How To End Poverty

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Oct 15, 2008, 2:56:57 PM10/15/08
to Mennonite Poverty Forum
This is my four part blog that I posted today as part of Blog Action
Day. If you want to see it with the pictures I posted with it
(including a really cool picture of Jesus at the last supper with all
the disciples being poor children) check it out at:

Today is Blog Action day and so many of us are writing about poverty,
in the hopes that it might be ended. I think this is a wonderful idea
and I really support it.

However, I must say, that this morning I am feeling particularly
cynical and upset. So in approaching the idea of how to end poverty,
these are the ideas I came up with first:

1. Every politician, judge, lawyer, clergy, CEO, bank manager and
doctor, before taking on their profession, must live with the
destitute poor—the homeless, a hospital for the mentally ill, a
village in Africa, Darfur, etc— for a month before taking office.

2. Create a drug that increases the effect of mirror-neurons, thus
causing a super-empathetic reaction, and then put it in the drinking

3. Force the top two percent of wealthy people in the world to live
among colonies of the sickest in the world—colonies of lepers, of AIDS
sufferers, of malaria patients.

4. As a result of any lawmaker who writes or supports a law which
harms the poor—for every act of war, for every unfair tariff, for
every legislation aimed against the homeless—they are instantly killed
by God or by an assassin’s bullet, without trial, without recourse.

I suppose I could have come up with ideas that would be a little less
cruel to those in power, but I am tired of the rich elite ruling the
world without any idea of what it means to be poor, or what their laws
imply to those who have no resources. I am tired of this world where
those in North America are so far removed from the poor that they
dehumanize their own poor and distantly allow the poor of the world be
killed, enslaved, have what little they have taken from them, all for
the sake of that distant elite. I am sick of politicians rallying
behind finance corporations to save the jobs of financiers, while
allowing the needy be starved out due to forced debt and petty charges
targeted against them.

I know God is angry at this too. He is saying now to the politicians
and bankers and the wealthy elite of the world:
"How long will you judge unjustly
And show favor to the wicked?
Vindicate the needy and fatherless;
Give justice to the lowly and poor.
Rescue the weak and needy
Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
They do not know nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness.
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Then He turns to them, in their smugness, and screams in their face:
“You had thought yourselves to be gods
And all of you to be sons of the Most High
But you will all die like mortals
And fall like any prince."

If we are honest about the world and the calamities that fall upon the
poor and destitute, then we can but answer,
Arise, O God, bring justice to the earth!
Bring justice to the homeless who have been kicked out of their camps.
Bring justice to the AIDS sufferers who have been degraded by their
own people
Bring justice to war victims, whose lives have been destroyed because
of ideologies of distant rulers
Bring justice to the mentally ill, who are imprisoned in hospitals
because they do not act “normal”
Bring justice to the elderly, who are commanded by their children to
do that which they do not want to do
Bring justice to the falsely accused, who languish apart from their
family and friends.
Bring justice to those beaten and lit on fire, just because they are
too helpless to fight back.
Bring justice to the poor of the nations in such debt because of the
greed of their politicians.

Yet, O God, have mercy on us who have failed the poor. Fill us with
the compassion we lack.

Okay, let’s get serious about this. How DO we deal with poverty?

First of all, we need to understand what poverty is. There are two
main categories of poverty, which greatly overlap. There is the
poverty that is being physically destitute. This is the common kind
of poverty we think of: people who are hungry, who have no where to
live, who have no warmth, who have no safe drinking water, who are
wracked by disease. Those who are destroyed because of their lack of
physical needs.

The second is like the first: social poverty. This is a state of
separation, of rejection, of outcastness. These are the poor who the
mainstream culture of one’s society rejects, for one reason or
another. Usually, however, they are rejected because they do not
accept some major, unwritten law of the mainstream culture. They are
too loud or too quiet. They don’t participate fully in the
mainstream’s economic system. They don’t look like or dress like the
mainstream. They have different cultural presuppositions.

This second class of the poor soon become the first class. They
become destitute due to their social standing. And the mainstream
feels good about these poor because, “They deserved it. If only they
would…” (fill in cultural prejudice here) “… then they could live
better.” So the mainstream convinces themselves that the poor are
worthy to be poor and they deserve their benefits and judgments.

Another result of this cycle is fear. When one culture separates
from another, then they tend to fear each other. The mainstream
begins to see the outcast as the root of many of the evils of their
society and the outcast sees in the face of every mainstream person
the last mainstream person who abused them. This fear becomes
prejudice and that prejudice becomes a cycle of mutual destruction.

How do we end this cycle?

First of all, the mainstream culture needs to associate with the
outcast culture. If this happens, then the mainstream culture will
realize, over time, that the outcast culture aren’t so bad after all.
Perhaps they act differently, and hold some different opinions, but
that doesn’t make them bad people. That even if they may not be as
“good” as those of their own culture, then at least they shouldn’t be
feared. Once we get past the fear, then we can perhaps get to the
point where representatives of the two cultures could actually assist
each other and support each other.

The difficulty is, how to get the two sides to overcome their fear?
They need two things: 1. A neutral ground where they both feel safe
to meet. And 2. A mediator that understands the cultural
presuppositions of both sides and is willing to teach both sides about
the social needs of the other without putting down either side.

If we end cultural superiority, then we will end most poverty. If the
mainstream and the ruling elite understand the life and worldview of
the poor outcast, then we are ready to welcome each person as they

This ideal of mine will never happen. Now my cynicism comes out
fully. Yes, I think I see how poverty can be ended and I have a plan
to do that—heck, I spend many of my waking hours doing just that!
But, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think it will work.

The rich elite will still rule, and they don’t give a crap about the
poor—at least not as much as their banker friends—and they never

The mainstream (read: middle class) will still act according to their
own blind prejudices and will still deride and reject anyone who
doesn’t live up to their standards.

The poor are so fearful of what little livelihood they have, they will
not want to endanger it all by trying to communicate their point of
view to the mainstream.

Oh, sure, some will do this. Some will try to change. Some will try
to understand the other. But all of history speaks against it
happening on a large scale. Even if the outcast DO get a voice and
they get heard, they just become the new mainstream, ready to create
the new outcast.

So what needs to happen? Honestly, and I say this without any closed-
mindedness or humor: We need Jesus.

Jesus isn’t who we think of. We might see Jesus as representing the
Christianity that has ruled the West for 1500 years, but he’s not. We
might see Jesus as some ancient prophet who said some radical things
and then died, but he’s more than that. We might see Jesus as a
teacher who healed people and spoke a wonderful message of sappy
love. But that’s not him, either.

Jesus is a hard boiled advocate for the outcast. And He’s aiming to
be ruler of the world.

He said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the coming nation
of God. But woe to you who are rich, because you will get nothing
when it comes.”

Jesus looks to create a new utopia, supported by the power of God to
assist the outcast who are merciful, and destroying the system of
elitism that exists currently.

Jesus is a revolutionary that will destroy all the current
governments, corporations, financial institutions and legal systems.
Then he will establish a government in which the cream of the crop of
the oppressed and outcast will be put in charge of the world, with
himself at the head. This new government will not just represent a
single form of the outcast, creating a new elite. Rather, it will
represent ALL the poor, and the poor of the world will finally get

This is the ideal that Isaiah spoke of, 2800 years ago:
Then a descendent of David will appear and God's Spirit of power will
be on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel
and power a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. He will not
judge by appearance, or determine laws by rumor. But he will be just
to the poor and will be fair to the oppressed. And the oppressors
will be destroyed by his authority.

Perhaps this approach to ending poverty seems extreme. It certainly
is. It means no more second chances for the rulers. No more
opportunities to make right. No more mercy for the elite that have
been destroying the poor from the beginning of the world. They will
all die.

But for the poor, it is the day that they have been waiting for. It
is the day when they finally get their say. When they can finally get
their due. It is a day when the elite can be told exactly how they
have created the poor through their laws, policies and prejudices. It
is a day when the poor can live their life in the way it was meant to
be lived: at peace, without fear, without rejection.

This is my real hope. I work for the poor in this age. But I really
expect nothing to change until Jesus returns.

This is why I pray, along with almost all the church “Thy kingdom
come”. I pray this many times a day, as do so many millions of other

But I know what most of them don’t. That “thy kingdom come” means the
destruction of the institutions they depend on. It means the economy
failing. It means the governments collapsing. It means all of our
sins against those weaker than us being exposed. And I long for that
day. As much as it hurts me, I pray for it with all my heart.
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