Archives For Barry Penn Hollar

IMG_0516As you might know, I just returned from the Highlands of Guatemala, a place whose staggering beauty is rivaled only by its systemic poverty.

Making the transition back to home from a place where clean water and a flushing toilet are literally a PIPE DREAM always leaves me feeling……?

Indicted?

And why would that be?

Probably because, despite what Glenn Beck would have us think, the biblical witness is clear—from the exodus, through the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus himself—that God acts for and calls us to liberation of the oppressed.

Theologians call it God’s ‘preferential option for the poor.’ Meaning, God attends particularly to the plight of the poor, the most vulnerable, and exploited and expects his people to do the same. To this we might add now that effectively responding to the needs of the poor and oppressed is a moral priority for those who seek to live in faithful relation to God.

Further elaborating this point, is a piece written by Dr. Barry Penn Hollar, with whom I collaborated on a Christian Ethics book a few years ago:

The story of the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt is central to this claim.  The exodus was and remains the fundamental, identity-shaping experience of the Jewish people.  It is the focus the Passover festival, which to this day roots Jewish identity in the experience of liberation by the almighty hand of God.  We who are Christians remember that it was in the context of the Passover festival that Jesus began the festival that is our fundamental, identity-shaping experience: the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

At the center of the Exodus memory is an insight about the very character of God: God’s compassionate sharing of the experience of oppression.  “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters,” God says [Exodus 3:7].   This is not a detached and disengaged awareness. Rather, God says, “I know their suffering.”  The Hebrew word “to know” is used with reference to sexual intercourse or intimacy.  It implies a sharing of the experience to which it refers. God knows and shares their suffering. Moreover, it is an awareness that leads to action.

The verse continues: “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.”

This portrayal of God as one who shares the suffering of the poor and oppressed and acts to deliver them is consistent throughout the Old Testament.

Amos, Isaiah, and Micah were noteworthy for their insistence that injustice and oppression was a religious issue or a matter rendering the peoples’ relationship to God faithless and their worship inauthentic.

Consider these words from Isaiah:

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow [Isaiah 1: 15-17].

And listen to Amos:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5:21-24].

Finally, consider Micah:

 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’  He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:6-8]?

Let’s be honest:

Can we consider the statistics of the world’s poverty, the global reach of our national influence, the degree to which the international economy is organized for our benefit, and doubt that these words apply to us?

Is all our worship, then, no matter how sincere and doctrinally proper, a sham?

When we stand to praise God—lifting our hands and our voices in air-conditioned sanctuaries with cushioned pews, dressed in finery that has been produced by women’s hands in factories whose conditions are unknown to us—does God, in fact, despise it all?

Despise us?

However you answer, you have to at least admit: there’s sufficient cause to wonder.

 

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nI tell our service teams in Guatemala over and over again that the real project we’ve come for isn’t tangible. It’s relational.

When it comes to poverty and mission, listening is more important than lugging bricks and mortar.

Here’s a piece from a book on Christian Ethics I wrote with Dr. Barry Penn Hollar a while back:

While statistics on poverty are informative and useful, they do not enable us to understand what it’s like to be poor, what it’s like to live on less than 2 dollars or even a single dollar a day.

Since the poor are often illiterate and typically spend nearly all their waking hours struggling to survive they are unlikely to give expression to their experience in memoirs, fictional stories, or poems.

It is a challenge for us to hear their voices because, among the many burdens that abject poverty imposes, the destruction of the human capacity to give voice to one’s sorrow, the capacity to connect with other human beings through self-expression, may be among the most devastating.

A project of the World Bank called Voices of the Poor attempts to overcome this significant gap in our understanding. It has “collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.”

It is based on the conviction that “poor people are the true poverty experts.”

Among the revelations of this study was that “poverty is multidimensional and complex… Poverty is voicelessness. It’s powerlessness. It’s insecurity and humiliation.”    I encourage you to go to the website and read as much as you can.  Here I can offer only few of the things poor people themselves have to say:

“Poverty is like living in jail, living under bondage, waiting to be free” — Jamaica

“Poverty is lack of freedom, enslaved by crushing daily burden, by depression and fear of what the future will bring.” — Georgia

“If you want to do something and have no power to do it, it is talauchi (poverty).” — Nigeria

“Lack of work worries me. My children were hungry and I told them the rice is cooking, until they fell asleep from hunger.” — an older man from Bedsa, Egypt.

“A better life for me is to be healthy, peaceful and live in love without hunger. Love is more than anything. Money has no value in the absence of love.” — a poor older woman in Ethiopia

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” — a woman from Uganda

“For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” — a blind woman from Tiraspol, Moldova

Garbage

Which should point out how unwittingly destructive it can be for white-faced volunteers  to show up to a developing nation and treat people like they’re ‘poor.’