Monday, December 06, 2010

Review: Yale University's 'Reflections' No More Excuses...Confronting Poverty
by Peter Menkin

With permission to quote at length as a spin off report on Yale Divinity School's Fall, 2010 Issue of "Reflections" magazine, this writer is taking liberties with their thematic statement ("No More Excuses: Confronting Poverty").

The twice yearly published slick magazine approached the September, 2010 United Nations discussion on Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and a seminar at Yale on that subject, by a panel of noteworthy people, speaks to the issues and is companion to the issue on confronting poverty. The video of the panel is worth viewing and is found here. The University is located in the American New England State of Connecticut in New Haven and has approximately 11,250 students in attendance. It is a University of renown known to people throughout the world. Nonetheless, as one friend who attended another school said of it and the roundtable on MDG with its "Reflections" magazine, "That's what Yale thinks."

Well said by my friend, for the magazine has much to say on poverty, as does the video presentation. But then she was being dismissive.

Dean Attridge
Before turning to Katherine Marshall's article, "Climbing Up to the Light," this writer wants to introduce the Dean's statement on the issue, The Reverend Henry L Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School & Lillian Clause Professor of New Testament Harold W. Attridge, 64, was a Fellow of the widely publicized Jesus Seminar in the United States. The Staff page at the University says, "Dean Attridge has made scholarly contributions to New Testament exegesis and to the study of Hellenistic Judaism and the history of the early Church."

Katherine Marshal according to Georgetown University: "Katherine Marshall has worked for over three decades on international development, with a focus on issues facing the world's poorest countries. She is a senior fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and Visiting Professor in the Government Department. She is also a senior advisor for the World Bank."

Dean Attridge answers the question, "Why bother with poverty, for the poor will always be with us, "saying the following in his comment on the magazine issue:

Confronting the reality of global poverty is not a pleasant task. Being reminded of the immensity of human suffering and deprivation can in fact be a very depressing experience, not the kind of thing that we would choose to be doing on a lovely autumn day. When we hear of the statistics of poverty, recounted in this issue, it is easy to be discouraged. That 20,000 children die daily from preventable malnutrition is horrific. That a billion people suffer from unsafe drinking water is an even more overwhelming fact of life. Yet hopeless resignation in the face of such facts is not the response that we as Christians are called upon to make. As Dorothy Day once said, "No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless; there is too much work to do."

The serious work of addressing global poverty has been underway for some time, spurred on most recently by the widespread adoption of the Millennium Development Goals a decade ago

Editor Waddle
 Ray Waddle, editor of "Reflections" makes some stunning remarks on Poverty and this Yale magazine's 21st Century's approach to dealing with poverty in the Christian context. His lengthy introduction to the issue stands alone quite well. Though not really quoted in full in this article that reports on the magazine and tells of this excellent issue, that like other issues is available at no cost to those who request it (the magazine can be ordered here), he says of himself on his website:

Journalist/columnist Ray Waddle is the editor of Reflections journal, the publication of Yale Divinity School. He also writes about faith and culture for various magazines, newspapers and web sites and produces commentary regularly on spiritual trends and the politics of religion

His work has appeared in The New York Times, Christian Century magazine, USA TODAY op-ed page, Sojourners Magazine, Interpreter Magazine, United Methodist News Service, Episcopal News Service, Vanderbilt Magazine, and Image Journal. He provided the prefaces to two recent books, Disciplines 2007 and Journeying Through the Days 2007, both by Upper Room. Ray has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and M.A. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University. He was religion editor for 17 years (1984-2001) at The Tennessean daily newspaper in Nashville, one of the nation's busiest religious hubs, and still writes a regular guest column there. He also writes columns for the Presbyterian Voice and Interpreter magazine. He now lives in Connecticut.

This writer's interest in reporting on the issue was prompted by the need to get a definition of poverty. To get some kind of sense of what poverty is in the global meaning, and even in the individual meaning to people and communities. The issue speaks to these areas, and Editor Waddle in his introduction to the issue begins a definition of what poverty is about by talking of what is published in the issue:

Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya, is considered one of the worst slums in Africa. What that means is 600,000 people are crowded into three square miles, including thousands of children orphaned by parents who died of HIV/ AIDS. It means the unemployment rate is 70 percent, people sleep on cardboard and dirt, and the stench of feces is unforgettable. It means no running water, no paved roads, no police protection

The magazine does not spoon feed, for it is so easy to use his statement and go on with a sense of shock, a sense of dismay, and continue even to be overwhelmed by the facts and turn towards despair. Editor Waddle joins with a featured photographer's vision whose statement about her photographer's eye with its sense of beauty and possession of imagery reflects a kind of hope. The hope is reflected in the Editor's statement about what he calls this century's bold vision of eradicating poverty.

Photographer Bethany Mahan, 39, senses this spiritual drama in the faces of young people she befriends on the streets of Spokane, WA, her hometown. Working at a downtown street ministry some years ago, she got to know their stories, and they came to trust her. She saw a spark of nobility in them even if society had written them off. She started taking their pictures in order to testify to that overlooked dignity.

The Matthew 25 House, Haiti
by Bethany Mahan
"I was looking at people and seeing their beauty," she says. "There is more to people than their poverty."

Our issue includes some of her images from Spokane as well as from her recent visit to Haiti. Her work was featured last year in a "Faces of Poverty" exhibition at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

"We have such prejudices against people we don't understand," she says. "We really need to look at our own poverty."

A paradox lurks inside the rich world's turbulent relationship to poverty: the indictment persists daily that the west's glittering materialism and noisy sense of entitlement have made us spiritual paupers who have lost our way. Poet Tomas Tranströmer once wrote,

We made an effort, showing our homes.

The visitor thought: you live well.

The slum must be inside you.

Stirred by our century's bold hope of eliminating poverty from human experience, the writers contributing to this Reflections identify many of the world's encounters with the dynamic of poverty, and they share their moments of truth.

Bike on Beach in Grey
by Bethany Mahan
 Do not the words presented in this issue in their thoughtful approach turn towards hope, and the photographs used in the issue reflect on a generational sense of renewed plans and visions in finding "no more excuses in confronting poverty." This writer thinks it does a successful job of doing so. That is no small feat, and on reflection, and continuing in the search for meaning in and definition of poverty, one that takes into account the forces of globalization in our time, the issue contributes well to the quest. That is what makes Katherine Marshall's article unique and timely. Her article is titled, "Climbing Up to the Light."

Author Katherine Marshall refers to the interconnectedness of our current world. Her first paragraph speaks to globalization, and it seems to this writer that means it is harder and harder for any of us to turn away from poverty in our time:

In this media world of instantaneous images, we cannot hide from a disturbing contemporary reality: vast gulfs separate the enormous, avoidable poverty of billions of people from achievable living standards, decent healthcare, and basic nutrition that could ease their suffering. We face an unmistakable gap between what is and what should be.

In her essay, it is clear she has a good understanding of the situation in the world, and she uses the word "global" many times. Somehow, the word takes on a manageable sense of size when she uses it repeatedly, and the daunting and even what she calls "intimidating" reality of poverty in our time, in its global sense (there the word is again) offers a promise of what we can see, what we can "measure", and what we note makes for approachable reality that requires a moral imperative. Or at least aids in the creation of a more moral imperative. She claims in the global village, everyone is our neighbor. She uses that phrase in her article: "everyone is our neighbor."

What is humankind's accepted fate is another question she raises. This creates a kind of newness to the subject, and again the approachability of the meaning of fate that in a simpler sense asks the reader by implication; must we accept humankind's fate?

She writes:

Tough Boy in Haiti
by Bethany Mahan
It is easily forgotten that the vast majority of people, through most of human history, lived short and difficult lives. Until rather recently, a quarter of all children died before they were five, hunger was a constant, slavery was commonplace, and education was the privilege of a tiny minority. This situation was, for the most part, viewed as humankind's accepted fate: the poor would always be with us. Charity was a duty; it could ease suffering, but would not solve the underlying fact of inevitable poverty.

By again offering limitations to, and definition of poverty, and in bringing it to a manageable though daunting picture, she draws the picture that again implies we are looking towards and with hope rather well as we take a telescope to view what was far away and realize we can even now put the telescope away and see what is before us in this global village, where everyone is our neighbor.

Is this a Christian message. This writer offers, let us hope so for in that agreement that this is a Christian message offered in her essay titled, "Climbing Up to the Light," we find more than common ground, we find a common sense of approach and definition. What some have called a look at the interests of history and found belief has merit, belief has power, belief of the Christian kind can help us in our direction in life and in living with others in constructive and meaningful ways.

Is hers an exhortation? Not really, but no doubt in her search for solutions and her manifesto of specific points of direction, there is the well of conviction. She argues that eradicating poverty is fair and just. Shee proclaims in a quiet way that it (the work of eradicating poverty) adds to human dignity's spark in human life, and gives people a fair chance.

So why should we care? There are many reasons, but I propose a "priority ladder" to help order the responses of our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our hands to this new and demanding challenge. The principles behind each rung can be found in the teachings of the great religions, epitomized especially in the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They are captured in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other wise calls to action and justice. Yet it's still a fresh, even intimidating idea to regard poverty as something that can and must be eliminated from our midst.

Haitian Mom
by Bethany Mahan
Calling the poor the "bottom billion," and the philosophical belief that human beings are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, this high minded and effective blueprint approach to poverty continues in a definition of it by way of its approach to helping eradicate poverty. She calls for compassion and charity in the face of suffering. Then getting practical, she writes:

giving poor people the chance to prosper is good for everyone. People who get access to resources spark production and innovation and contribute to the global economy in countless ways. So helping people at the "bottom of the pyramid" to prosper, for example with microloans to start a tiny business or access to appropriate pharmaceutical products, is a third rung on the ladder: we should work to end poverty because it is good business.

Author Katherine Marshall ticks off many points, one after the other in this positive, well crafted essay. There is more here than this writer can report on at this time in this space, let alone enumerate all she has to offer in justice. Hers is almost an executive paper on the subject, and in looking at it there are many such dimensions of sensibility in it that can be written about. Mostly, though, it is the newness, that sense of beginning and ongoing engagement with approach and attitude driven by a vision of globalization that catches the eye of this writer.

Here is a likely ending for this look at the piece she's created. The essay goes on for a while, providing what could be said of in a critical look at her writing, another of her points like some kind of shopping list of solutions and reasons for actions and belief. Frankly, this writer found her method of numbering her sections and argument effective, and if a shopping list, maybe it fits that someone with her kind of job must be organized and effective, clear in her communication, and administratively oriented. This is not to excuse her form, but to justify it because it is effective.

Again, a quote from the essay that shows both the practical and the moral imperative of eradicating poverty, and participating in Millennium Development Goals:

Fifth and finally, we must recognize the contemporary element of fear as another reason to care and to act: the harsh truth is that an unequal and unfair world is dangerous for all. The anger that is fueled by the lethal combination of perceived unfairness, lack of opportunities, and a sense that others lack respect takes many forms, and many of them are violent. If we want our children to be safe we need to address the root causes of justifiable anger and create a fairer world.

Each of these arguments points us to an urgent obligation to care about poverty and seek new ways of fulfilling our duties to our neighbors.

Towards the physical end of her essay, the Author says the kind of work involved in eradicating poverty needs individuals with a courageous soul. She writes brave Christian words.

This article appeared originally in The Church of England Newspaper, London.

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