Archive - September, 2011

The World Cries for Economic Justice

While paying for groceries in Pine Mountain, Ga., recently, I heard another customer say, “It’s hard times right now. Hard times.”

I turned to see a young man, perhaps in his early 30s, dressed in soiled blue jeans and a cotton shirt, telltale signs his work is physical and dirty. It was the end of his workday.

A Cape Town Folk Art Artist

Now, jump from Georgia to a downtown craft market in Cape Town, South Africa. I am talking with a young artist-vendor who says, “It is difficult right now. If I sell one or two paintings per day it is a good day.” His small folk art paintings sell for US$30. He emigrated from Zambia hoping for a better life here. If he sells at this pace for a year, his income will be equivalent to US$10,000, in a city with living costs equivalent to those of a typical U.S. city.

Now let’s move to Harare, Zimbabwe, where Kubatana, a nonprofit organization, is attempting to offer interactive telephone services to low-income Africans. Brenda Burrelle explains Freedom Fone is for people who can’t afford broadband and those who can’t read.

UNICEF and Freedom Fone are creating a two-minute audio drama series to educate women workers about how to deal with unwanted sexual advances by supervisors. However, each cell phone segment will cost 43 U.S. cents airtime. For a Zimbabwean worker earning US$30 per month, it’s too costly. (In township lingo in Cape Town, the cell phone is known as “bleed me dry.”)

Three anecdotes do not prove a trend, but when considered alongside several recently released studies of global economic conditions, they illustrate the growing gap between the rich and poor, the need for meaningful work, and the need for economic and labor policies that favor job creation. This need is global, and it’s spiritual.

The Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor

The rich are getting richer, faster than ever, according to a report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, summarized in The Guardian. High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI), defined as those with more than $1 million in free cash, have enjoyed a 10 percent increase in their wealth in recent years. They now control $42.7 trillion.

As governments around the world implemented austerity measures and politicians in the United States called for tax breaks for the wealthy to stimulate the economy, the wealth of HNWI surpassed the peak reached in 2007 at $40.7 trillion.

At the same time, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of poor in the United States grew by 2.6 million in the last year, creating the highest poverty level (15.1 percent) since 1993. Worse, the poverty rate for 18- to 24-year-olds is at its highest level since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “war on poverty” in 1964.

The issue isn’t that wealth or the wealthy are evil. It’s that economic policies that favor wealth creation but do not also favor job creation and economic justice produce evil results – results that, in the long run, are harmful to all.

The Need for Meaningful Work

I heard an Irish woman recently say if her wages and purchasing power got worse, she would be working for free. Young people in Spain are going to the streets to protest unfair employment policies in a distressed economy. Portugal is experiencing out-migration of skilled young adults to former colonies such as Angola and Brazil because they can’t find meaningful work in their home country. Much of the Arab Spring has been about educated young adults frustrated at the lack of meaningful work and by unresponsive, corrupt, authoritarian governments.

In a special report on the future of jobs, The Economist (Sept. 10th-16th, 2011) says the number of officially unemployed stands at 205 million people worldwide. This is 19 percent of the global workforce, many of them young, educated adults in countries with a “youth bulge” in their populations.

A Gallup survey cited by The Economist says 12 percent of the global workforce is underemployed, and the International Labor Organization claims 1.53 billion people in 2009 were in “vulnerable employment” working for themselves or in underpaid family jobs.

In each nation, policies differ, but one thing is clear: in a complex, interconnected world the simplistic rhetoric of trickle-down economics needs to be retired. No matter where this economic ideology is employed, it creates unacceptable gaps between the rich and poor. It creates injustice, hardship and concentration of wealth that fosters social instability. It creates winners and losers. It does not create jobs.

Creating a Better Future

In a more positive vein, there is an opportunity for those concerned with economic justice to advocate for policies that will encourage innovation, immigration reform and job creation, writes The Economist. Those concerned about education must continue to press for reform and support quality universal education.

And we must all consider the changing structure of work in the global economy. The nature of work itself is changing. The need for new skills comes at a faster pace. We are less likely to find long-term employment in a single company and more likely to have “serial careers.” We will utilize online education more than ever. And we’ll have to be even more responsible for marketing ourselves. Some employment experts say we’re moving toward fluid, flexible work as individual contractors.

In “The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here,” Lynda Gratton of the London Business School says we will need to build a “posse” of 15 people to whom we can turn when work life gets difficult. These are people we can trust and work with effectively in the new workplace.

Gratton says we will need to stay mentally fresh by following a “big-ideas crowd,” stay in touch with talented, open-minded people, and spend time in thought-provoking conferences.

We also need “regenerative communities” to maintain emotional balance, including time with family and friends in the real world apart from the world of work, people with whom we can laugh, share stories and relax.

A Concern for People of Faith

As we enter the emerging work world, we are reminded that self-esteem is embedded in the work we do. When it’s meaningful, we experience fulfillment and self-esteem. At root, this is the spiritual side of work. I believe faith is about how we understand our place in the world in relationship to God and to each other. Work is, or should be, a concern to religious believers because it so intimately connected with human dignity and justice.

When work is reduced to job skills and economic indicators, we lose this perspective, and we also lose sight of the values embedded in work that affect our well-being and contribute to justice for all.

As I’ve traveled the past few weeks, I’ve heard a common theme worldwide, a cry really, for meaningful work and justice. From Pine Mountain, to Harare, to Cape Town and beyond, the people of the world yearn for fulfilling work and economic justice.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.  To find out more about American perceptions of global involvement, read our 2011 Global Involvement Study.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

Fear or Faith? The Alternative View of the World

Fear is not the only force at work in the world. When The United Methodist Church proclaimed this biblical truth by posting a building-size banner near Ground Zero in New York following the 9/11 tragedy, the church spoke not only to passersby but to the world.

By projecting its voice into the global conversation at this critical moment, the church brought reassurance and hope that despite the fear the terrorists hoped to instill there is an alternative way to view the world. The church took the message of the gospel into the streets, as Wesley did when he started the Methodist movement.

The biblical basis for this claim is 1 John 4:18,19, “perfect love casts out fear.” This brief passage is a remarkable teaching about the power of love, and its ability to overcome fear.  God’s perfect love casts out our fear.

The 2011 Global Involvement Survey by United Methodist Communications reveals that fear of terrorism has not really taken root as a major force among United Methodists in the U.S., nor a majority of the society.  Twice as many people (32%) are concerned about the state of the global economy as are concerned about terror (16%).  Undeniably, this economic concern includes a great deal of uncertainty, if not fear, but, as a church and as a society, we are not particularly bound by our fears. I take hope in this.

As I reflect on 9/11 and how it has affected us, I am reminded that the crisis compelled us to see the world and our place in it differently. The old polarity of local and global no longer holds. We live in an interconnected world in which circumstances affecting people far away can have direct effect upon us.  Approximately 60% of those surveyed agreed that the world is a more interconnected today.   Like it or not, we are citizens in a global environment.

The research also reveals a challenge. We understand connections close to home better than we understand how global interconnections affect us. That’s understandable, but it does place responsibility on us as disciples of Jesus to think of the world as our parish, as John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said, and to see how the local and global are intertwined by the bonds of God’s love for all.

I think the tragedy of 9/11 awakened us to a new global reality. The future is neither local nor global, it is glocal, a term that captures a wide range of activities of friendship, kinship and commerce, according to its Wikipedia entry.

Nor is the future something of which to be afraid. As local and global are intertwined, we are given the opportunity to express our faithfulness and discipleship in the dynamic mix of this divine symmetry. We live in God’s Creation under the reign of God. This is both spiritually comforting and has practical application. As we do ministry locally and globally, we gain understanding of our place in God’s Creation and discover the wondrous beauty of the whole.

I thank God that we need not live fearfully in the world, but that we are called to love the world boldly. And I’m thankful that Wesley called us to have the vision to see the whole world as the place for us to do ministry.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…Psalm 24:1-2.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

 

 

 

This Small Planet: The Power of Connections in a Shrinking World

A friend recently told me she had texted a colleague in Zimbabwe about travel needs for an upcoming visit. The reply came with questions and an admonishment for prompt answers. We chuckled at the reality of the need for immediacy across an ocean and a continent.

Once, a trip to Africa required long advance planning. Communication was hit or miss (telegram, telephone or weeks-long delivery by snail mail). No more. With cell phones, we’re as near as if we were next door. As a result, our expectations and behaviors have changed.

Upon entering a rural village in Sierra Leone not long ago, I discovered could send photos of our impressive welcoming celebration immediately from my iPad with its cellular capability.  From the dashboard of our vehicle, I sent photos and sounds in near-real time. We are interconnected in ways that stretch the imagination.

Globalization is about more than global supply chains and assembly lines. When we buy food, clothing, gasoline, automobiles and many other products, we’re experiencing globalization, and we hardly bat an eye. Sometimes, globalization is threatening and unwelcome, particularly when it means jobs shipped elsewhere. Despite this, the pace of globalization hasn’t slowed. On the contrary, it has sped up.

In contrast, global interconnectedness is about interaction, interdependence and cross-cultural influence. It’s not about the supply chain; it’s about the flow of information and ideas across borders.

We have Facebook friends around the world. Our children connect with peers oceans away, and some have even talked with astronauts in space. Online education is occurring across vast reaches of geography. For some, this interconnectedness has become routine, and for digital natives it is their natural state.

In a recent survey by United Methodist Communications, 60 percent of the population in the United States concur we’re more globally interconnected, but, interestingly, a smaller number seek news about global issues. The majority know we live in an interconnected world but accept it without seeking to know more about our global neighbors.

Whether that’s a bad thing or simply a fact of life in our media-overloaded world is open to debate. But it seems to me that understanding one another is more necessary than ever. At least we should know something about the injustices, inequities and abuses that feed the uprisings and instability that can affect our own quality of life and social stability. That is the change the 9/11 tragedy ushered in.

We should be concerned about this because with knowledge our interactions can create better conditions for all peoples. Interconnection can deliver positive benefits. It’s a stimulus for innovation, creativity and greater awareness of our common problems. It opens the door to cooperation. Of course, it can have harmful consequences, but that’s all the more reason to learn more, not less.

We’re on this small planet hurtling through space with a common destiny. Increasingly, we have the ability to overcome the barriers of time and geography that once separated us. For the first time in human history, we have an opportunity to interact, learn and discuss together the common good using tools widely available and remarkably empowering.

More than ever before, people are moving out of poverty as knowledge is shared and skills are transferred. The tide of history is sweeping us toward a more interconnected and interactive world. It is better to embrace this reality than to ignore it and be swept up in the current.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.