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Much talk about poverty and the poor is once again in vogue. It has been a topic of conversation since the dawn of time. It was certainly topical in biblical times, with talk of fair play, justice and all that. It was even the topic of my first book, Poverty: The Church’s Abandoned Revolution [a scientific, biblical and theological commentary], published in 1980, 33 years ago. It’s deja vu all over again; we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? I call it, Poverty 2.0.
I started to write that book, fresh out of post-graduate school in St. Louis (1977),, inspired in the first instance by my singular allegiance to the poor Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth the human life of God, and by those still arresting words of Frederick Herzog, professor of systematic theology at Duke University (1925-1995), who said: ‘Theology that doesn’t take the poor into account from the outset isn’t Christian theology’. In many ways it was my first serious foray investing in being human; investing at least empathetically, as one privileged and middle class, into the unique concerns and interests of the poor. Investing, as we all ought to, in solidarity with the underprivileged.
Jesus’ dominant, single-focused message on the kingdom of God/Heaven, speaks about that kingdom belonging almost exclusively to the humble and poor. Jesus himself was so poor that on Bad Friday - which He transformed into Good Friday – the day of his torture and death, we find his broken body placed in a new yet borrowed tomb of a sympathizer. I’d say you have to be pretty much down on your luck, in every possible way, if unable to afford your own casket.
St Francis of Assisi, after whom the newly inaugurated Pope Francis takes his name, made a valiant attempt in the 13th century to alert the church toward special attention of the poor, but the ecclesiastical powers that be (the papacy) held firmly in sway the place of the status quo, privileged and rich. Read about it in my above
referenced book, pages 80-82, where I make this observation concerning the eventual demise then of Francis and the Franciscan Order, who were devoted to Our Lady Poverty: ‘Note the subtle yet firm pressure of the Church’s hierarchy upon those groups who identify radically with the poor, and the apparent battle of the privileged against the poor, the status quo against the powerless and the strong against the weak’.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Mission, did his part to address the distinctive needs of the poor. “Go not to those who need you”, Wesley admonished, “but to those who need you most”. The early Methodists cared for the poor by establishing credit unions, free schools and dispensaries. They attacked factory work conditions and laws allowing economic exploitation, slavery, war, piracy, gambling and political graft, and adopted an attractive two-pronged simultaneous attack on social reform and personal salvation. Now there’s an effective plan congregations of modernity might adopt.
It has been frequently noted that one of the most winning things about St Francis of Assisi, besides his life of poverty and love of the least among us, is his love for all living things; his love of God’s created ecological, environmental order - all things great and small. He was also a man of singularly deep devotion to Almighty God: ‘Let us desire nothing else…Let us wish for nothing else’ St Francis pleaded, ‘except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior’.
These qualities too, we glimpse, even in the earliest days, through the words and gestures of Pope Francis. From the Holy Father’s inauguration homily of March 19th, we hear: ‘Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination in the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people, and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important… [this last statement is reinforced
almost immediately] ….We must protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves; this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out.’
And who would have guessed that two days later, on March 21st. in Britain, we find a former oil executive, who gave up a six-figure salary to train as a priest, married with five children, and now as head of the Church of England, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, uttering these words in his inaugural homily: ‘The present challenges of the environment and economy of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary Christ-liberated courage…’ Although not taking the name Francis, as did the Pope, this Bishop, Justin, appears clearly to walk also in the Franciscan tradition.
No doubt about it, Poverty 2.0 is back; in the headlines, at least. Now let’s watch, work, see and pray that it moves through to graduate status, then filter ambitiously and unambiguously into the mainstream of human activity, not as an adopted child, no more to be ignored and patronized, but a full, participating, mature member of our family corporate and universal. After all, the poor are human too.
About the author:
Dr Colin Archer is
an ordained Christian Minister and Psycho-theologian, who at an early
age he realized a keen sensitivity for the poor, homeless and
dispossessed in relation to church and society. He served as
Psychotherapist at a psychiatric hospital in Nassau, Bahamas for many
years. He is the founding president of The Bahamas
Council on Alcoholism, later establishing a half-way house for
recovering victims of alcohol abuse and a home for battered women
through Methodist Community & Church Ministries.
He is currently the Author of five (5)
books, due to launch his sixth book, Foundation 7 Formation, due to be
released in Spring of 2013. www.investinginbeinghuman.com
© Copyright 2013 by thebahamasweekly.com
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