How does a person of faith and a concerned citizen respond to the inauguration of Donald Trump which is only days away?
The question is especially pertinent if you believe Trump is a danger to the country, if not the world, and articulates opinions and policies that are clearly in conflict with the teachings of Jesus.
Much damage has been done to the impression of Christians by white evangelicals and other Christians who voted for Trump despite his obvious moral failings, racism, misogyny, authoritarianism, ignorance of policy and global affairs.
I think it’s important to reclaim the faith from the fear and warped theology that political operatives on the right have used to infect Christian teaching.
And I’m not alone in this. A plethora of email appeals to resist, repudiate, and protest Trump’s leadership and policies come daily. What to do?
A moral response based on faith is not only possible, it can be a witness to the teachings of Jesus from a different perspective.
A recent column by Charles M. Blow, while not written with religion in mind, provided helpful guidance. Blow writes that it’s not enough to be negative. Negative actions must be balanced with constructive response that reinforces principles and values.
This resonates with me. Christian faith is embodied in constructive action. Faith is a way of living. In fact, in its earliest days, it was called “the way.”
Blow proposes a personal plan for making your opposition known. He says we must also deny that Trump and his behavior are normal. Blow calls it an “anti-inauguration plan.”
Like many others, I’ve been developing my own response to the election of Trump and I find Blow’s plan a helpful tool.
So, with appreciation to Mr. Blow for his template, here’s my plan:
Prayer is lifting to consciousness our deepest concerns, hopes, fears, and joys, and baring them before God. Prayer is not limited to petitioning God for personal favors, or blessing others.
Prayer is also about perceiving and responding to the sacred in our lives. It is active engagement.
Since I left the workplace, I have been concentrating on nature and wildlife photography, not merely as a hobby but as a form of prayer.
The meditation time this provides, the awareness of the sacred it brings to consciousness, and the sharing it allows has become more meaningful than I anticipated when I began.
I believe when we bring our creativity to expression in concrete ways, we are are engaging in a sacred conversation.
My photography not only expresses my creative impulses, it also is a reminder to me of the sacredness of the natural world. And it’s a way to call attention to the need to preserve and protect the whole of God’s good creation.
Protests are being organized around the country. I will join those in my city who proclaim that the policies proposed by Trump and some of his cabinet selections do not represent values and policies that I endorse. Some are antithetical to civil liberties, immigrants, women, and the environment. I intend to protest these harmful policies.
Since the election, my spouse and I have donated to four organizations that are working to conserve wildlife and natural sites, one that is assisting people to utilize sustainable technology to improve their lives, a couple that work in public policy advocacy, and one that is speaking publicly from religious values to call the Trump administration to accountability.
We believe that a free press, flawed as electronic journalism is, remains an important line of defense in these troubling days. While I have stopped watching television news and public affairs programming and eliminated NPR from my information-gathering habits, I have subscribed to three newspapers and a magazine rooted in Christian teachings that focuses on justice and reducing poverty .
Remember that subscriptions also open the channel to online reading of content.
It’s clear that an informed public is essential to the common good. I spend less time with TV and more time reading since we now have a president who seems averse to reading much of anything of substance.
I have made my views known to my national and state legislators in the past but since the Trump election I have been much more frequent in writing to elected representatives to advocate for public policy that I believe is more humane, just, and consistent with the Constitution and the moral imperatives that Jesus taught.
Hearing from me more often, I assume also identifies me to them and reminds them of values that I advocate.
Letters to the editor, op-ed opinion pieces, radio call-in shows, feedback to news media about stories, and outreach through social media are means to voice support for fundamental moral issues of justice.
I have sought to re-connect with family and friends because we live in a society that is isolating and destructive of community. This disintegration of community is what fed the discontent and fears of Trump voters, and he was successful in exploiting discontent and fear.
People of faith also have local communities called congregations in which they can worship and find spiritual strength, develop friendships, and study the teachings of Jesus that are the basis for a life lived with meaning and purpose.
But to be frank about it, some of these communities have not been places where honest discussion of justice and faithfulness to the common good have been addressed forthrightly. It’s time to reclaim this lost territory for religious values that are humanizing and biblically sound, to call ourselves and our religious leaders to accountability before God.
We live in a society that has broken the bonds of community. The mantra of individualism has damaged community. It is based on a doctrine that the interests of the individual are, or ought to be, ethically paramount. Taken to excess, this doctrine today fosters hyper-individualism.
Our housing developments are not created to encourage community. Houses are made to isolate us. Our social media intercede to substitute for direct person-to-person communication.
Hyper-individualism is in direct conflict with the call of Jesus to be self-emptying in service to others. In this way, Christian faith is counter-cultural because it calls us to be concerned for one another, especially those who live in poverty conditions and those who are vulnerable.
We are discovering that no amount of things makes up for the loss of friends and communal interaction. We must rebuild our connection with others and re-discover the call to servanthood contained in the gospel of Matthew in chapter 25.
There are myriad ways to volunteer to assist people in local communities, and church people are usually at the head of the line. From groups that serve disadvantaged children, abused women, immigrants, the homeless, environmental protection, to missional efforts through local churches, there are ways to engage to make for a better world and repudiate divisiveness and fear of the ‘the other.”
These are some of the ways that I see myself participating in society today and making a difference. I am motivated by my understanding of the demands of faith, and by my concern that citizenship carries the responsibility to participate in a way that supports and protects the vulnerable.
I’d be interested in hearing about yours.
Here is useful resource: Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.
The call was designed to promote the series Belief that she produced and will air beginning Oct. 18 -24 on the OWN channel.
The series was three years in the making and tells stories of faith from around the world. She said “the way to connect people to their own life story is to allow them to see their story in another’s story.”
“Stories help us to understand what makes us unique but also show us the beautiful things that we have in common,” she said.
The series is built on the belief that the thread of love is the same across all the world’s major religions. When we hear stories of love, we understand each other differently and find out we have more in common that we knew before, Oprah said.
This isn’t a new concept but it comes at a time when religion is being used to divide us and spread hateful rhetoric that does harm.
Jim Winkler, President and chief executive of the National Council of Churches told the group the individual stories illustrate the power of faith for good in the world. He cited the Civil Rights movement as an example of a movement built on moral and spiritual values.
He said the interfaith stories on Belief had inspired him to consider extending interfaith dialogue through the NCCUSA to include conversations with Buddhists and Hindus.
The thought that stories of belief can connect us is a helpful corrective to the pervasive cultural narrative of individualism and isolation in Western societies that has been documented by Robert Putnam and Shirley Turkle.
It’s particularly notable that faith is being presented as unifying. The isolation fostered by technology in common spaces increases our sense of loss of community and connection. For example, sit in an airport public lounge and see how common space has become more atomized as we turn to handheld devices to avoid the invasive ads, noise, and television monitors that distract and annoy us today.
Religious belief offers us many helpful tools, but one of the most distinctive and constructive may be that it provides us with a sense of connection with others and, at its best, a unifying spirit in a world of diversity.
The Belief team is calling on people to organize watch parties and conversation groups and to promote the series on social media.
By using her resources and celebrity to encourage a more unifying spirit and reinforce the thought that belief can have value if it teaches compassion and offers healing, Oprah is giving the world a valuable and timely gift.
The headline is tongue in cheek. But since taking leave from my work responsibilities in early May, I’ve also taken hiatus from blogging.
In the next few posts I’ll catch up. So, as children returning to school write about their summer vacations, I plan to follow suit.
I was concerned that in stepping away from the office work routine I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Was I ever wrong about that! Summer has been a time of non-stop activity.
Sharon and I have walked approximately 4 miles daily, mostly in a nature preserve near our home. It’s a wonderful learning experience, a time of meditation and contemplation, and, most importantly, a time to be together.
We’ve made new friends and enjoyed seeing and hearing the narrative of the woods. I’ve practiced refining techniques of wildlife and nature photography and learned a program to process the photos digitally. One of the great gifts has been watching the growth of the juvenile barred owls at Radnor Lake Nature Preserve in Nashville.
I’ve read four books: My Life: Willie Nelson, an autobiography; The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan; The Fly Trap, Fredrik Sjöberg; and Dorothea Lange:A Photographter’s Life, Milton Meltzer. I’m well into Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, Alexandra Horowitz. I’ve also been re-reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
I’m often asked what I miss most since I’ve left. The only thing I miss is daily contact with the some of the finest staff colleagues I’ve been privileged to work with.
Because I traveled for my work, today every time an airplane flies overhead I catch myself saying, “Thank God I’m not on that.”
I’ve been exploring new growth in spiritual practice and concepts, which I’ll write about in future posts.
I’ve become aware that many of the things I used to worry about in the wee hours of the morning don’t matter that much at all. That worry was wasted time and many of the issues largely irrelevant. That’s biblical. We learn.
In an interview with United Methodist Communications in April, Dr. Martin Salia explains why he works in Sierra Leone. He provides health care to all who come to the hospitals where he serves. “I took this job not because I want to but because it was a calling and that God wanted me to,” he said.
Like many health care workers across the African continent, Dr. Salia’s motivation is deeply religious.
Dr. Salia is a key figure at Kissy Hospital run by The United Methodist Church of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has three physicians for every 100,000 persons in the country. Kissy is one of the facilities that Dr. Salia has been serving.
The average income in Sierra Leone is $347 per year. According to the U.S. State Department, this translates to “over 72 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day, in extreme poverty.”
Kissy serves those who cannot afford to pay for medical care. It is one of the faith-based hospitals that provide 40 percent of the health care across Africa. In the course of my work in reporting on Africa, I’ve been in clinics and hospitals like Kissy. I’ve seen people pay for services with chickens, goats and mangoes.
The world owes a debt of gratitude, and more, to health care workers like Dr. Salia. We should do all in our power and our resources to assist them.
At great personal cost, Dr. Salia’s spouse has arranged for him to come to the U.S. for treatment for Ebola. A physician who has given so much of himself in treating others, Dr. Salia is now an Ebola patient himself. Kissy Hospital has been forced to close temporarily.
This complicates the challenge of controlling this virus. It also adds to the burden of untreated cases of malaria, diarrhea and other killer diseases of poverty.
Tragedy upon tragedy. And yet, heroic individuals like Dr. Salia put themselves in harm’s way to bring well-being to West Africa.
Dr. Salia is going to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment. I’ve had intimate experience with this medical center. It’s among the nation’s best. I think the state can take great pride in its personnel to care for Dr. Salia.
We know that with proper care, equipment and interventions, the survival rate for Ebola patients treated in the U.S. is favorable. It’s understandable that people fear Ebola, but we know that control of the virus is possible. And after missteps in Dallas, the health care community has shown it can self-correct. It has demonstrated a capacity to care for this disease responsibly.
If ever there were a time for welcoming and hospitality, it is now. And if ever there were a time for the world to contain its fears about Ebola and act responsibly toward those who are working under extraordinarily difficult conditions to contain this virus, this is it.
The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund. With your help, we can provide communications support in the event of a crisis or disaster. Donate here.
The Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church has established a fund to receive gifts toward the cost of his transportation to Omaha and related medical costs not covered by other sources. Contributions can be made through any United Methodist church, or sent directly to: Great Plains Conference Office, 4201 SW 15th, PO Box 4187, Topeka, KS 66604. Please put “Dr. Salia Fund” on the memo line.
Poverty in small town America is often overlooked, and the children of small town poverty are ignored. This fact was brought home to me several years ago when we moved back to my old, very poor neighborhood in a small town in central Oklahoma. The move was necessitated by the need among our elders for care as they experienced declining health. We settled into my grandparents home which had for years been the family base. It was a grand old farmhouse, in need of significant repair, that had been moved into town in the early 1900s. (Actually it was the amalgam of two old houses, but that’s another story.) The neighborhood had fallen even further downward than when I lived there as a child and it wasn’t exactly upscale even then.
The adjacent lot where our neighbor–one of the town’s more colorful characters–lived was overgrown with waist high weeds entangled around a half dozen rusted hulks of old cars, tractors, pickup trucks and assorted farm implements, all beyond any hope of restoration. Rusting skeletons. Just down the road, the first elementary school in town, abandoned and partially caved in on itself, was used by another town hermit as a residence. Across the street in mid-block an abandoned house was surrounded by overgrown vegetation. A 1930s era pickup truck sat in the yard on bare rims, rusting away. Across from that lot an old city fire truck, driven there perhaps forty years ago by a collector who had long since moved away, sat in a collapsed garage with a full grown elm tree thrusting through its bed.
Our neighbors to the north kept a hog for slaughter and our neighbors to the south hunted deer in season and fished, not for sport, but for food. A block south was a 1950s motel with individual one room cabins. Located on Route 66, it now served as short term rental accommodations for those who could afford no other.
This was small town poverty. Its color is rusty metal red and weed brown.
The Stresses of Poverty
At the end of the workday in early evening I would go out on the front porch and often I would hear shouting and screaming from different places in the neighborhood. The police were frequent visitors as the shouting sometimes turned into fighting. Mostly domestic violence. Sometimes late at night it would awaken us from sleep. The sound of poverty is yelling and shouting. People stressed to the breaking point. Day in, day out and especially at the end of the month.
This remembrance occurred as I read the Annie E. Casey Foundation report on children living in poverty. It says concentrated poverty, defined as areas where 30 percent or more households fall below the federal poverty threshold, is on the rise. The 2010 federal poverty threshold is $22,314 per year for a family of four.
The report estimates 7,879,000 children in the U.S. live in poverty, and the number has increased from 9% to 11% over the last decade. The number in concentrated poverty has risen 25% since 2000. These statistics make my heart ache. As the Casey report says, families with children living in poverty “are more likely to face food hardship, have trouble paying their housing costs, and lack health insurance than those living in more affluent areas. Children living in areas of concentrated poverty are also more likely to experience harmful levels of stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems than children overall.”
For the nearly 8 million children under age 18 living in areas of concentrated poverty in the United States, critical resources for their healthy growth and development – including high-performing schools, quality medical care and safe outdoor spaces – are often out of reach. The chance that a child will live in an area of concentrated poverty has grown significantly over the last decade. — Data Snapshot on High Poverty Communities, Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Going to the Mountain
I was talking to a little boy who lived next to the firetruck with the tree growing through it and he told me his grandmother was taking him to “the mountain” to ride his bike that evening. We were in central Oklahoma where there are no mountains, so I was curious. I questioned him, “What mountain?”
“You know, the one down by the big lake at the bottom of the hill in the woods,” he said.
After a few more descriptive tidbits, I realized the mountain was the rubble from city excavations dumped alongside the city sewage treatment facility at the edge of town. This was his playground. And, in fact, I recalled having played there myself at his age. But things should have changed for the better since then.
And that’s what make my heartache. Things, apparently, haven’t changed that much, at least not for the children who live in neighborhoods trapped in poverty. They are invisible. And in the inflamed rhetoric so prevalent today, they are viewed with disdain, not with concern. Added costs, a burden.
For me, the church was a way out of that neighborhood and the debilitating conditions it harbored. The people of the church encouraged, nurtured, supported and provided opportunities that helped me to see a world beyond the “mountain” by the edge of the sewage plant. But today in my denomination we’re talking about small local congregations as ineffective, inefficient and a drain on resources. And it makes me worry about the children who know the local police officer better than they know the local pastor. They know the angry words and violent behavior better than they know lovingkindness and peaceful living.
Ways to Move Forward
Overall, the poor are overlooked in our society. The rural poor are invisible. The Casey report makes several proposals for addressing poverty. Mostly it refers to urban poverty, but never the less these are steps in the right direction:
- Promoting community change efforts that integrate physical revitalization with human capital development through public/private partnerships to create mixed-income communities;
- Leveraging “anchor institutions” to build strong, supportive communities for children and families such as hospitals, universities and other “anchor institutions” to create cradle-to-career pipelines that improve opportunities for disadvantaged children;
- Promoting proven and promising practices in the areas of work supports, asset building and employment with intensive, employment-focused programs targeting working-age public housing residents through United Way, community colleges and other organizations for integrated delivery of education, employment training, work supports, financial coaching and asset building services;
- Connecting neighborhood improvements to citywide and regional efforts. Increasingly, families must look to the surrounding metropolitan region to access opportunities;
- Increasing access to affordable housing in safe, opportunity-rich communities for low-income families, particularly families of color. Strategies for achieving this goal include inclusionary zoning, tenant eligibility guidelines that prohibit discriminatory admission practices, marketing to attract a diverse applicant pool, and housing mobility programs for families with Section 8 vouchers.
From Rural to City Life
These do not fully address the dilemma of rural poverty. As we rush headlong toward urban, suburban and exurban living, the rural poor, as rural life in general, becomes less visible and more neglected.
I would add:
- strengthening regional community colleges and expanding their training to include technical skills;
- installing broadband into rural areas and making it accessible through public schools and libraries;
- strengthening public education.
The rural and small membership churches are, or can be, local anchor institutions that make a difference. Considering a more expansive role for small membership churches could move them from being viewed as liabilities to assets. This, too, is discounted in much of the conversation about how and where ministry should be carried out today. And it begs the question that Jesus was asked by some of his followers when he told them how he wanted them to behave: to care for the sick, ill, imprisoned, thirsty, and poorly clothed, those who are overlooked. To care for them is as if they were caring for him, Jesus said. But his followers asked, “Lord, when did we see you?”
I’d hazard a guess he would say to me, “When you spoke with the little boy who was going to play near the city sewage yard. That was me.”
“What are you willing to die for? Because you’re doing it right now.” Those fourteen words on Twitter set Dewitt Jones to thinking. Jones is one of the most creative photographer-writer-thinkers we are blessed with today.
Surprisingly, he said he had never really thought about it. And in giving it thought he comes to a belief that he’s a seeker of beauty. His photography demonstrates this in spades. He’s one who shares beauty. He decided to post a photo a day on his Facebook page with a commentary that reveals beauty.
Jones’ column in Outdoor Photographer led me to reflect on the same question. But I’ve considered this question many times before. What am I willing to die for? It’s occurred to me when I was gathering stories in places where circumstances were risky and the outcome wasn’t quite certain. I recall having to sign a release to climb aboard a UN flight into Mogadishu years ago. The release made clear the destination was unsafe, that I was aware of the risks, and I would not hold the UN accountable in any way in the event of my death. That focuses your mind rather clearly.
As we landed and prepared to depart the plane, a guy from Oklahoma working for the U.S. government put on a flak jacket. More focus.
My takeaway from Jones’ wonderful column is that there are things we live for and things we’re prepared to die for. And it’s good to know what they are.
I’ve always told myself in dicey situations that I’d rather die telling a good story than from a heart attack while waiting in line for a Big Mac.
Storytelling is a act of faith. It’s an attempt to connect, to bridge the distance that sometimes causes us to forget that we’re all in this world together, and that we have more in common than we realize.
When we discover our shared humanity we understand life differently. If we are wise, we see other perspectives and understand both our differences as well as our similarities. We discover our shared humanity.
Annette Simmons writes that a good story simplifies our world into something that we feel like we can understand.
To live in this world we must find meaning and purpose. Stories help us to discover who we are in relationship to others, what is important and what gives us meaning. From this we can find our purpose and seek to live more fruitfully.
For Jones it’s finding, capturing and sharing beauty daily. For some of us, it’s telling stories. For others, it’s a myriad of interesting, exciting and challenging pursuits. And the answer doesn’t have to be found faraway, it’s as close as we wish to pursue in our daily lives right where we are.
For me an exciting paradox lies in the question, “What are you willing to die for?” The paradox is this: when we discover what we’re willing to die for, we also discover what we’re willing to live for.
Thank goodness for beauty and for stories that guide us on the journey.
What are you willing to die for? What are you living for? These are wonderful, fascinating and exciting questions to pursue. And thank you Mr. Jones for putting them before us.
When Bono spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast a few years ago, he spoke about the need for the world to put an end to poverty and to tackle the diseases of poverty. He spoke with a clarity that got headlines and an op-ed in the New York Times.
Bono did not speak as a member or participant of a religious group. In that sense, he was a non-religious advocate for values and practices that are compatible with most religious groups, particularly Christian.
Bob Roberts Jr. says the primary story of the future for the church will be the non-religious follower of Jesus. (“Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World,” Bob Roberts Jr., Zondervan)
Four years ago, I attended the Gates Foundation Malaria Forum where Melinda Gates addressed professionals working to end malaria. She sent shockwaves through the audience when she called on the world to eradicate malaria. Only minutes before she arrived, the group had debated whether malaria could be eradicated or eliminated, the latter defined as controlling the disease within a specific geographic area. Eradication means ending it globally, once and for all. It was a “no-no” word until Ms. Gates issued her challenge. After that, it became the goal.
A few days ago, Ms. Gates, at the second Gates Foundation Malaria Forum, cited the work of the people of the The United Methodist Church who have made it their business to take up the fight to eradicate malaria.
The prophetic voice not only challenges but also affirms, and in these instances the prophetic words call the world to claim a “God-sized” vision to put an end to poverty and eradicate a killer disease.
Living beyond religious language
We’re in an age in which voices outside the religious community challenge us to heal a hurting world. This is a biblical imperative. And for Christians, it’s a call to follow the teachings of Jesus, but it’s not phrased in religious language.
Some scholars say we are living in a post-Christian era, but that term is a misnomer. Perhaps we’re in a post-institutional era (and I’m uncertain about even this phrase), but faithful living is even more necessary. The teachings of the Bible are more relevant than ever.
To Micah, it wasn’t complicated: “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously– take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8,9, “The Message”)
Similarly, as recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear how his followers should enter into the world: “… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. …Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35,36. 41, “The Message”)
Micah and Jesus talk of justice with compassion and humility. They say faithfulness involves serving the poor, sick, dispossessed and oppressed. It’s about connecting with others. And from this connection grows the recognition that we belong to God and that God is reaching out to us in a gracious embrace that is life-giving.
Catching up with God
To follow Jesus is to find where God is at work and try to catch up. It is living in the assurance that under the pain and beyond the chaos of life lie meaning, fulfillment and abundance — not abundance as in the material world, but abundance as in a life rich in connection with others, coherence, creativity, hope and positive action. Faith helps us find this place, and finding it requires us to serve. When we serve as Jesus called us to serve, we discover it’s life changing and potentially world transforming.
It’s a world of connections and engagement, collaboration and partnership between religious and non-religious. In the new horizontal world of global interconnections, faith is viral, passing from person to person, multiplying and becoming an expansive, transforming movement that reveals both our mutual needs and strengths, and, to our surprise, we discover the kingdom of God in our midst.
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.
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.
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.
As the school year draws to a close and summer stretches out before us, America’s poorest school children find themselves at even greater risk than usual. Because, when the school’s doors close so does the prospect of meals for many kids who rely on school lunch and school breakfast.
More than 20 million American children get a free or reduced price school lunch, and although all 20 million are eligible for meals in the summer too, only 3 million get it. That’s because not enough school districts take the necessary steps to establish alternative sites. The irony, and this may be Washington D.C.’s best kept billion dollar secret, is that the federal government reimburses 100% of the cost of the meals served, which means budget strapped state and local governments could also benefit from dollars that come in to buy milk from local dairy farmers, bread from local bakers, and so forth.
The real problem is that these children are not only vulnerable, they are voiceless. They don’t belong to powerful membership organizations or have highly paid lobbyists. They depend on average, caring citizens like us to be their voice. That’s why Share Our Strength has committed to spend $1.6 million this summer in 35 states to help establish summer meal sites and raise awareness among parents so they can ensure meals for their children.
Everyone has a strength to share, and everyone has a role to play in our No Kid Hungry campaign. The need has never been greater. The recession has left 48 million Americans living below the poverty line and more than 22 million children on food stamps (which we now call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) for the first time in the history of the country. Go to www.strength.org to see how you can get involved.
This guest post is from Bill Shore, the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength®, a national nonprofit that is ending childhood hunger in America. Shore is also the chairman of Community Wealth Ventures®, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of Share Our Strength that offers strategy and implementation services to foundations and nonprofit organizations. Shore founded Share Our Strength in 1984 in response to the Ethiopian famine and subsequently renewed concern about hunger in the United States. Shore is also an author. His most recent book is The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, published in November 2010, which documents the lifelong efforts of researchers to end malaria.