Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day - POVERTY

Today, it turns out, is Blog Action Day 2008, a day when bloggers all over the world are using their online presence to work toward positive change. This year, we're talking about POVERTY.

The individuals above are all living in poverty. Two of them are from Sierra Leone, and one is from Liberia. They are able to attend school because of the generosity of people like you and me who donate funds and supplies with the hopes that they'll grow up and become part of the solution. (You can read all about my experiences in Sierra Leone and Liberia over on this blog.)

I know there are lots of people in the US who live in poverty, too, but I haven't taken 3 weeks to visit them and take their pictures and advocate on their behalf the way I did with the Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. Part of that is because I feel called to focus on West Africa as a mission field; part of it is because being poor in America is vastly different from being poor in SL or Liberia; part of it is probably because of my own discomfort with poverty in the United States.

It just seems like such a big issue to overcome -- what can one person do?

This summer, at the church where I work, the pastors conducted a six-week sermon series entitled "Making Poverty History." Large outdoor signs with the series title were displayed outside the church, colorful printed materials were developed, and we were invited to document our abundance journey as we learned to identify, nurture, and invest in the gifts of those around us. True, that person may be homeless, but she may also be a musician or a cook or a gardener or a childcare provider. It's our job, we were challenged, to take the time to have conversations with people, so that we might get to know them as individuals, not as faceless consumers to our food pantry or as account numbers on a gas bill that needs paying.

Some members of the congregation longed for "upstream" solutions -- systemic changes that would yield great impact downstream. Others invested in the here-and-now.

I guess the only solution that really makes sense to me is to think about it. To really sit and pray and dream and guess and think about it. The issue of poverty is one that my parents took great care to make sure I didn't have to think about, growing up. I never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or school clothes, or books. Indeed, I had more than I needed -- even more than I could want.

But now it's become abundantly (heh) clear that it's time for us all to think about poverty, and to do something about it. If you've managed to stay with me thus far, great! I'd suggest that you reflect on your own experience with "poor" people, whether it's people around the world or people around the block. If you're reading this, chances are you're not poor in a worldwide, one-of-the-billion-people-who-live-on-less-than-a-US-dollar-a-day level. But maybe you feel poverty of a different nature: poverty of affection, poverty of attention, poverty of fulfillment, poverty of achievement, poverty of opportunity, poverty of love, poverty of spirit, of health, of joy, of connection, of whatever.

What are you hungry for, and why?

I think the problem of financial poverty is probably pretty easy for us to solve. It's just a matter of being smart (and wise) with the resources we have and making sacrifices of our own to provide opportunities for others. It's the other kinds of poverty that are the hard part.

I could pretty easily skip a meal each week and donate that money to a food pantry. (I said I could, not that I will. Let's not get rash here!*) But do I have enough patience to really listen to the person who's experiencing poverty of attention? Do I have enough love to hug the stranger experiencing poverty of affection? Do I have enough courage to fight for the person experiencing poverty of justice? Do I have the guts to lick the leper?

If I believe in a God of abundance (and I do), then I must believe that God will bless me with the patience and the love and the courage to listen and to hug and to fight. (OK, maybe not to lick.)

All I'm saying is that the only way this is all going to get taken care of is if we take care of it. We're in a situation (a bunch of situations, really) where the only way out of it is to be real and to face facts and to start, as Broadway people like to say, living as if the Gospel were true, not just a nice thing to work toward or to wait for. Living as if the blind can see and the sick and brokenhearted are healed and whatever.

The way to end poverty is to end poverty -- in all its forms, financial and otherwise.

* Just kidding about joking about that skip-a-meal thing -- that actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I think I'll start working through lunch on Fridays and skip a mid-day meal, donating that five bucks to a food pantry or homeless mission or soup kitchen or whatever. Or maybe I'll make Thursday my take-someone-to-lunch day -- a friend I haven't talked to in a while or a stranger on the street, even.

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