by Larry Herrold, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow*
Believer and non-believer. Educated and uneducated. Rich and poor. Democrat and Republican. Male and female… How numerous are the binaries with which we live!
In many ways 2020 was the year of binaries. The election, the social unrest around racial injustice and a worsening pandemic revealed how deep our divisions have been become. Gridlock ensues in governments, insults fly online, and protesters clash on the streets. Our world seems to be turning-in on itself. Yet we know we are inextricably connected.
TEXT: Proverbs 22:1-9 – A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold…
It’s in challenging times that Scripture can provide comfort and context. Proverbs 22:1-9 shows the continuity in the binaries that we witness, particularly between rich and poor. The rich yield power and possess gold and silver, yet the author makes clear that the humble are blessed and receive honor and life. This passage seemingly depicts a binaried society yet the second verse lays out: “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.”
The events of 2020 underscore how important it is to keep our interconnectedness in mind in more than just this moment. People lost their homes and jobs, and many went hungry. Countless have lost a loved one to COVID-19. In my own community I’ve seen churches, food banks, shelters, and any person of goodwill take on the weight of supporting those in need, but the response only goes so far.
In my management of my church’s community garden, the produce we donate is nourishing, but it will not sustain the hungry indefinitely. Not only is it not enough, but people often need information and tools to prepare it to eat. Food drives face similar issues, and temporary housing is just that… temporary. The institutions and organizations of my already economically depressed slice of Pennsylvania cannot alone meet needs.
While some struggle and others struggle to care for them, our leaders are slow to act. Aid is minimal and mismanaged. Yet we know that while this is happening, the most powerful have expanded their own wealth and security to unprecedented levels. Our advocacy, as church together, needs to take place. Immediate need must be met, yes, but long-term solutions to the systemic causes of homelessness, hunger, and violence must be made. Our leaders must be held accountable and pressured to act.
Proverbs 22:6 passes along the wisdom: train children in the right way and when old they will not stray. I have fond memories of my grandmother including me in her service to the community. Her faith, which she passed on to me, led her to serve the most vulnerable. That faith compels me to do the same. Yet I, like many before me, live in a turbulent moment. I am called to not only serve in the presence of immediate need, but to also use my voice, inspired by the active faith instilled in me at a young age, to be an advocate for systemic change that brings new and abundant life to people in my community and beyond.
The passage in Proverbs acknowledges binaries of the world and also guides us in considering our identifiers. While the rich are comfortable and powerful, they will lack blessings, honor, and life if they are not humble and “fear the Lord” (Proverbs 22:4). Calamity comes to those who perpetuate injustice, especially as it pertains to the poor.
All people deserve care, justice, and respect from one another, because we all come from the same Creator. In this new year, with new policy makers, and with the hope of an end to the pandemic, let us be strong advocates so that all know “they share their bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
* This New Year Devotional Series has been composed by the three ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellows serving in 2020-2021. “The ministry of ELCA World Hunger involves young adult engagement in conversations and formulating solutions to this systemic and universal obstacle to physical and spiritual well-being. Hunger is one of the key issues we must address as a church, for injustice and inequity are consistent themes across our local and global food systems. One way to address hunger and ensure young adult involvement in the ELCA and in World Hunger’s faith-based work is by funding the Hunger Advocacy Fellowship (HAF) position, a year-long contract position designed to cultivate the leadership of individuals looking to halt the expanding reach of hunger through advocacy,” describes Taina Diaz-Reyes, Hunger Advocacy Fellow in D.C.
Larry Herrold‘s placement is with the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa) office in Harrisburg, Pa. A native of Sunbury, Pa., where the east and west branches of the Susquehanna River meet, he graduated from Susquehanna University in 2019 with a BA in History and Religious Studies. He received a MA in Modern History from the University of Kent in England, where he completed a Fulbright Scholarship. Harrold is deeply committed to the intersection between ecclesiastical service and social justice; he even plans to go to seminary to learn more about incorporating justice into ecclesial ministry.