So a little conversation has begun… Thanks to Erin for offering a response to my earlier posts (here, here, and here). And now, if I may, respond to the response (which I hope will provoke more responses… to which I will then perhaps respond… but I digress). My basic point is this: if we are truly appalled by the travesty of hunger and poverty in a world of plenty then our way of doing and being in the world will change. We will take seriously those who live with hunger, respecting and engaging with them as a subject rather than just as an object. We will think hard about the efficacy of our gifts, recognizing that some acts of charity (perhaps even many) may do more harm than good.
Erin’s response is helpful in many ways. She is right to note that not everyone can be an expert and that many people are engaged in good causes, leaving them short on time, money, and/or energy for anti-poverty work. It is true that ELCA World Hunger and its partners do much of the homework so that the average concerned person can simply give and know that good work will be done. And I am flattered by the trust our donors put in us.
I don’t think I am advocating being an expert, but as I wrote in my response to Erin’s post (and Uncle Billy’s comment), when I purchase a car I do not get an advanced degree in car manufacturing or finance, but I do my due diligence to make sure I am making a wise decision. I think the same should apply when we are working against hunger and poverty. Due diligence, using the tools and resources at our disposal to make sure we are in fact helping and not hurting the situation.
As to Erin’s second point about being engaged in other good things (or just things in general), I would push back (gently) on a couple of fronts. First, we lead lives that are too busy. Our busy-ness limits our ability to effectively address hunger and poverty. If we are sincere in our desire to address hunger we need to remove some of the clutter from our life (an excellent Lenten discipline!). Second, and related, I would argue that from its inception, Christianity has been marked by care for those who are vulnerable and marginalized. Christian identity, who we are as the people of God, is defined by compassion, especially for those who live with poverty. In short, from my vantage point, when we wonder what “good things” we should be about doing, primacy of place has to be given to anti-hunger and justice ministries.
Here is the rub (and I put this out there to provoke conversation): too often we don’t care enough to do our due diligence. We have not made anti-poverty and justice work the priority. We don’t want to get to know people who are hungry, we don’t really care if our charity helps. We feel better when we keep those who are hungry at arms length and blindly believe that our charity does in fact help. (I will say that this is not always the case, and I am regularly encouraged when I visit congregations and synods and see the justice ministries they are involved with.)
So here’s where I find the joy in Lent. Lent is a time of introspection and confession. It is a time to remember our baptismal covenant. The point is not to feel guilty or shameful, but to honestly reflect on how well we live into those things we say that we value. All that I am suggesting is that we (as individuals and as a community) use this time to ask the hard questions. At the end of the day, this is work to which God has called us , and for which God has promised to empower us.
Thoughts or comments? Let’s hear them!