Africa and the continent’s third female bishop of a mainline church – in 2001 Bishop Purity Malinga was elected the Methodist bishop of South Africa, and in 2008 the Rt. Rev. Joaquina Nhanala was elected the Methodist bishop of Mozambique.

Educated at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, the new bishop has exercised a bi-vocational ministry. She serves as Anglican chaplain at the University of Swaziland and at St Michael’s High School in Manzini. Bishop-elect Wamukoya is also the Town Clerk and CEO of the City Council of the town of Manzini and is a skilled and seasoned financial administrator.

The new bishop enters the stage at a difficult moment in the political and ecclesial life of Swaziland. Her predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Meshack Mabuza has been a sharp critic of King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa. King Mswati has ruled the landlocked mountain kingdom since 1986 and has been denounced by church and civil society leaders for mismanagement of the economy. The king also has earned a public image as a profligate ruler unconcerned with his subjects’ poverty. …”

Read more at Anglican Ink.

Thousands Occupy Wall Street; Bronze Bull Needs Police Protection

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”–Proverbs 22:16

On Sunday, more than a thousand demonstrators occupied Wall Street in New York City to draw attention to Wall Street’s criminal behavior and call for structural economic reforms, reports Zaid Jilani.

“People have a very simple reason to be angry — because Wall Street’s actions made tens of millions of people dramatically poorer through no fault of their own. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conducted studies of the effects of the global recession — caused largely by Wall Street financial instruments that were poorly regulated by government policies — and found that the recession threw 64 million people [worldwide] into extreme poverty.” Watch this short video below for a great quote from 9-year-old Sam Kessler!

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy contracted by 0.6 per cent in 2009 and the implications of this have been severe for many. Economic growth in developing countries was only 1.7 per cent in 2009 compared with 8.1 per cent in 2007. However, if China and India are excluded, the economies of developing countries actually contracted by 1.8 per cent. The World Bank has estimated that an additional 64 million people will be living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 a day by the end of 2010 as a result of the global recession.

The question is, why aren’t even more people in the streets of the financial district in New York City?

Caf-Pow! NCIS’ Goth Grrrrl on Prayer and God

Here’s yet another reason we love NCIS‘ punk-forensic-grrrrl Abby. She’s Methodist.

NCIS is a classic American “police procedural.” The JAG spin-off is now one of America’s most watched dramas. NCIS’ winning formula involves comic elements, ensemble acting, and character-driven plots.

Like the best detective novels or murder mysteries, it assumes a world of high moral standards and in each episode that world is disrupted by crime and the team works to restore the balance of justice.

Integral to the team is goth, tattooed and pierced Forensic Specialist Abigail “Abby” Sciuto, played by Pauley Perrette. Her skillful acting in this delightful, wicked smart, funny, and powerful role has singlehandedly empowered girls to pursue careers in science. It’s even got a name: The Abby Effect.

“Part of ‘The Abby Effect’ has been this incredible role model for young girls,” she says. “I hear from them or their parents and their grandparents all the time. Some of them started watching the show when they were 12 and now they’re going to college. ‘Abby’ has made it a viable opportunity for them. You can go into science and math. That’s amazing. Women were never encouraged to go into hard science or math. Now there have been girls going into science and math because of a television character,” she says.

Perrette has degrees in sociology, psychology and criminal science. She’s also regularly attends Hollywood United Methodist Church. More recently she’s joined the UMC’s Imagine No Malaria campaign.

Check out the short video below to hear Perrette talk about her relationship with God, how she prays, and what her church community means to her. (A shout-out to Julie for sending this video.)

Pauley Perrette is the narrator of a TV special called Killer in the Dark: An Extraordinary Effort to Combat Malaria. The program documents the daily struggle in Africa against malaria and highlights the work of Imagine No Malaria to wipe out the disease. The program is presented by the National Council of Churches under the auspices of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and produced by United Methodist Communications.

Haiti: What Happens When A Fault Line Runs Between the Rich and the Poor?

LES MARCHANDES by Mari Hall
LES MARCHANDES by Mari Hall

Earlier I excerpted a section of Simon Barrow’s nice commentary over at Ekklesia in the U.K., titled Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

I also wanted to run this section on “class quakes” as it relates to the horror we are seeing unfold in Haiti. “The most vulnerable,” writes Barrow, “are always in danger of being asked to bear the heaviest burden proportionately – in the same way that those at the bottom of a ladder engulfed in water will always have the most to lose from ‘everyone needing to step down a rung’.”

Very nice analogy. Here’s another excerpt from Simon’ piece:

…The values of the dominant political party system remain deeply warped by non-recognition of the real distortions that massive gaps between the rich and the poor, those with much power and those with little power, make in the real, workaday world. There is an air of profound unreality about our prevailing ‘realisms’, as there was about the ones that got us into a massive economic and environmental hole in the first place.

The one thing that can be guaranteed is that the most vulnerable are always in danger of being asked to bear the heaviest burden proportionately – in the same way that those at the bottom of a ladder engulfed in water will always have the most to lose from ‘everyone needing to step down a rung’. The impact of an appeal for ‘the same sacrifice from everyone’ is not equivalent, fair or just when the starting points and levels of exposure are so at variance.

This is most starkly evident in the horrific scenes we are witnessing from the Haitian earthquake zone right now. For the unspeakable catastrophe unfolding in one of the poorest places on the planet is not, pace the headlines, “a natural disaster” alone, and certainly not “an act of God.” On the contrary, while many would die in a 7.3 scale ’quake anywhere in the world, it is in a city built for and by the poor that the most people are destined to suffer beyond all measure. So, long after the initial horror, people are languishing and dying needlessly in Port au Prince simply because there is no infrastructure (social or otherwise) to speak of, there are virtually no foundations (literally), there is no insurance, there are no ambulances, no emergency supplies and no reserve resources to fall back on. Just misery and dependence on outside charitable assistance, in the short term at least. It is scandalous as well as humanly (and spiritually) harrowing to behold.

Back in the 1970s, I recall, the radical charity War on Want got into hot water for describing the seismic impacts in the Ancash region (Peru), in North Pakistan and in other poor regions as “class quakes” compared to those in developed countries, because economic vulnerability made such a huge difference to the size and extent of the resultant human suffering and death. They were quite right, however.

This is why, in so many areas of life, the rich-poor divide matters deeply, unfashionable though it is to say this in a world where many politicians consider themselves ‘post ideological’ — and by that mean that they see such ‘divisive’ talk as ‘rabble rousing’. Which brings us, by a circumlocutory route, to the Bible.

The biblical texts of Christians and Jews have more to say about the iniquity of wealth and the oppression of poverty than they do on any other ethical issue. When liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez first spoke of God’s corrective ‘bias to the poor’ and the corresponding ‘option for the poor’ required of the church, it was not Marx they were referencing but the deep wells of scripture.

Yet today, when it comes to the Bible, many Christians choose to argue about a handful of texts allegedly concerning sexuality (a concept that was actually unknown in the ancient world from which they derive), rather than focusing on a multitude of verses describing and condemning the lesions of those who suffer injustice and deprivation – sometimes on a scale, as in Haiti, which modern secular vernacular still ironically refers to as being “of biblical proportions.”

The American evangelical social activist, Jim Wallis, sometimes still tells the tale of how, upon realising the scale of biblical concern for the gap between rich and poor, he decided, as a student, to try removing with scissors every single scriptural phrase about wealth and poverty. What he ended up with was a ‘hole-y Bible’, one shredded of both content and meaning.

Faced with deprivation, marginalisation, inequality, injustice and the shrinking of life circumstances wherever they may occur (‘poverty’ is a word that points to a host of these symptoms of exclusion, all with a root in economic life), Christians today should recognise a clarion call to action, to the building of alternatives, to the holding of power to account, and to the development of different viewpoints and practices from ‘the norm’.

For as Leo Tolstoy once put it (and here again, I paraphrase): “food purely for my own contentment is a material concern; but food for my hungry neighbour – that’s a spiritual issue.” The same aphorism may be applied in many different situations, wherever deprivation and disadvantage reigns: in absolute poverty, and in the relative kind too. In Africa and Asia, and in an American ghetto or a European sink estate as well. Dividing the poor from one another is wrong. What we need to do instead is to share the wealth around.

Read the whole commentary here.

Gustavo Gutierrez: Who Are the Rich?

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez

Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia in the U.K. has a nice commentary Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

Simon’s got a great anecdote about Gustavo Gutierrez, the “father of Liberation Theology” (or “really just the uncle,” as Gutierrez told me once).

In my experience, where you talk about wealth and poverty makes a huge difference in the conversation. A conversation that happens in a corporate board room at the World Bank will come to a radically different conclusion than the one had in a tin-roofed home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some years ago the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, was addressing a large international Christian audience on the subject of biblically-informed responses to poverty. Someone got up from the audience and asked pointedly, ‘But really, professor, who are the poor these days?’

This was a question he was often confronted with, Gutierrez noted. But it was invariably asked by a particular kind of person. Namely, someone who was not in any sense in danger of falling into poverty themselves!

Sit a group of wealthy people down and ask them to identify the poor, suggested the Peruvian “father of liberation theology” (who has spent a good deal of his own time and ministry working among the most vulnerable, oppressed and on-the-edge), and “they will argue about it until the cows come home, or until the kingdom of God comes, whichever is first.”

They will split opinions over ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. They will earnestly ask whether someone living in a shack who has a small TV can really be classed as poor. They will debate measurements, guidelines, axes and thresholds for arriving at an adequate definition of ‘the poor’… before deciding, in all probability, that it is too complicated, that no-one really knows the solution, and perhaps that “poverty isn’t the only or even the most important issue” when confronting human need today.

Then they will most likely retire back to their own comfortable lives and put some money into a charity box dedicated to “those less fortunate” than themselves (ourselves).

By contrast, remarked Gutierrez, if you were to get together a group of people who know themselves to be poor – who struggle for daily survival, who are left out, who are made dependent because of their lack of resources – it will usually take them only a matter of seconds to answer the parallel question, “Who are the rich?” They will take one look at you, in comparison to themselves, and point their fingers of recognition.

Read the whole commentary here.

‘A Hungry Man Is An Angry Man’: Christians and Muslims Together in Overcoming Poverty

Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.
Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.

The Vatican’s inter-religious dialogue council sent a “Happy Id al-Fitr” message to Muslims around the world as they come to the end of Ramadan on Sept 19-20 by inviting them into common cause on ending poverty.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims reflect more deeply on the real meaning of life by being close to God and their neighbors. As part of this, they heighten their awareness of the needs of others, especially the poor, though fasting and practices of charity.

Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty looks at poverty that is the result of human sin and the loss of human dignity but also at poverty that is chosen and embraced as an example of one’s humility before God.

Indonesian priest Markus Solo serves in the middle of enormous tensions and violence between Muslims and Christians and between people of genuine faith and extremists. Around the world, Solo says, poverty “is getting worse after the recent economic and financial crisis. Everybody knows that poverty is a real and bitter challenge for people living in the developing countries, which also happen to be religious ones.”

The Vatican message noted a link between poverty and extremism or violence, a theme Father Solo echoed. He quoted the English proverb: “A hungry man is an angry man.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Vatican’s invitation:

On the occasion of your feast which concludes the month of Ramadan, I would like to extend my best wishes for peace and joy to you and, through this Message, propose this theme for our reflection: Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty. …

In his talk on the occasion of the World Day for Peace, 1st January 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI distinguished two types of poverty: a poverty to be combated and a poverty to be embraced.

The poverty to be combated is before the eyes of everyone: hunger, lack of clean water, limited medical care and inadequate shelter, insufficient educational and cultural systems, illiteracy, not to mention also the existence of new forms of poverty “…in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty…” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009, n. 2).

The poverty to be embraced is that of a style of life which is simple and essential, avoiding waste and respecting the environment and the goodness of creation. This poverty can also be, at least at certain times during the year, that of frugality and fasting. It is the poverty which we choose which predisposes us to go beyond ourselves, expanding the heart.

As believers, the desire to work together for a just and durable solution to the scourge of poverty certainly also implies reflecting on the grave problems of our time and, when possible, sharing a common commitment to eradicate them. In this regard, the reference to the aspects of poverty linked to the phenomena of globalization of our societies has a spiritual and moral meaning, because all share the vocation to build one human family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – conduct themselves according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility. …

The poor question us, they challenge us, but above all they invite us to cooperate in a noble cause: overcoming poverty!

Read the whole message here. (As an aside, this message also references JPII’s 2001 address on establishing a “common ethical code,” particularly in the financial industry. It’s worth a read.)