So another Red Nose Day passes, an impressive fundraising total successfully reached, the remnants of the evening telethon still available on BBC’s iplayer for anybody who wants to watch an estimated £142m worth of celebrity singing in a nice car as James Cordon drives it around California (that’s the sum estimated by the Psephizo blog).
Comic Relief is hugely successful at encouraging people to donate to good causes. But unimaginable poverty still dominates our world this week, even now that the red noses, and the celebrities, have been packed away for another year. And the Christian faith compels us to see global poverty as very much our problem – not somebody else’s, and not something we can solve by simply sending a quick text to a dedicated donation number, one night every 2 years.
This week, we’re publishing Justin Thacker’s Global Poverty: A Theological Guide. The book hopes to fill a significant gap by offering a robustly theological approach to understanding questions around the effect of capitalism on global poverty and whether aid is really a sustainable long term solution for the world’s poor.
‘Justin Thacker combines a deep theological understanding with a strong knowledge of economic theories of poverty relief, and a clear compassion for our struggling planet and its people, to provide a brilliant theological analysis that will inform and challenge all of us who long to bring about a better world.’ says Ruth Valerio, Global Advocacy and Influencing Director for Tearfund.
You can see what Eve Poole, author of ‘Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions’ and Sean Doherty of St Mellitus College said about the book on our website, where you’ll also be able to order the book at a 20% discount (until the end of March, so hurry!). There’s also a sneaky peak extract of the book here.
Of course, the truth about poverty is that it exists far closer to home than we would like to admit. We don’t need to go Africa to be confronted with the reality of life below the poverty line (albeit that the situation in East Africa at the moment is truly desperate). Laurie Green’s book Blessed are the Poor reminds us that the Beatitudes challenge us to radically alter our attitude to the poorest in society. Here’s an extract:
“When we turn to the Bible, we find that it regularly tells us that it is the poor who will hold the key to our salvation. I continue to be fascinated and intrigued by a biblical story that is to be found in the second book of Kings, chapter 7. The scene is the city of Samaria, now under siege by the Syrian Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram. Elisha the prophet is concerned for the city’s wellbeing, since it is said that its starving inhabitants are killing their own children for food! We learn that at the gate of the city there are four lepers, struck by such virulent skin disease that they are cast out of their own community. Being already on the edge of their society they debate among themselves whether they might try one last time to gain access to their city or whether they might wander into the camp of the besieging army to try their luck there. They know that they have nothing to lose, and because they are literally at death’s door, they decide that they will risk all and see if the besieging army will offer them help. So they leave the specious safety of their own city gates and venture into the unknown – into the camp of King Ben-Hadad. But there they are confronted by a miracle. God had deluded the besieging army into thinking that the Egyptians had surrounded them, and so they had fled in the night, leaving the camp strewn with the wealth of all their belongings. The lepers are overjoyed and begin to loot the camp tent by tent. They eat and drink the fare and hide the booty. But then they are struck by remorse and say to one another: ‘We are doing wrong. This is a day of good news, yet we are holding our tongues!’ (v. 9). So they return and take the news of freedom back to the city. But the King is reluctant to receive the news, assuming it to be a ploy to entice the citizens out into the open. Eventually, however, it is discovered that these lepers from the very edge of society are indeed the carriers of the good news that will save the city, and the whole people stream out from the city to eat the food left by the retreating besiegers, leaving the King to wonder how it could possibly be that good news could come from ostracized lepers who had always been relegated to the very margins of society.
I find it illuminating to compare this ancient story with the teachings and actions of Jesus who time and again takes someone from the margins and places them in the centre, telling his followers to learn the Good News from them. In Mark 3.3 Jesus says to the sick man whose hand he is to cure: ‘Get up and stand in the middle!’ From the edge of the crowd he calls a little child: ‘whom he set among them’, and tells them to change and become like this child. He places a Samaritan at the centre of his story and an adulterous woman in the middle of the room. Just like the lepers of the story of the besieged city, these marginal people are the means by which the light dawns. Constantly, Jesus moves among those who are outcasts and at the edge of society in order to proclaim the Good News to the whole nation and inaugurate the Kingdom of God.
In the past, scholars assumed that Jesus spent so much time in the country villages rather than in the cities, because he preferred rural to urban living. Clearly, those early commentators had not been aware that the Galilee of Jesus’ day was one of the most densely populated and urbanized regions of the Roman Empire. Overmann assures us that ‘one could not live in any village of lower Galilee and escape the effects and ramifications of urbanization’ (Green 2003, p. 21). These villages, often called ‘cities’ by the New Testament writers, were administratively connected to the powerful urban centres even though they were seen by the city élites as inferior, dependent and marginal. I am drawn to see many similarities between the villages of Jesus’ Galilee and the poor outer estates of today – for, like our estates, those Galilean villages were struggling with the harsh challenges of life on the edge, prowled around by rival gangs and groups, pressured by the authorities, harangued by the politicians, beset by poverty and need, longing for a new tomorrow. This is the context within which Jesus operated and is the vivid backdrop to many of his stories and parables. And it was from this village base, on the margins, that Jesus then ‘resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem’ (Luke 9.51), in order to confront there the heart of the matter – to bring the Good News from the peripheral and forgotten areas to the very centre of power in order to inaugurate a new beginning for humanity. It is within the context of the poor that Jesus frames his teaching about the Kingdom and, with them at his side, he brings it to bear upon the misshapen values of his contemporary culture. And in this way it is the poor who become the blessed vehicles of the gospel of his Kingdom.
If the Church of today can, like its master, live with the poor, learn from being among them, and bring their Good News to the centre of its own life, then a new day will have dawned, and it will be a sign of that same possibility for our whole society. As individuals too we will then have an opportunity to respond in a way that has integrity in the light of what we learn together. Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury are both urging us all to do just this, but I fancy that the Church at large will be alarmed at just how much change this will demand at the very heart of its culture. So it is imperative that we learn what Jesus meant when he told us to look to the blessedness of the poor as a key to his Kingdom. And for the Church in Britain the poor social housing estates are a good place to start on this journey of listening, learning and transformation.”