Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

A place to be

I’ve been thinking recently about how important it is to have a place to be. I mean this on several levels. The first is the smallest and most personal –  a physical house. A place to go to after work or school. Shelter versus homelessness. I’ve been thinking about this because I have a friend who has recently taken her child and left a destructive relationship. Thank goodness for that, but because she has been a stay-at-home mom, she doesn’t have a job or income, which is making the move difficult. Fortunately, she has supportive friends, a really great church community, and she is receiving child support. She’s got more options than many women in her position, but her situation is still tenuous. She managed to get a short-term lease on a small apartment, but has little money left over for food. She’s relying on friends and the food pantry to help out. She figures it’s easier to get help with food then shelter, and it seems to me that there’s great comfort in having a place to be.

A second level of having a place to be is in liking where you live, fitting in there, and having a sense of belonging. I’ve been thinking about this as a relative who was recently laid off considers having to move his family to wherever he can find a job. They don’t want to move. They are very connected to their current community. But ultimately, they have to have income. There’s a difference between having a place to be and having a place you want to be, and, I’d guess, a corresponding difference in the degree to which you thrive.

Which is not so different from some of what I heard in Mexico City a little over a month ago when I was there with the ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering. For all the controversy immigration causes in this country, it’s not exactly a first choice option for many immigrants, either. But like my laid-off relative, you go where you can make a living. My relative may have to change states, but at least he’ll still be in a familiar culture, he’ll be able to speak the language, and he’ll be able to provide food and shelter for his family legally. How much more difficult for the Mexican whose choices are living in poverty at home, or as an outlaw in the U.S.? Neither is a very good or fulfilling place to be.

And then there’s the Maldives. Anne Basye mentioned the country in her blog last week. They face the possibility of their entire country being submerged by rising sea levels due to climate change. Where can one bein that situation, when your country no longer exists? I read that their president is talking to other countries about buying land onto which they might relocate should theirs go under water. How does that work?! Do they just move the whole country? Do they become part of the country into which they move, or is, say, Australia willing to sell off part of it’s land so they can create a new Maldives? What happens when a whole country of people has no where in the world to legally be?

The causes of hunger and the interconnections of those causes is complex, and it seems to be that this question of where a person can be ties so many of them together. Employment, economics, land rights, land availability, governance, identity. No big insights here today; just respect for the complexity.

-Nancy Michaelis

Thoughts on Land, Part 2

monument-725857 While we were in West Virginia visiting one of the sites affected by mountain top removal, I saw the stone monument above that, though weathered and difficult to read, quotes Psalm 95:4. In this verse, the psalmist asserts, “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are God’s also.” This monument seemed to me to be a subtle protest against the hubris of the coal companies (and the government that empowered them) who felt that they had the right to simply lay claim to the mountains and utterly deface them.

Perhaps I was reading my own subversive struggle into the text. But it got me thinking–what does the Christian tradition have to say about the land? What follows are some of my first thoughts, a more sustained (and I think worthwhile) reflection is offered by Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith.

First off, to be sure, the sentiments of Psalm 95:4 are echoed throughout the Bible. Take, for example in Psalm 24:1 (“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…”) which is also cited in one of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:26). In short, there is a strong theme of the earth or the land belonging to God. The New Testament, for all its tendencies towards spiritualization, still affirms this earth, and looks forward to God’s kingdom coming on this earth. But it is still God’s kingdom (and God’s earth). Humans cannot lay claim to it.

All of this said, one of the key hopes (or perhaps the key hope) in the Hebrew Bible is the promise of land. It of course begins with God’s promise to Abraham that he will inherit the land “as far as the eye can see” (Gen 15). The Hebrews journey through the desert for forty years, all the while hoping to arrive at the land God had promised, the land “flowing with milk and honey.” Once they arrived in the land, they actually occupied it for only 350-400 conflict-ridden years. The rest of the Hebrew Bible is written in exile away from the promised land or in the promised land to which the Jews can no longer lay claim. During this time the Jews look forward constantly to a time when they will again enjoy the land as their own. In the midst of all this, the land is a gift from God (see especially Deuteronomy 8:17-20 0r 30:15-20).
In the Bible, then, there is a certain ambivalence (and many more texts could be brought to bear on the discussion). The land is possessed, but possessed as a gift. It ultimately belongs to God. Can we bring this perspective into conversation with current land practices? If so, how? What would the Lutheran (or more broadly, Christian) response look like?
David Creech

Thoughts on Land, Part 1

Since my trip to Appalachia, I’ve continued to grapple with the concept of land ownership. As usual, I am still trying to find a coherent way of thinking about it. In the meantime, my son has been meandering around the house singing (with gusto) “This Land is Your Land,” courtesy of his kindergarten choir. So here are some preliminary thoughts.

As noted in an earlier post, this thinking began when Bishop Dunkin of the Western Maryland-West Virginia Synod informed me and my colleagues in Church and Society that coal companies owned the land under his house. In short, if a natural resource was found under his house that a company wanted to acquire, they hold the rights, and he would be forced to move. This is the case for 75% of the land in West Virginia. This felt somehow intuitively wrong.

We also heard the testimonies of two women who were suffering from the effects of land degradation. The biggest issue was water contamination. They were asked by one of my colleagues why they did not simply up and leave. The response was something along the lines of, “My family has lived on this land for 250 years. This is my land. The coal companies should be the ones going.” (While I could sympathize to a certain degree, I also wondered to myself, What about the Native Americans before her? What about the flora and fauna before all of us? Can we really lay claim to something that existed long before us and will continue to exist long after we are gone?)

The director of the Washington advocacy office, Drew Genszler, brought the Israel-Palestine issue into this discussion of land ownership. A key component (perhaps the key component) in that conflict is defining who has the rights to the land. How many other violent conflicts around the world have rights to the land at the center?

These three stories of land ownership highlight for me some of the tensions inherent in our current conceptualization of land ownership. The two big problems for me are 1) The abuses (both to each other and to the earth) that can be justified because of a sense of ownership and 2) The conflicts that inevitably follow a claim to the land.

All of this said, some good can come from a clear definition of who has rights to the land. First, it strikes me as somehow fundamental to our sense of wellbeing to have a “place.” Perhaps it is learned, but the idea that coal companies could kick people out of their houses and off the land on a whim just doesn’t feel right. Second, in the current system, land and property rights make development possible. If someone knows that they own the land, they will make personal investments, knowing that they will be able to reap the benefits. Likewise, outsiders will be more likely to make investments, trusting that the owner of the land will be able to make good on his or (much less often) her promises, and if not, the bank or the lender will receive the collateral.

In this post that is already too long I’ve painted a picture in pretty broad strokes. I will follow up later this week with some theological musings on the topic. In the meantime I welcome your feedback and insight on the question.

David Creech