Tag Archive: poverty


This will be the last share of the chapter from Ron Sider’s super-challenging book, ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ [do yourselves a favour and get hold of a copy and let it ruin you in the best of ways!]

We ended the last post with:

The threat of a curse always accompanied the promise of blessing Continue reading

Advertisements

Continuing with a read through of this chapter from Ron Sider’s ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ starting where we left off:

Possessions are highly dangerous. They lead to a multitude of sins, including idolatry. Western Christians today desperately need to turn away from their covetous civilisation’s grasping materialism.

rich

= = = = =

THE RING AND THE BELOVED

Possessions are dangerous. But they are not innately evil. Biblical revelation begins with creation. And created things, God said, are very very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

wall 1

So much good stuff happening all over the internet the last two weeks in terms of helping us understand some of the challenges we are facing.

i stumbled upon this in the Warehouse’s most recent newsletter and wanted to share it with you as some really practical steps for moving forwards together. These steps apparently emerged from a conversation between Linda Martindale, Caroline Powell and my wife, tbV [the beautiful Val]. We have heard a lot about Reconciliation [making relationships right] but not nearly enough about Restitution [making situations/contexts right] so this feels really helpful. Continue reading

sam

A wise teacher once told the story of a man who was on a journey, who was mugged and beaten up, robbed of all his possessions and left on the side of the street to die. Continue reading

justice

i really enjoyed reading this book by John Perkins recently. Despite being about his experiences in Americaland i found that so much of it resonated with the present conversations happening in South Africa. The passage i posted on Why Do You Live Where You Live? gave much food for thought and there are some other pieces i would love to share, but as always, you will do much better if you just make some effort and get hold of the book. But in the meantime:

ECONOMIC SYSTEMS

[From chapter 17: Can Free Enterprise Work for us?]

‘What kind of economic system is the most Christian? To many the answer seems self-evident – free enterprise.

I would like to agree. I enjoy the opportunity free enterprise offers me. But I cannot agree fully. Along with its advantages, free enterprise is handicapped by a serious flaw – man’s greed. Both biblical history and American history remind us repeatedly that greedy men will use economic freedom to exploit – to profit at the expense of others. Employers pay employees as little as possible in order to maximise their own profits rather than treating their employee’s economic interests as being as important as their own – or, to be thoroughly Christian – more important than their own.

Advertisers create markets for products which no one needs, not from a motive of servanthood, but out of greed, pure and simple. Businesses measure their success primarily but their financial profits – not by how well they glorify God and serve people. What a far cry we are from a truly Christian economy!

A truly Christian economic system would begin with the fact that the earth is the Lord’s, not ours, and that God and God alone has the authority to determine how His wealth will be used. Our job as stewards is to carry out His will. A Christian economic system would recognise that God provides the earth’s resources for all mankind, not just for some. It would be designed to distribute God’s resources to all humanity in some sort of equitable way.

Free enterprise, as it now exists, falls far short of God’s standard. It has failed to distribute the earth’s resources equitably. And when Christianity should have been calling the American free enterprise system into account for its immoral stewardship, it was instead “baptising” the system, adopting free enterprise as an implicit “article of faith.” Free enterprise has become almost a religious doctrine that justifies our greed and substitutes token charity for real economic justice. It enables us to blame the victims of oppression for their own poverty and lets us feel little responsibility to redistribute our wealth to the needy. The result of such a system is predictable – increasing production by the rich, but continuing poverty for the oppressed.

Communism, then, came along as an attempt to distribute the earth’s resources more equitably. Communism sprang into being because apostate religion could not challenge man’s greed. But atheistic communism has not brought justice either.

Neither capitalism nor communism can bring justice to the poor. Once we have seen what God’s Word means by economic justice, that is self-evident. While some economic systems are better than others, no system will serve the people well as long as those who control it are motivated by greed. We as Christians must champion an alternative. We must create a system that is based not on greed, not even on greed tempered by honesty (the ideal of free enterprise), but on justice and love. We must create a system that distributes wealth more equitably in response to human needs. This Christian economic system will by its very existence be a prophetic voice to the world system.

Selfish, unregenerated man will never develop this type of system. We, the people of god, must do it or it will never be done at all.

How do we begin to shape a just economy?

First, we must understand where our economy stands now. When man has abused his economic freedom, using it to produce an unjust distribution of resources, corrective action is called for. The economic plight of American blacks today has its roots in slavery and is the very center of oppression which followed emancipation. It is like a baseball game. In the ninth inning the team which is trailing 20 to 2 discovers that the winning team has been cheating all along. The leading team admits, “Yes, we were cheating, but we’ll play fair now. Let’s go out and finish the game.”

Now it’s good that the team is going to quit cheating, but with the score 20 to 2 the trailing team still has the feeling they’re going to lose. When injustice has been done, establishing justice means something more than “playing fair from now on.” 

In America [read ‘South Africa’ – brett] today, one group has the capital, the other has the labour and the broken spirit. We say to the trailing team, “Get onto the field and play. You are now equal. You don’t need affirmative action. You don’t need special access to job training. You don’t need any kind of special help; that would be reverse discrimination. You are now equal and free.”

Achieving justice in America [read ‘South Africa’ – brett] will require something more than “playing fair from now on.” Economic opportunity in capitalism depends on ownership of capital. The free enterprise system assumes that anyone can have access to capital through his labour and that banks and lending institutions will make investment capital available to anyone who has the will and the know-how to produce goods and services for the marketplace. There is only one problem with that assumption – it’s not true.

The oppressed among us know too well that the oppressive forces which created their poverty in the first place keep them trapped in it. The young black electrician, having never had an opportunity to establish a credit rating, finds it almost impossible to raise the capital to buy the tools and equipment to go into business for himself. The general rule is , “To get capital , you must have capital,” and so the system perpetuates and widens the gap between rich and poor.

Despite its serious failures I don’t want to throw out the free enterprise system. The freedom which many use to satisfy their greed can also be used to develop economic enterprises not based on greed. The free enterprise system gives us the freedom to create businesses designed to serve, rather than to exploit. If we Christians will devote our capital and ourselves to creating such a system, we can make just such a system work. And it can all be done within the context of free enterprise.

[To read the piece John wrote on Relocation, click here] 

i have just started reading a book called ‘With Justice for All’ by John Perkins, who was very much involved in the American Civil Rights movement and who i got to listen to at a CCDA conference when we were in Americaland.

justice

This first passage, although speaking about his country, resonated with much of what we see, feel and experience in South Africa. His definition of poverty is one i wish all of those who still struggle with the idea of ‘white privilege’ could hear and really reflect upon:

‘”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” With these words the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America holds out the noble promise of justice for all. Yet the very signing of this landmark of human freedom betrayed its own promise. For among its signers stood men who at that very moment owned other men. Justice for all didn’t really mean justice for all; it meant justice for some. The “inalienable” right of liberty belonged only to the privileged.

To this day our nation has not lived up to its goal of justice for all. Would anyone claim that a child trapped in the ghetto [for South Africa, read township – brett] has equal access to quality education as his suburban counterpart? Would anyone claim that the teenage girl in the ghetto has the same chance of getting a summer job as the girl from an affluent family? Or that the ethnic young adult, deprived of good education and job experience, has an equal chance of making it in the American job market?

Poverty, you see, is much more than lack of money: poverty is the lack of options. For millions in our land there is not justice. For them, “equal opportunity” is at best an elusive dream: at worst a cruel taunt. ‘

tbV still works for Common Change, which is an online platform that helps groups of friends to pool money together and then meet needs of people who they know and care about. i was working with them when i was in Americaland as well and one of the stories our boss, Darin, shared with us that was part of the founding of what became Common Change was the following:

When Darin was in Cuba, one day he was sitting with a friend on the sidewalk and they were trying to figure out a definition of poverty. His friend turned to him and said, “Imagine if your bank account was completely cleaned out, you lost your job and your house all in the same day. How long before you get your first meal? How long before you have a place to sleep? And how long before you have a new job?

Darin thought for a minute and then responded, “I would not miss a meal. I would have a place to sleep by tonight. And depending on the economy and the possibilities I would more than likely have a new job in a couple of weeks.” His friend looked at him and asked, “How did this happen?” Darin responded, “I called someone.”

They decided on one possible definition [which I think falls nicely alongside John Perkins’ one] of Poverty as being: When you have no-one to call. The idea of economic and social isolation. 

Both of those probably help us have a better grasp of the limitation of poverty. But what about the responsibility for those of us who are not there? This second passage from John’s book helps me with that, especially as a follower of Jesus. In this passage, John is speaking about a community he moved to that had some strong racial issues:

Medenhall was overrun with the very kinds of needs the church was so strategically positioned to meet. The people had become resigned to their plight: the church could inspire hope. The promising young people were leaving the community while only the unmotivated were staying: the church was in a position to train young leaders. The public schools were struggling to provide an adequate education: the church could create a tutoring program or a pre-school. About the only recreational facilities for youth in Medenhall were the honky-tonks: the church could plan wholesome youth activities.

That was just the beginning. Our people desperately needed better nutrition, housing, child care, employment, and more. Creative, visionary leadership from the church could mobilise the people to tackle each of these problems head on.

To bring true freedom though, church leaders would not only have to be strong and creative, they would also have to be true to the gospel. They would have to stand not for some form of reactionary separatism but for reconciliation with our white brothers and sisters. Howard Snyder is right on target when he asserts:

‘Reconciliation with God must be demonstrated by genuine reconciliation within the Christian community and by a continuing ministry of reconciliation in the world. This means that in each local Christian assembly reconciliation must be more than a theory and more than an invisible spiritual transaction. Reconciliation must be real and visible. Racial and economic exploitation and all forms of elitism… must be challenged biblically. Unholy divisions in the body of Christ must be seen as sin and worldliness (1 Cor. 3.3-4)’

A local church fellowship living out a gospel which burns through racial barriers could bring freedom to blacks and whites alike. With the Spirit’s power and the wholehearted cooperation of the people, our faith could make Mendenhall a different place.’

Nelson Mandela poverty quote

Perhaps the biggest problem with poverty is that it doesn’t affect me. And so it’s not my problem. It’s easy enough for me to look the other way. To pretend i don’t see the man at the traffic light. To choose not to drive past the shacks. To hide behind my walls and my security and indulge in whatever aspect of the-wealth-i-refuse-to-name-as-wealth is my particular comfort and luxury. If i can do it with other people, all the better because surely if it’s not a pressing issue for them it’s not an issue for me.

Unless overcoming poverty is not a task of charity [a bonus act] but a an act of justice [a necessary task]. Unless it is not natural and was actually perpetrated on certain people and not on others. Unless it can be eradicated by the actions of human beings. Perhaps in that case i am part of the generation that is being called to be great.

And so are you.

the alchemist

i watch

through my window

and the rain

as you

dig through

my trash

to somehow

discover

your treasure

[For more of my shorter poems, click here]

%d bloggers like this: